Bahai News - More than 54,000 have toured Baha段 Terraces on Mount Carmel since June opening
More than 54,000 have toured Baha段 Terraces on Mount Carmel since
HAIFA, Israel, 30 August 2001 (BWNS) -- More than 54,000 people have
taken pre-reserved guided tours of the cascading garden terraces surrounding
the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel since they opened in June, indicating
that the site may soon become one of the top tourist draws in Israel.
In addition, thousands more have visited the three sections of the gardens
that are open to drop-in visitors. In all, more than 400,000 entries have
been recorded since 4 June 2001, when the terraces were officially opened to
the public, and at this rate the number of entries per year will add up to
more than 1.5 million.
"The remarkable thing about the high volume of visitors is that it is coming
at a time when tourism in Israel has dropped by 30 per cent in the last six
months. In contrast, in Haifa we've seen only an 8 per cent drop," said
Moshe Tsur, General Manager of the Haifa Tourist Board. "There is no doubt
the Baha段 gardens have had a big role in saving Haifa's tourism
The vast majority of the visitors are Israelis, coming to Haifa from
other parts of the country. "This is 95 per cent domestic tourism,"
said Mr. Tsur. "The number of day visitors has tripled since the
gardens opened. Many others are staying in local hotels with a package
deal that includes a tour through the gardens."
There are no fees for entry into the gardens or for the guided tours,
but Mr. Tsur estimates that other spending, such as on food,
refreshments and transportation, has contributed millions of dollars to
the local economy since the gardens opened.
The effect of this economic vitality is particularly visible in the
evenings, after the gardens close and the dramatic nighttime
illumination of the terraces and Shrine is turned on. Along Ben Gurion
Avenue, which runs in a straight line from the base of the Terraces to
the Haifa port, sidewalk cafes and restaurants are now bustling, even
on mid-week evenings, whereas just a few months ago the area was
largely quiet after dark. The lighted terraces rise above the avenue,
which runs through the historic German Templer Colony. The whole
neighborhood, including rows of red-tiled homes built by German
settlers in the late 19th century, has recently been restored by the
city of Haifa.
The Haifa Tourist Board is located in one of the Templer homes and runs
the booking system for the guided tours of the Terraces. Five
telephone operators work full time to take calls on the tour
"The lines are continually jammed, and people complain that they can't
get through," said Mr. Tsur. "The demand for the tours is certainly
not slowing. We have more than 70,000 people registered for the coming
months, and we are almost fully booked through December."
Two different guided tours are offered: the first goes down the top
nine terraces from the crest of the mountain to the Shrine mid-way down
the slope, and the second tour goes from the Shrine down the lower nine
terraces to the Entrance Plaza on Ben Gurion Avenue. There are 19
terraces altogether, extending one kilometer from the crest to the
foot of Mount Carmel.
The Terraces and two adjacent administrative buildings were recently
competed after 10 years of work at a cost of some $250 million in
voluntary donations from the worldwide Baha段 community of five
million believers. The terraces were built primarily as a path of
approach for Baha段 pilgrims to the Shrine of the Bab, the
second-most holy spot for Baha段s. The Terraces also offer a symbol
of peace and hope to the world at large, and the guided tours come
with a message: that harmony and co-existence are possible.
In groups of 40 to 50 at a time, tourists are led by Israeli guides who
are recruited and trained by the Beit Hagefen Centre, an Arab-Jewish
cultural center that is well known in Haifa for its programs to promote
coexistence among all the ethnic groups in the city. Many of the guides
are university students and they represent a great diversity of backgrounds:
Christians, Druze, Jews, Muslims, Russian immigrants, and others.
Hila Naftali is a student at Haifa University who responded to an
advertisement posted at the university last March to become a tour
guide on the Terraces. She now guides up to four tours per day. During
a pause between tours this week, she said she believes that the
camaraderie fostered among the tour guides from many different
backgrounds is one of the hidden effects of the terraces.
"I actually get to talk with a lot of people who I otherwise would not have
a chance to meet," said Ms. Naftali. "One of my friends now is another
guide, a Druze from the Golan. We have reached a completely different
level of understanding, based on friendship rather than politics."
One of the supervisors of the tour guides, Gad Zorea, reiterated that
having guides from many backgrounds working together adds to the appeal
of the gardens.
"Haifa is a special, unique place in Israel. People know this city for
the coexistence of Jews and Arabs, and also Christians, Druze and
Baha段s," said Mr. Zorea. "The visitors can see our guides working
together, and they remark on this."
"Israel is a difficult country. People are stressed and nervous because
of the things that are happening," he said. "Our guides are the first
people they encounter when they enter the gardens, and slowly we try to
show them a different perspective, give them a glimpse of the way the
Baha段s view the world -- in a way educate them that the world can
be a better place."
About 35 guides have been recruited and have gone through an intensive
three-day training session to become a guide on the terraces. The
training program, which will be repeated periodically as new guides are
recruited, included sessions with the architect of the terraces,
Fariborz Sahba, and the caretaker of the Baha段 Holy Places,
Ms. Naftali said she was deeply touched during the training program,
and that nearly all the guides share her sense that what they are doing
is much more than a job.
"It was so meaningful when Mr. Ardjomandi described the significance of
these Holy Places, when he told us of Baha置値lah's dialogue with
the mountain [in the Tablet of Carmel]," said Ms. Naftali. "After that
I felt: this is a mission. I started caring more, doing more. These
gardens touch people's souls."
Two of the visits she had guided particularly stuck in her mind: a
group of retarded adults and a group of young soldiers on leave from
their duty in the Gaza.
"While I had to speak at a different level for the retarded adults, it
was a joy, maybe because they feel things more deeply, more truthfully.
The soldiers -- they were maybe 18 to 20 years old -- came in joking
and daring each other to race to the bottom. But the minute they
walked into the gardens, they relaxed and seemed ready to listen."
The guided tours are giving many Israelis their fist glimpse of a
religious community that has maintained a remarkably low profile during
its century-long presence on Mount Carmel. From the time in 1868 when
the Founder of the Baha段 Faith was brought to the neighboring city
of Acre as a prisoner under the Ottoman Turks, the community has
observed a strict policy of not seeking or accepting converts in the
Holy Land, a policy that has continued to the present day. As a result,
virtually the only Baha段s who live in Israel are the staff of the
Baha段 World Centre, some 800 adherents from more than 75 countries
who offer temporary volunteer service here.
On a recent afternoon, standing on the bridge over Hatzionut Street which
links the upper terraces to the Shrine, one could see a tour group making
its way down from the crest of the mountain, another group approaching the
bridge from the upper terraces, and a third group approaching from a side
gate to begin the lower terraces tour. The upper and lower terrace tours
intersect on this broad, garden-covered bridge, which crosses one of
Haifa's busiest thoroughfares. More than 20 tours, each lasting 45 minutes
to an hour, begin or end here each day.
One of the visitors, pausing on the bridge with several family members,
was Lynn Taubkin, a Haifa resident for 22 years.
"The gardens are a wonderful contribution to the city," said Ms.
Taubkin. "If I may speak as a representative of the people of Haifa, I
have never heard anything but positive remarks about the gardens. And
knowing that it is all based on voluntary contributions and the work of
volunteers adds to our appreciation."
"There is beauty here -- harmony, balance and symmetry -- and there is
a spiritual element that even those of us who do not belong to the
religion can pick up on," she said. "The gardens have a personality
that seems to personify the religion."
Another visitor, Orit from Kadima, agreed that the explanation she had
heard about the Baha段 Faith reinforced the impression given by the
"The impression of symmetry, order and neatness was intertwined with
the presentation of the Baha段 religion. The harmonious, unifying
principle is very pronounced in the gardens. It is beautiful and very
inspiring," she said.
Reuven Gover, one of the tour guides, observed that visitors often
remark on how carefully the gardens are maintained.
"They see the young Baha段s who come from all over the world to
volunteer in the maintenance of the gardens, and their dedication and
attention to detail. It is a wonderful example for Israelis to see
something that is so beautifully kept and looked after," he said.
Another tour guide, Yohai Devir, gathered his group about him on the
bridge, speaking through a small portable amplifier carried on his
waist. He pointed to the imposing marble buildings to the left of the
upper terraces and described their functions as the international
administrative center of a world religion. Looking up at the terraces,
he pointed out the three distinct zones of the gardens -- the formal
central axis, surrounded on either side by informal gardens and
drought-resistant ground covers, blending finally into the natural
wooded cover of the mountain -- and described the high-tech water
conservation methods used in the gardens.
Mr. Devir, a student of electrical engineering at Haifa's Technion
University, then led the group down around the side of the Shrine of
the Bab to a shady area where he told the story of the Bab -- His
declaration of a new revelation from God in mid-19th century Iran, the
dramatic impact of this declaration on Persian society, His execution
by a firing squad in 1850, and how His remains had been hidden by His
followers for nearly 60 years until they were brought for burial in a
mausoleum on the slopes of Mount Carmel. He spoke of
Baha置値lah, the promised Messenger foretold by the Bab, who had
arrived in the Holy Land in 1868 as a prisoner under the Ottoman
authorities, had indicated the precise spot where the Bab's remains
should be buried, and had chosen Mount Carmel as the future center of
The group continued down through the informal gardens and crossed on to
the central staircase of the terraces just below the Shrine. They
paused again on the bridge over Abbas Street, four terraces above the
base of the mountain. Here Mr. Devir described the basic principles of
the Baha段 Faith, its international activities, and its focus on
promoting the oneness of humanity and the elimination of all forms of
The visitors, particularly the young people, then peppered him with
questions: how do they cut the grass on these steep slopes? How much
does it cost to maintain the gardens? What other gardens in the world
can these compare with? Who is buried in the Shrine? Why is it here in
Israel? What is the meaning of the calligraphic symbols on the Shrine?
One of the visitors, Susan Soto from Karmi'el, a village about 45
minutes north of Haifa, said she came on the tour because she had seen
the gardens on television. "These gardens have become famous. They are
beautiful and very impressive. Baha段s believe in good things. They
believe in one God, in peace. It's good for everyone," she said.
Another visitor was Inbal Shabtai, who had come with her parents from
Ashdod, about a two-and- a-half hour drive from Haifa. "It's charming,"
she said. "Whatever attracts the eye, attracts the heart. It is very
attractive. Here is a religion that accepts the equality of men and
women. The beliefs are good for modern life."
As the group exited the gardens, four newlywed couples were having
their wedding photos and video taken in the plaza surrounding the
fountain at the base of the terraces, a practice which has become very
common among newlyweds in Haifa.
©Copyright 2001, Baha'i World News Service
Page last updated/revised 083001
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