Bahai News - Beauty born of faith
Beauty born of faith
By Haim Shapiro
August 31) - You may think that you have seen the Baha'i Gardens in
Haifa - but unless you've seen them recently, you are in for a wonderful
To begin with, you should have a look at the gardens from downtown
Haifa, at the foot of Sderot Ben-Gurion. The wide avenue, with its
handsome stone buildings on either side, forms a sort of introduction to
the terraces themselves; these stretch all the way up Mount Carmel,
forming a swath of green punctuated by patches of color.
The terraces, developed over the past 10 years at a reported cost of
some $250 million - paid for entirely by contributions from members of
the Baha'i faith - are a testimony to the deep dedication of its
followers to the beautification of their world center and one of their
Baha'i, a religion which emerged in mid-19th century Persia, is today
a world faith with more than five million adherents.
Among the principles of its belief is that religious truth is not
absolute but relative, that revelation is continuous and progressive,
that all great religions are divine in origin, and that they represent
stages in the spiritual evolution of human society, which will
eventually emerge into a universal civilization.
Beliefs include the complete unity and equality of all races,
classes, creeds, and nations, and belief in the total equality of men
The Baha'i connection to Haifa is a result of the fact that
Baha'u'llah, founder of the Baha'i religion, was exiled from his native
Persia and incarcerated by the Ottoman authorities in Acre, where he
made his home. Baha'is, who regard Baha'u'llah as the most recent in a
line of messengers of God that includes Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha,
Zoroaster, Jesus, and Mohammed, consider his shrine, which is also
surrounded by gardens and located north of Acre, as the most sacred spot
in the world.
The Haifa shrine is the resting place of the remains of Siyyid
Ali-Mohammed, whom Baha'is revere as the Bab, the forerunner of
Baha'u'llah. The Bab was executed in Persia and his remains were later
brought to Haifa, where they were buried at a spot indicated by
Baha'u'llah in a building which is now topped by a golden dome.
THE BAHAI World Center in Haifa is staffed by some 700 volunteers
from around the world. There is no local Baha'i community. Although they
are eager to share their message with anyone who expresses an interest -
and theirs is among the fastest growing religions in the world - Baha'is
are forbidden to engage in aggressive proselytizing.
This principle, combined with the fact that their shrine contains no
religious symbolism or images of any kind, might account for the fact
that the gardens and shrine are a very popular place to visit for
Israelis, religious as well as secular.
On a weekday a short time ago, they were so packed that the
volunteers who welcomed the visitors could barely cope. The volunteers
explained that the shrine was a holy place, asked the visitors to remove
their shoes as a sign of respect, and asked them to remain quiet, turn
off cellular telephones, and refrain from photography inside the
Asked if the volunteers ever had trouble with unruly visitors, Ann
Wong, director of public relations for the Baha'i World Center, admitted
that sometimes it was hard to make people understand why they had to be
quiet. But she added that most of those who came to the shrine were
"I think that when people see beauty and harmony they have respect,"
The shrine, with Persian carpets, urns, lamps and a large crystal
chandelier, does indeed evoke a feeling of quiet and respect. On the
wall is a prayer which relates to the concept of beauty as a religious
commitment. The creation of beauty as an expression of reverence is
The formal gardens, with their carefully manicured shrubs, profusion
of flowers, and elegant trees, would be outstanding anywhere in the
world; but in Israel, where desert conditions combine with a general
indifference to aesthetic values, they are so exceptional as to be
There is not a leaf out of place, much less a bit of scrap paper. One
could not even imagine an empty soda bottle lying about in this
environment. A staff of 200 is employed full-time to care for the
gardens in Haifa, as well as those that surround the shrine in Acre.
WHAT IS new is that these gardens have now been extended to 19
terraces, a kilometer of greenery, from high up on Mount Carmel to the
bottom, with the same care extended throughout the site. The project,
Wong said, took over 10 years, with the Baha'i World Center slowly
buying up the property and developing it. The number 19, she said, is
symbolic in the Baha'i faith of completeness, perfection, and unity.
According to another source, the project involved not only the
purchase of undeveloped land but buying large buildings, apartment by
apartment, in order to tear them down to make way for the terraces.
The terraces are mostly green, with lawns so steep they must be cut
by a team of three gardeners: two to pull the lawnmower up, while the
third pushes it. In some spots, there are walls of ivy, while both lawns
and ivy are offset by rows of flowers.
The flowers themselves are changed by color according to season. A
system of fountains and water channels runs down the entire length of
the terraces, which are lit up at night.
Where the paths are not paved, they are lined with pieces of burnt
red broken roof tiles, which also serve to camouflage drainage channels.
In the center, running up the length of the mountain, are a series of
stone stairways, with elegantly carved stone balustrades.
Wong noted that in planning the terraces the Baha'i designers
consulted Israeli irrigation experts so as to use water as sparingly as
possible. The watering of all the terraces is controlled by computer.
In their center, just above the shrine, is a large stone bridge which
goes over Rehov Hatzionut. The bridge itself forms one of the terraces,
and when you stand on it you can hardly notice that there is a busy
thoroughfare underneath. At the top, a wide tunnel leads under Rehov
WHAT MAKES the project even more stunning is the fact that Sderot
Ben-Gurion, the old German Colony of Haifa, has been redeveloped to
coordinate with it.
Daphna Greenstein, who designed this project together with Gil
Har-Gil, explained that the axis of the avenue was actually shifted
slightly to accomplish this coordination. Like similar areas in
Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the German Colony in Haifa was established by
Templers in the mid-19th century. Sderot Ben-Gurion was its main street.
The original houses, now fronted by large paved pedestrian spaces and
magnolia trees, are quickly turning into an area attracting visitors
from Haifa and further afield with many restaurants and cafes. In
between are informal gardens with olive and citrus trees, and pergolas
In May, when the entire length of terraces is opened, it will be
possible to walk down all 19 of them and continue down to the German
Colony. At present, only the terraces immediately adjacent to the shrine
and the top two terraces adjoining Rehov Yefe Nof are open to the
The gardens are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m and the shrine is
open from 9 a.m. to noon. There is no admission fee, but visitors should
keep in mind that modest dress is required, especially for the shrine -
a rule that could mean some visitors, men as well as women, might be
turned away if they are wearing shorts.
©Copyright 2000, Jerusalem Post
Page last updated/revised 083100
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