It had always been my dream to visit the Baha’i complex in Haifa, Israel. The site, which is made up of architecturally stunning buildings and take-your-breathe-away gardens, is the spiritual center of adherents to the Baha’i faith, a branch of Shiite Islam. In addition, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. When my opinion was canvassed to find out if I would be interested in joining a tour of the Middle East, I replied with a qualified Yes. Whether or not I travelled would depend on this garden being included in the itinerary. I’m glad that it was.
The tour took place during the hottest summer that the Middle East had experienced in recorded history. All of us were slathered in sun block, wore wide brimmed hats and cooled our bodies with Cobbers. Bottles of water were stuffed into all available deep pockets as we clumsily waddled out of the tour bus to appreciate this site.
Our guide had driven us to the top of the hill on which the garden is situated. This was an ideal vantage point, deliberately created, I imagine, by the Minister of Tourism so that visitors would be able to appreciate the vast scope of the complex and its overall design. After we had spent some time capturing images, we left the site for other destinations. No sooner were we settled into the van, when the guide mentioned, in passing, that some tourists also book a guided tour of the of the Baha’i complex.
I had not known that an optional private tour of the grounds was available, for I would have insisted upon it. Unfortunately, we had committed to a heavily scheduled trip that was overflowing. Within one hour of settling into the van, we would be far away from this city and there were no plans to return. Neither was there any possibility of tweaking the itinerary to revisit the gardens. Happily, the guide had allotted a large block of time for us to enjoy the view from atop the mountain.
To better appreciate this magnificent site, here are some interesting details:-
- The site employs over 100 full-time gardeners.
- Annual maintenance cost of the gardens is around US $4 million.
- The garden includes 8 environmentally-friendly irrigation systems that conserve water.
- About 500,00 people visit this garden complex, annually.
- Each year 8,000 Baha’i followers make a pilgrimage here.
- Followers of the Baha’i faith number 5 million.
- The faith promotes world peace and the creation of one worldwide community based on justice and equality.
- Operational cost for the garden and complex are funded solely by members of the Baha'i religion, as donations are only accepted from within the Baha'i community.
Baha’i teachings maintain that the human purpose is to learn to know and love God through prayer, reflection and being of service to humankind. The role of the gardens in this religion is to create a peaceful, meditative atmosphere that uplifts the soul of pilgrims as they approach the shrines. The serenity that is created here is palpable.
In the complex, a golden-domed shrine is surrounded by 18 immaculately-maintained terraces featuring symmetrical formal gardens that hug the steep slope of the Mediterranean seacoast elevation known as Mount Carmel.
The gardens are designed in nine concentric circles that look like waves extending out from the shrine at their center where Bahai prophet Siyyid Ali Muhammad -- known to Bahais as 'The Bab' -- is buried.
Included in the landscaping are works of stone and metal as well as fountains, waterfalls, shrubbery, ornaments, and lawns. The manicured gardens blend in with the natural flora, enliven the surrounding panorama of the mountainside, and create a small nature reserve.
In August, when we visited, the seasonal plant in bloom was Bougainvillea.
A view of the complex as seen from below.
A night scene on the opening of the newly re landscaped gardens in May 2001, taken by Sven Nackstrand for Associated French Press. This view of the gold dome is not easily seen from above.