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Jaffa, Israel: Enjoy port-city views and a melting pot of cultures

A view of old Jaffa and its harbor. It was here that many Jews arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in what was then Palestine. Now incorporated into Tel Aviv, Jaffa is one of the oldest towns in the region.


By MICHAEL ABRAMS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 9, 2014

A stroll through Jaffa is a walk from the present to the past and back again.

Incorporated into Tel Aviv in 1950, Jaffa is one of the oldest cities in Israel, indeed in the whole region.

Jaffa, or Yafo as it is called in Hebrew, is ancient. Mentioned in the Bible as Joppa, the city has been ruled by, under siege from or inhabited by Egyptians, Jews, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Turks, British and Israelis. Today, Jaffa is a mix of Jews, Muslims and Christians.

A good place to start a hike through Jaffa is at the Clock Tower, on a square at the foot of a hill that old Jaffa climbs. Built in the beginning of the 20th century by Turkish sultan Abdul Hamid II, it has clock faces on all four sides.

Start walking up the hill along Yefet Street, take a right down any one of the lanes and get lost in the ancient city.

At the top of the hill is a large, green oasis in a sometimes-hot-and-dusty town — Jaffa Park. Check out the Wishing Bridge that spans a crevice in the park and the Statue of Faith, a sculpture with scenes from the Bible carved on it. Here also is an archaeological excavation of Egyptian artifacts. A gate found here dates to the 13th century B.C., affirming Jaffa’s antiquity.

Also nearby, note the old Ottoman-era cannon pointing out to sea. From here, there is also a great view of modern Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean below.

The Antiquities Museum of Tel Aviv-Jaffa is also in the park and worth a visit if you have time.

Rising above you nearby is the Franciscan Church of St. Peter. This model was completed in 1894, but many others stood here before it.

The Zodiac Fountain, as its name suggests, is a water-spouting piece of art featuring the signs of the zodiac represented by comical figures.

From here, follow signs through narrow alleys, passing art galleries, jewelry shops and souvenir stores, to Jaffa’s port.

Now used mostly by pleasure and fishing boats, it was here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that Jewish settlers began arriving in what was then Palestine.

Today the port features cafes, bars, restaurants and shops, including a fishmonger where you can buy the catch of the day. This is as good a place as any to enjoy coffee or a drink.

On a cliff above the port stands the Jaffa lighthouse, first built in the 19th century and rebuilt in the first half of the 20th century. It was used until 1966.

After enjoying the port, stroll along the seawall back toward town.

Looking out to sea, notice a group of rocks with one of them flying the Israeli flag. This is Andromeda’s Rock of Greek mythology fame, where Perseus saves a king’s daughter, Andromeda, from a sea monster.

Also take a look back up the hill where a minaret of the Sea Mosque and the steeple of the Franciscan Church of St. Peter share the Jaffa sky.

Back near your starting point, cross Yefet, head into the streets on that side of town and you will stumble across Shuk Hapishpishim, the Jaffa flea market. As the saying goes, one man’s junk is another’s treasure, and there might not be a place where it is truer than at this covered and open-air market.

Now if the sightseeing and shopping have made you hungry, stop at one of Jaffa’s popular eating locales, Dr. Shakshuka, and try the specialty with the same name. Here you can watch the cooks prepare order after order of shakshuka, poached eggs in a spicy tomato, onion and pepper sauce.

And if the doctor is full, there are many other good places, from restaurants to holes in the wall, that offer delicious local food, like hummus, shwarma and falafel.



Jaffa, Israel

• Jaffa’s flea market is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays; closed Saturdays.

• Dr. Shakshuka, a restaurant specializing in shakshuka -- poached eggs in a spicy tomato, onion and pepper sauce -- is at 3 Beit Eshel. Hours are 8 a.m. to midnight Sundays through Thursdays; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays; and until midnight on Saturday after Shabbat, or the Sabbath, which is around nightfall.

"The Gate of Faith" in Jaffa Park is a sculpture by the artist Dan Kafri. It features several biblical scenes carved on it, and is a natural attraction for photo-taking tourists in Jaffa, Israel. Jaffa appears in the Bible as Joppa.

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