Of all the sites and attractions you can see in Haifa (and yes, even the whole of Israel; the Baha’i Gardens sits proudly in our list of top ten sites to see in Israel), possibly none will move you more than the Baha’i Shrine and Gardens.
Set on Mount Carmel amid gorgeous sculptured gardens, this UNESCO world heritage site just shouts out to you for a visit.
The Baha’i religion may not be a name familiar to you. The core belief of the Baha’i faith is that there is but one God and the various messengers sent to earth have merely been saying the same thing in a different way. The Baha’i believe that Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna, Zoroaster and Buddha all came to teach all of humanity the same thing and the latest of God’s messengers was Bahá’u’lláh.
His message was that “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens” and he preached the oneness of God, the oneness of the human family and the oneness of religion.
Haifa is the international headquarters for the Baha’i faith and the Baha’i Shrine and Gardens is the religion’s second holiest shrine, is the resting place of the faith’s founders and is visited by pilgrims from all over the world.
The Baha’i Shrine is the resting place of the Báb, the man who heralded the coming of Bahá’u’lláh. The Báb was executed in Turkey in 1850 by a firing squad but his remains were kept hidden. In 1890 Bahá’u’lláh was visiting Haifa and he pointed out the spot on Mount Carmel to his eldest son Abdu’l-Bahá, where the Báb should be laid to rest. It took nearly twenty years for the mausoleum to be built and the Báb was finally laid to rest in 1909. Abdu’l-Bahá was entombed in the building in 1921. (Bahá’u’lláh himself is buried in Acre and his tomb is the Baha’i faith’s holiest shrine).
The initial mausoleum was a simple stone building of six rooms. Between 1948 and 1953, the Baha’i shrine site was massively enlarged to a neo-classical design by architect William Sutherland Maxwell. The Seat of the Universal House of Justice was added in 1975-83, this time to a design by architect Husayn Amanat. This building is the meeting place of the governing body of the Baha’i faith.
The terraced Baha’i Gardens were designed by architect Fariborz Sahba and construction was completed in 2001.
Start your tour of the Baha’i Shrine on Ben Gurion Boulevard, where from the foot of the steps you can gaze up at the beauteous sight of the huge dome glinting in the sun surrounded by immaculately trimmed gardens.
As you walk up the steps you’ll be hard pushed to decide where your eyes should rest…
The Baha’i Gardens are a delightful set of 19 terraces that stretch for 1km up to the Shrine. Landscaped with lush trees and sculptured flower beds it a place of beauty and tranquility that comes alive at night when it and the Shrine are illuminated. If you need a place for peaceful contemplation, the Baha’i Gardens are ideal. The variety of plants and the way they are displayed is a delight for anyone with an interest in horticulture. For example, the Persian Gardens on the uppermost terrace have topiary in the shape of eight point stars.
The Baha’i Shrine building is not only a fitting tribute to one of the religion’s founders but is also an homage to its teachings. Externally it is a blend of western and eastern architecture with Romanesque granite columns with Corinthian capitals and Oriental style arches. The magnificent 40m dome is composed of 12,000 fish-scale tiles of 50 different shapes and sizes and each tile is covered in gold leaf. The dome sits atop an 18 windowed drum which rests upon the nine sided shaped mausoleum, designed specifically to represent the nine major religions of the world.
Internally, the Baha’i Shrine is just as impressive. Every nook and cranny is filled with ornamental gold work and flowers and on the balustrade you can see mosaics in emerald green and red. In each of four corners there are fire-gilded bronze symbols and everywhere is intricately decorated that you’ll find just delightful.
All the buildings of the Baha’i on Mount Carmel face Acre and at the shrine you will be asked to remove your shoes and also be provided with a pamphlet with information on the Baha’i religion.
Further up the hillside are the other stunning buildings that make up the Baha’i Haifa’s administrative headquarters. The International Archives building is Corinthian styled in tribute to the Parthenon whilst the Universal House of Justice has 58 magnificent marble columns set in hanging gardens. These buildings are not open for public access.
For a taste of what to expect from this magnificent site, see the video below…
The Baha’i gardens are open daily between 9am and 5pm and the Baha’i Shrine welcomes visitors between 9am and noon daily.
Pictures in this article courtesy Haifa Municipality