A walk through the Old City of Jaffa
The Old City of Jaffa has much of interest to all faiths. For Jews and visitors to Israel - quaint alleyways, art galleries and superb views. Plus, lots of history about the Holy Land, including the beginnings of Tel Aviv. For Christians, there are the stories about the apostle Peter’s visit to Jaffa and its significance for Christianity. For Muslims, there are Jaffa’s mosques and the archeological remains of 500-years of Ottoman rule.
An excellent way to become acquainted with Jaffa is to take a tour with one of the many companies offering free tours of the Old City described on the web. These are not quite free, as there is the expectation that you will pay at the end of the tour if your expectations are met – which they usually are. These tours offer plenty of anecdotes and useful overviews, although understandably next to no time to wander around the galleries and workshops. Described here is a circular walk that passes most of the main tourist sites and obviously allows you to wander at will. Note that the alleys are not marked. If you lose your way, ask someone who looks as if they belong in the neighborhood for directions to the next numbered place on the map below.
Jaffa was an important city in antiquity because it was the only port in the southern part of the country, it was located by the important Via Maris highway between Egypt and Mesopotamia, and was close to the main road to Jerusalem. The town was built on a strategically important ridge above the port.
The city is at least 4,000 years old and is already mentioned in ancient Egyptian documents. The port has Biblical associations, namely with Jonah who departed on his sea journey from Jaffa and with Solomon who imported Lebanese cedar wood to Jaffa for building of Temple.
Time: Allow several hours to explore
istance: About 2 Km
Directions and starting point: Enter “Clock Tower” into Waze, and click on “The Clock Tower, Yefet Street, Tel Aviv-Yaffo. The walk starts from here.
Type of walk: Circular
Difficulty: There are a lot of stairs.
Public transport: Enter “Clock Tower” into Moovit and click on “The Clock Tower, Yefet Street, Tel Aviv-Yafo.
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The walk begins from the Jaffa Clock Tower (A). Proceed on Yefet Street in the direction away from the traffic circle. Take the first right onto Ruslan Street.
This clock tower was erected in 1903, in the Ottoman period. It was financed by the different communities in Jaffa to mark Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s silver jubilee. It was one of about 100 clock towers erected throughout the Ottoman Empire and one of eight built in Israel. Each of the tower’s 4 clocks faces in a different direction. The clocktower promoted a message that Jaffa was developing and modernizing. This area has become a popular venue for cultural events and performances.
Just after turning onto Ruslin St., you will notice that a section of the paving of the road is in a different color than the rest of the road. This was where the main fortified gate of the Ottoman city was located. It was removed to make way for the road. The marble structure on the right side of the road (as you are currently walking) is the Suleiman Fountain (B) (minus its taps).
The fountain was built in the Ottoman period in the 17th century and named after Suleiman the Magnificent who reigned at the beginning of the 16th century. It was placed outside the gate as a welcoming gesture for visitors to refresh themselves with fresh water before entering the city.
Just after the Jaffa Great Mosque take the first alley on the right side of the road to a covered fountain, the Sabil Abu Nabut or Abu Nabat Fountain ©. As distinct from the Suleiman Fountain, this fountain was located within the city.
This fountain was built in the 19th century by Muhammad Abu Nabu, the Ottoman governor of the town. He was the governor who began the restoration of Jaffa after the massacres of Napoleon. The fountain has typical Ottoman architecture with a central dome supported by pillars. The fountain was a big deal when it was built as it provided clean running water in comfortable shaded conditions at a time when access to clean water was otherwise limited for many citizens.
Continue ahead from the fountain by the left fork of the paved road towards the sea. Then turn left on the coastal road Aliya HaShniya. You will pass a number of religious buildings on your left that catered for visitors/pilgrims and sailors of different faiths who were travelling by sea. First is the small Sea Mosque for those of the Muslim faith. It is quite old, at least as old as the 17th century. Some buildings after this, just before the road turns into a walkway, is the ancient Armenian Convent of St. Nicholas (D). It has two crosses over its entrance, one above the other. This church reminds us that the Armenian Church was the first Christian church in this country and that Armenia became Christian even before the Roman Empire.
This convent has connections to Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon invaded Egypt In 1798 with the intention of creating a French empire in the Middle East. However, his fleet anchored in Aboukir Bay was destroyed by the British in the Battle of the Nile when Admiral Nelson launched a surprise attack. Napoleon then decided to advance northwards and he captured Jaffa after only a brief resistance. However, a plague developed among his soldiers and was spreading among his army. He ordered his military doctors to euthanize his soldiers who were sick or recovering in this convent. The numbers he killed, in what is called the Jaffa Massacre, could have been anywhere between several dozen to several hundred. He also killed many of the town’s inhabitants and thousands of imprisoned Muslim soldiers. Napoleon’s prime objective was to capture Acre (Acco), as this controlled the way to Syria. However, his siege of the city was unsuccessful. Failing to achieve any of his objectives he withdrew to Egypt and then retreated back to France in 1801.
By the harbor the coastal road turns into a pedestrian walkway with cafes.
Jaffa was the main port into Israel until Roman times when a new port was built in Caesarea, but this was not a particularly safe port. A natural sandstone reef creates a natural breakwater. However, the port was unable to handle large steamships and they needed to dock at sea. Their passengers and cargo were brought to shore by shallower boats. You will notice rocks projecting from the sea at the entrance to the port. Not surprisingly, legends developed around these rocks, or Andromeda’s Rock (E) as they are called. But why this name?
A Greek legend tells us that Cepheus the king of Jaffa had a beautiful daughter called Andromeda. His wife boasted that her daughter was even more beautiful than the mermaids. This annoyed the mermaids who appealed to Poseidon, the god of the sea. He punished the humans by sending a deluge of water and a sea monster to destroy Jaffa and the lands of the Philistines. After consulting with an oracle, Cepheus was persuaded to sacrifice his daughter to appease Poseidon’s wrath and Andromeda was tied to the rocks by the port of Jaffa and left to die. However, Perseus, the son of Zeus, chief of the gods, was passing by and fell in love with Andromeda. He was promised the king’s daughter in marriage if he rescued her. He also chopped off the head of the monster, the pieces of which became the sea rocks of Jaffa. Now you know.
Opposite the first concrete walkway of the port built on rocks and projecting into the harbor, on the other side of the road, is a stairway above which is the sign “Welcome to Old Jaffa.” Climb up these stairs to the Old City of Jaffa.
From the mid-19th century to World War I, subsidiary consulates operated in the Christian Quarter above the port. These were part of the efforts of the Great Powers to obtain influence in the Ottoman Empire, which was perceived as an ailing empire.
The short stairway turns to the left at a T-junction. At the next fork turn to the right continuing up the stairway.
You will now come to a T-junction. In the alley on your right down the stairs, you will see the former House of Simon the Tanner (F). Do not go down this alleyway other than to examine this building. More about the apostle Peter and this house later. Return to the T-junction and go up the stairway on the left.
By the Ahava store turn a sharp left and go up either of the stairways. At the top of the stairway on the left is a very nice viewpoint over the harbor signposted “View of the Port and Andromeda’s Rock.” Take the path within this lookout as indicated. Your view will be dependent a bit on the clarity of the plexiglass.
Now go back towards the Ahava Store and towards the bottom of the stairway cross over the paved road towards a building with the signs “Yemenite Art by Ben Zion” and “Museum” by a large street picture of a teapot. You are welcome to enter this workshop and watch for free a short movie on the history of Yemenite filigree jewelry, which, by coincidence, they also sell. Between the picture and the museum is a well-kept WC.C.
You will have the opportunity to see many galleries and workshops on this tour. It was a deliberate policy of the municipality to provide these old buildings at cheap prices to artists provided they committed to keeping their workshops in the buildings they bought.
Turn to your right as you face the Yemenite Museum and go past the covered benches and then turn to the left. At the end of this alley go up the short stairway, turn right under the long archway. This brings you to Mazal Dagim St. Turn left at the T-junction. (Alternatively, if this sounds too complicated, just go down the hill a bit and take the stairs on your left onto Mazal Dagim St. The street sign has pictures of fish).
Opposite you on your right is the First Jewish Hostel in Jaffa. It opened in 1740 and included a synagogue and mikvah. The synagogue reopened in 1948 for Libyan Jews and is still functional. Next, you will come to the Ilana Goor Museum at 4 Mazal Dagim St. Ilana Goor is an artist and designer who transformed the first Jewish inn for pilgrims built in the 18th century into a museum for the display of her own work and other well-known artists, including paintings, sculptures, video art, tribal art, antiques and drawings. Some of the artists displayed are international. It is difficult to nail down any description of this art other than eclectic and unexpected. The views from the roofs of the building are phenomenal. The museum is open from Sunday to Thursday from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. There is an admission charge. Guided tours are offered.
Continue up Mazal Dagim St. to the T-junction. Before turning left at the T-junction towards Ramesses Second Gate Garden turn right on Simtar Mazal Gedi and then left onto Mazal Arie St. Just beyond the arch is the Floating Orange Tree (G).
This Floating or Suspended Orange Tree in an earthenware container was created in 1993 by the Israeli sculptor Ran Morin and has become a Jaffa icon. It is a real Jaffa orange tree suspended one foot above the ground by metal cables that blooms and produces fruit. It has a discrete drip system. Like many works of art, it is possible to see depths of meaning within it. Those suggested include that all of us are like children, confined in our shells and moving further and further from nature and our own backgrounds. It could symbolize the Jewish people formerly uprooted from their land but continuing to bear fruit. It could also be an ode to the Jaffa orange that participated in the rebirth of Israel. Other interpretations are welcome!
Return to the T-junction, make your way on the tiled and then asphalt-covered road via the right fork to Ramses II City Gate (H). During the time of Ramses II, this triumphal gate was situated at the entrance to the tel. The tel is now higher than it was then because of the accumulation over the centuries of the debris of destroyed and decayed buildings.
This archeological finding needs to be thought of as part of a broader picture. It was exposed in the 1960s after the area had become derelict. The original is in a museum. The lintel was not part of the original arch.
Egyptian rule in Canaan began at the time of Thutmose III in the mid-15th century and continued to the late 12th century BCE, about a 300-year period. This gate was part of a massive fortress erected here in the 12th century BCE on an Egyptian gateway from the Late Bronze Age. Hieroglyphics on its pillars tell us the gate was built by Ramses II. As for other invading forces, Jaffa was an important city for the Egyptians because of its location, topography and port. The gate and fortress were destroyed in 1135 BCE, although it is not clear by whom. It could have been the Canaanites or even the Philistines who came from the sea in the 12th century BCE and settled in the cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, Gath and Gaza on the coastal plain.
Rameses II is often considered to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus, although based on the chronology provided by the Bible and archeological evidence many dispute this and place the Israelite conquest of Canaan almost 200 years earlier. If this is alternative dating is correct, this would mean the Israelites were already in the country for much of the time that the Egyptians occupied Jaffa, although living in the mountain range from a military perspective they may have had limited contact with them. However, the Merneptah Stele written by the son of Ramses II mentions that “Israel is laid waste. Its seed is not.” In that no such Egyptian attack is mentioned in the Bible, its impact may have limited despite this bluster.
Continue to the left of the fork on this tiled path. Then take the short stairway on the right up to Gan HaPisgah (I). There is an incredible view of the Tel Aviv coastline from this section of the park.
In this part of the park is a sizeable stone sculpture by the sculptor Daniel Kafri from Jerusalem that he created between 1973 to 1975. It represents the gateway to the Land of Israel and expresses the promise of the land to the Jewish forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The top is the capture of Jericho. With the Hebrew facing you, on the left is the binding and non-sacrifice of Isaac and on the right Jacob’s dream.
Continue to the left of the fork on this tiled path at the top of the stairway and this will lead you down by another stairway onto Segev St in front of St Peter’s Church. On the way down, you are welcome to read the sign about the properties of the bridge you pass.
St. Peter’s Church (J) was built originally in 1654, although the current structure was built between 1888 and 1894 and renovated in 1903. Four panels within the church depict episodes from the life of St. Peter. The pulpit is carved in the shape of a tree. The church also contains 13th century remnants of the citadel previously in this location and two rooms said to be those lived in by Napoleon in 1799 while on his Middle East campaign. The cross on the roof of the church sticks out of a rock signifying the “rock upon which the Church is built.” Because of its location the church dominates the view of Jaffa from the sea.
Map of walk through Yaffo
The Triumphal Gate of Ramses II
The apostle Peter and the city of Jaffa
The activities of the apostle Peter in Jaffa would have many implications for Christianity and also the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. Of the 12 apostles, Peter in particular had a considerable influence on the spread of Christianity. While in Jaffa he stayed at the home of Simon the Tanner. Because of the smell associated with tanning, Simon may not have been the most popular person in Jaffa. There is no textual evidence that the presently identified building (F) was the location of the home of Simon, but it has been passed down by tradition. The house is now owned by an Armenian family and is not open to visitors.
According to the New Testament, while in Jaffa Peter resurrected a virtuous woman called Tabitha and this brought him many adherents. While in Simon’s house he had a vision: “He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven” (Acts 10:11-16).
Following this vision, Peter received messengers to visit a Roman centurion in Caesarea called Cornelius. Cornelius had also received a vision from God: “Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’” Peter explained to the gathering in Caesarea about the resurrection of Jesus and they were all baptized.
This story is important because it shows the movement of early Christianity beyond its Jewish roots and Jewish law. These visions appear to be announcing that Christianity is as much as for the gentiles as for the Jews and that both can abandon the Jewish dietary laws designed to increase individual holiness.
However, there is considerable evidence that the early Jewish Christians never abandoned their practice of Jewish law, although they had no problem with gentiles not accepting Jewish law. The only difference between early Jewish Christians and other Jews was the belief of the former that Jesus was the messiah.
It could be that Peter was the exception in reaching out to gentiles. In the Christian tradition, Peter is regarded as the “rock” or the “rock upon which the Church is built.” This belief stems from Mathew 16:18 where Jesus says to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” This passage has been variously interpreted.
The first quotations above are from the book of Acts, which is mainly about the activities of Paul of Tarsus. It was written at least 13 years after Paul’s death and reflects a Pauline perspective on gentiles and Judaism. We also know, because he tells us, that Paul gave up on Jewish law even though he was Jewish.
Arabs and Jews in Jaffa
Jaffa has been a microcosm of the conflict between Arabs and Jews that resulted from the increased immigration of Jews into Palestine.
Jews began settling in Jaffa in significant numbers in the 1800s during the Ottoman period. Jaffa’s city walls were torn down in the 1870s to allow for the expansion of the city. By the early 1900s its population had expanded considerably and now included a sizable Jewish community. In 1909 a group of Jews left Jaffa to form what would become the modern settlement of Tel Aviv then being built on sand dunes south of Jaffa.
During the First World War the entire Jewish population of Jaffa and Tel Aviv was expelled to camps because of Ottoman concern as to their loyalty to the regime. The evacuees returned when the British took control of Palestine. In the 1922 census, somewhat under half of Jaffa’s 47,799 inhabitants were Jewish.
Jaffa became a center of Arab riots against Jews during the Mandate period and these would lead to Jewish migration from Jaffa to Tel Aviv. Arab riots between 1920 to 1921 led to more than a doubling of the population of Tel Aviv. Further riots between 1936 to 1939 began in Jaffa Port and spread to the rest of the country. They were eventually put down by the British but they led to considerable damage to the city.
Because of its large Muslim majority, the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine recommended that Jaffa become an enclave of an Arab state.
During Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, an Arab militia organized by the Muslim Brotherhood was based in Jaffa, and there was opposition to a proposed peace agreement with Tel Aviv. In April 1948, the Irgun launched an offensive against Jaffa. Fearing a mass exodus from the city, this was halted by the British, but the Haganah later captured the city. By this time most of the Arab population had fled and only 15,000 to 25,000 Arabs remained.
There was subsequently a gradual annexation of Jaffa by Tel Aviv, although the financial implications of this had to be sorted out by the government. Tel Aviv-Yafo became a unified city in 1950. Street names were gradually replaced by Jewish ones.
Since the 1990s there have been efforts to restore Arab and Islamic landmarks. However, the ongoing gentrification of Jaffa and its Jewish takeover have been a source of tension with its Arab population. Today Jaffa is a peaceful mixed city and there are continuing efforts to promote dialogue and understanding between the two communities.
The suspended orange tree
Nearby places of interest:
Jaffa Flea Market is on Rabbi Hanina St., which is not far from the Clocktower. It is open Sunday to Thursday 10.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. and Friday 10.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m.
It is less than a 10-minute/ 0.5 Km walk to the Etzel House Museum. And just a bit further to the Tachana and suburb and popular walk in Neve Tzedek.