Follow Simon Peter. See Jaffa with us!

Travel to the town that Peter (and Jonah et al) made famous

By Anat Schneider | | Topics: Jaffa
Photo: Anat Schneider

With no flights abroad we have even more incentive to discover the beauty of traveling within Israel. I must also admit that I don’t like being up in the air in an airplane anyway ;).

Also, since the country is small, everything in Israel is close and accessible. If I forgot something, say my favorite shampoo, I can find exactly the same brand anywhere else in Israel.

This time we went to Tel Aviv-Jaffa. We decided to make it a working vacation, in a different atmosphere. We rented a stunning Jaffa guest room on Yehuda Margosa Street. It’s a street with a great atmosphere, summer tranquility, the salt-smell of the sea and tree-shaded avenues. Old and new are mixed together here.

As soon as we arrived, I felt the sense of freedom spread in my limbs and the relaxation that this feeling brings with it. A stroll through the streets of Jaffa reminds me of the beauty of ancient cities. In my mind, I see Jonah the Prophet arriving at the port of Jaffa, catching a ship and fleeing from Israel (Jonah 1:3). And in my mind, I see women waiting on the pier for their loved ones to return from distant journeys.

A tranquil walkway through Old Jaffa.

You see new stores alongside old. Designer boutiques next to second hand clothing shops. Furniture of yesteryear alongside brand new designs. A “flea market” with great finds.

The many varied restaurants include popular street food such as Sarah’s Bulgarian kebab, the Tripolitan restaurant, Italian restaurants, Turkish restaurants, fresh seafood. Ice cream stands. Fresh and healthy smoothie stalls.

Museums alongside churches. Synagogues beside mosques. Arab neighborhoods alongside Jewish neighborhoods. Mixed neighborhoods with Muslims, Christians and Jews living together in the same building (quite unusual in Israel).

It’s worth going to Jaffa and staying there for several days just to soak up the atmosphere. In addition to wonderful aimless wanderings in the city, there are places you shouldn’t miss. I will list here the key places to see in Jaffa. And in between, don’t forget the spontaneity and randomness that this city offers.

Simon the Tanner’s house.

Simon the Tanner’s House – The house with the iron gate No. 8 in Simon’s Tannery Alley. Here, at the bottom of the stairs was Simon’s house and tannery for processing leather- referred to in the New Testament book of Acts chapters 9 and 10. The Roman centurion Cornelius of Caesarea sent messengers to this house asking Simon Peter who was staying here, to come share with him and his household the revelation of God. Right then Simon Peter was given a vision of unclean animals, the point of which was for him to not “call any man…unclean” (Acts10:28). Simon Peter responded to the invitation, bravely going to preach to a Gentile Roman officer. This God-fearing Cornelius became one of the first non-Jewish persons to put their faith in Yeshua (Jesus). New Testament faith began to spread from the Jaffa port.

Clock Tower – This is the central square in the city built outside the walls. This tower, like others in the Land, was erected in honor of the Turkish sultan who then ruled the country when it was still part of the Ottoman Empire. There is a lot of commercial activity around the clock square.

The Jaffa Clock Square was also the central point from which three major roads originated: South to Gaza, Northeast to Nablus, and East to Jerusalem.

The Kishela – In the Crusader period it was a fortress that protected the city. Kishela means “prison.” During the British Mandate, the site continued to be used as a police station and detention center. Later it served as an Israeli police station until 2005.

Jaffa Mosque – This is the third largest mosque in the country. The Muslim leaders sought to differentiate themselves from the Jaffa crowd when entering the mosque, and not to enter through busy and dirty markets with the other worshipers. The magnificent gate was built of stones brought from various sites around the country. The gate is an exact replica of one built by the magnificent Sultan Suleiman in the Old City in the mid-sixteenth century. Today, this entrance is closed, and the mosque is accessed from the western entrance close to the sea.

Suleiman public water fountain – at 7 Ruslan Street is designed to provide water for visitors and city residents. The fountain we see was part of the Turkish wall structure and is located in the city gate. This plaza served as a place of rest and reorganization for convoys and their people before leaving the city for long trips.

The fountain was built by Suleiman Pasha, the governor of Acre, in the early 19th century. He appointed one of his subjects, Muhammad Aga-a-Shami, as Jaffa’s governor. Mohammed Aga-a-Shami restored the city after Napoleon’s destructive military campaign. He brought her life back on track, as well as building other fountains around the city. To this day, he is considered one of the greatest builders of Jaffa in modern times.

Jerusalem Gate – The area was previously crowded having various trade and selling booths on both sides. Notice the rounded bump on the left – this is a relic from a watchtower that was adjacent to the gate. All around we see a collection of sandstone buildings that characterize ancient Jaffa. In these buildings, defense towers and cannon batteries were incorporated to protect the central gate of the Old City wall. The role of the gateway was to protect the city from the enemies coming to attack, and to regulate the number of people entering and leaving the city. The gate is called “Jerusalem Gate” because it pointed toward the city of Jerusalem. One of the important gates in the Jerusalem Old City is likewise called the Jaffa Gate, for the same reason.

In the markets of Jaffa one can find just about anything.

Metal Refiners’ Street – In the mid nineteenth century the wealthy families of Jaffa lived here. Their main business was money currency exchange and trading. This occupation required expertise and knowledge of the precious metals from which coins are made, and thus the street got its name. In the alley is the new southern gate in the Old Jaffa Wall. The new gate was opened to serve the Christian institutions that were established outside the wall, a process similar to the one that occurred in the new gate in the Jerusalem wall.

Jaffa Museum Square – The building at 10 Solomon Bay Street is now used to house beautiful and important cultural institutions. On the right – the Arab-Hebrew theater in Jaffa, and on the left is the Jaffa Museum of Antiquities.

Here were the governing institutions: the governor’s house and the prison, the adjacent “kishela”, and near them – the bath and the mosque. Later, when government institutions moved to buildings outside the walls, the place was sold to the Damiani family, which set up a soap factory instead. Since most of the soap was exported through the port of Jaffa, the product was given the nickname “Jaffa Soap,” even if it was not actually produced in Jaffa.

Abraham’s Garden – This is the highest spot in ancient Jaffa, a wonderful vantage point. To the west you see the Mediterranean Sea and the Church of St. Peter, a large building with red bricks and a tower. To the north is the modern city of Tel Aviv and one of its first neighborhoods, Neve Tzedek with its red shingles. On the northern horizon – tall towers cover the Tel Aviv skyline. To the east is Jaffa. The lands east of the city were the most fertile soils due to the groundwater in the area. Here “Jaffa oranges” were grown and exported, becoming famous around the world. Even today a few orchards surround the city.

The city of Jaffa served as a stop on the ancient route through the land of the Philistines, which was part of the Via Maris/Way of the Sea road that connected Egypt in the south, with kingdoms that resided to the north at various times: Acad, Shomer, Assyria, Babylon and more.

At the heart of the garden stands the statue of faith of sculptor Daniel Kappari. The upper part of the sculpture is devoted to the conquest of Jericho. Eight figures hold shofar horns, and on the other side you can see the figures carrying the Ark of the Covenant. One pillar of the sculpture is devoted to the binding of Isaac. At the top of the pillar you can see palms carrying feet – this is Avraham Avinu carrying Yitzhak his son on his way to the altar. The second pillar describes Jacob’s dream – angels descend and ascend the ladder, and Jacob sleeps on his back dreaming his dream. The sculpture is shaped like a gate – the gateway to the Holy Land, and was inspired by the Ramses Gate next door, which we will come to later.

Wishing Bridge – The Wishing Bridge goes over the main road of the Old City of Jaffa. The Bridge was symbolized by the signs of the zodiac, and today the zodiac is one of the symbols of the ancient Jaffa!

Jaffa Excavations and Ramses Gate – At the bottom of the slope of the summit garden is an archeological mound where many finds from different eras have been unearthed. Above the wall stones stands an entrance gate to an Egyptian fortress from about 3300 years ago, also called the Ramses Gate. The gate is a replica of the original gate. The original stones are now in the Jaffa Museum of Antiquities. On the stones are written three of the five names of King Ramses II, accompanied by a series of titles such as “Son of God Horus” and “Lord of the Crowns”.

The Orange Sculpture – In the Lion’s Alley at the Jewelers’ Corner we find the sculpture “The Hovering Orange Tree,” created by artist Ran Maureen.

The orange is one of the symbols of Jaffa, and the Jaffa orange brand is recognized worldwide as a high quality brand in the citrus fruit trade. The orange tree was first imported to the country in the seventh century from the Far East.

The fruit was probably small and bitter. In Jaffa the Arab local residents developed a new strain of oranges called Shamotti or Jaffa oranges – sweet oranges with few seeds. The first Hebrew orchard was purchased by the spiritual leader and patron of the nineteenth-century Jaffa Jewish community, R. Yehuda Halevi of Rogosa, and he sold it to Moses Montefiore. In the following years, many other orchards were planted. Fruit became the leading export industry during the British Mandate and in the first decades after the establishment of the State of Israel. Over the past few decades, due to a decline in agricultural production and accelerated real estate development, many of the country’s orchards have disappeared from the landscape. The same has happened with many Jaffa orchards. However, even today the Jaffa Oranges brand is considered a leading and high quality brand worldwide, and farmers from different countries pays royalties for the right to use the brand name.

Entrance to an ancient synagogue.

Zunana Synagogue – The magnificent building on 2 Pisces Alley Street, is now used as a synagogue by Libyan immigrants. It has been identified by scholars as being the site of the first Jewish “Khan” in the 18th century, a kind of hotel for Jewish pilgrims. With the waves of immigration after 1948, Mr. Saul Magnagi, one of the leaders of the Libyan Jewish community, sought a place for a synagogue for the community and came to this structure.

Today, both the synagogue of the Libyan immigrants, and the “Alley” Theater are located on the lower floor of the building, and the Ilana Gur Museum is upstairs. The synagogue is only active on Saturdays, holidays and special events. The Ilana Gur Museum presents over 300 of the works of the artist Ilana Gur as well as a wide range of works by leading artists from Israel and around the world. On the roof of the museum is an impressive sculpture garden, and a unique lookout point over the harbor and the Jaffa slope.

Two towers stand over Simon’s tannery. One is the Jaffa lighthouse, built in 1865 to guide boats to the Jaffa port. In 1935, the lighthouse was renovated and has become one of the most prominent symbols of Jaffa.

Al-Tabiya Mosque – Next to the lighthouse stands the minaret of the Jamaa al-Budrus Mosque, also called the Al-Tabiya Mosque after Sheikh Mohammed Tabiya. The mosque was built in 1730 and is one of the oldest mosques in Jaffa.

Kedumim Square – Kedumim Square was built following the riots of 1936, which began with the Jaffa port being closed by Arabs. The Arabs then barricaded themselves in the Old City and began shooting. The British army, although not trained in “alley warfare” decided to suppress the rebellion and take over the Old City. The British approached the Arab residents and demanded that they leave their homes. After the soldiers made sure the houses were empty, they demolished more than two hundred of them. Their inhabitants remained homeless, and the formerly densely built-up area became a wide open square following the evacuation of the houses.

The central building below the square is the visitor center of ancient Jaffa. The museum has a display depicting Jaffa throughout the ages, as well as a photo gallery that tells of the city’s history at different times.

The square is surrounded by buildings typical of Jaffa. Some of the buildings are now used as restaurants and souvenir shops as well as the “Zodiac Fountain” which includes the display of various zodiac sculptures. The square was given the name “Kedumim Square” due to the many archaeological remains, which represent ancient and hidden periods beneath modern paving.

St. Peter’s Church in Jaffa.

St. Peter’s Church – Located on 1 Solomon Bay Street, it is a Catholic church built by the Franciscans in 1888 and is one of the most beautiful buildings in ancient Jaffa. The church is decorated in the Neo-Baroque style, with paintings of scenes from the New Testament and stained glass windows of saints.

In the center of the church is a painting depicting Peter’s vision, which speaks of the need to spread the good news of Jesus’ atonement to non-Jews as well. Above the painting there are a dove and ​​rays of light that symbolize the Holy Spirit vision.

The church faces west, while most churches face east, toward the sun. Choosing this direction implies the connection to Rome, to which Peter came. He is considered the first pope according to the Catholic tradition.

At the far right of the church is a rounded building and inside it a small room. The building is an ancient relic of a Crusader fortress that was there. After the Mamluks conquered the country in the 13th century, they destroyed the coastal cities for fear of a European invasion by sea. Jaffa was also destroyed, leaving a garrison inside the Crusader fortress. The circular structure is an ancient relic of the fort on which the church was built. According to local monks’ tradition, Napoleon Bonaparte stayed in this room on his arrival in Jaffa in 1799.

The cannon display (in the church plaza) – The cannons placed in the plaza are called “Napoleonic cannons,” though Napoleon’s soldiers did not fire them, and in fact the cannons were used by the Ottomans to protect the city from Napoleon’s soldiers. Napoleon the Great’s Conquest of the Middle East reached Jaffa in 1799. Jaffa’s occupation was engraved on the pages of history as a time of destruction, killing, rape and looting.

Thousands of Turkish soldiers barricaded themselves in the city fortress and asked Napoleon to spare them and allow them to surrender. Despite an agreement between the two sides, Napoleon failed to fulfill his promise. A mass execution of the Turkish prisoners took place in the city for several days.

Later, Napoleon’s soldiers fell victim to the plague and were housed in the rooms of the Armenian monastery which became a kind of field hospital in those days. Napoleon instructed his physician to poison the soldiers so that they would not become a burden later in the fighting, but the doctor answered him with the famous phrase “My role is to give life and not take it.”

Napoleon’s journey in the country lasted about three months during which the city of Jaffa was greatly damaged and many residents found their deaths. Still, this visit is remembered as an important historical event because it sparked renewed interest by world powers in the Holy Land and competition among them for obtaining property here. The ruined Jaffa began to recover only a few years later, under the reign of Muhammad Aga a-Shami.

Zodiac Alley – Old Jaffa Alley bears the names of the zodiacs. The Zodiac Alley is typical of ancient Jaffa – small, dense and picturesque, full of artist galleries and the smell of the sea in the refreshing breeze.

The prominent wooden balconies on the walls of the houses are a beautiful and useful architectural item originating from the Ottoman period. They were often used for food storage, when the sea breeze was used to cool the groceries.

Jaffa was one of the most famed, and oldest, ports in the ancient world.

Jaffa Port – Today the port is used as a marina for recreational boats as well as fishing vessels. It is one of the oldest ports in the world and has been in use for thousands of years. It is a natural harbor due to the shape of the coast. The port is one of the most important symbols of the city. The port served as the gateway to the Holy Land and a rest stop for pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem.

Throughout much of history, this port has been the main artery of life in the country and the economic basis for the development for Jaffa. In the early 1930s, the British expanded the old harbor, deepened it and built the warehouses (“hangars”) that we see today. Until 1936, the Jaffa port served as the most important port in the country, carrying many goods and passengers. During the events of the Arab uprising in 1936-1939, port activity was almost completely silenced. Due to the disabling of the port, a new port was opened nearby in Tel Aviv, to which much of the commercial activity was transferred. After the establishment of the State of Israel, the Jaffa port was mainly used for the export of oranges. In 1965, with the establishment of the Ashdod Port, commercial activity at the Jaffa port was discontinued, with the exception of fishing activities.

The port, which suffered many years of neglect, is undergoing a restoration and renovation process by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality. The port has become a hub of tourism, culture, recreation, commerce, houses, restaurants, cafes and galleries. The revitalization and development of Jaffa Port is carried out while retaining its unique character as a fishing port and active community center.

It is worthwhile to visit the “Please Touch” theater, a theater whose actors are all blind-deaf. There is also a cafe on the premises, where you can order coffee and cake in sign language.

Andromeda’s Rock off the coast of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Sea Mosque and Andromeda Rocks – The rocks that stand out from the sea are called Andromeda Rocks. Nowadays, you can only see the remains of the rocks, which were formerly larger. They were blown up by the British to expand the harbor. The name of the rocks derives from the ancient Greek legend of Andromeda in which the beautiful Andromeda, daughter of Cassiope Queen of Jaffa, was sacrificed to the sea monster, Kitos, to save the people of the city. In the legend she was bound to these rocks by the harbor, but before the monster could take her, the brave Perseus, mounted on the winged horse Pegasus, arrived and killed the sea monster.

Hexagonal Fountain – The fountain was inspired by the magnificent fountains prevalent at that time throughout the Ottoman Empire characterized by polygonal shapes and special features, according to the wealth and importance of the maker. This fountain is one of the most famous in Jaffa and has been widely documented in the writings of scholars, travelers, tourists and painters. Over the years the fountain has undergone many renovations. At certain times different elements were added to it, and its dome changed according to the directives of the authorities and the dominant architectural concepts of each period. As part of the reconstruction work of Rosslan Street by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality in 2011, the fountain and its dome were restored.

Gesher Theater – Gesher Theater is a bilingual theater (Hebrew and Russian), which is mostly composed of immigrants from Russia. The “Bridge” Theater is located in the Noga cultural complex in Jaffa. It began in 1990, with a group of young actors from Moscow. One of the most famous plays that came out in the production of Bridge Theater is “The Dybbuk” one of the important classics of contemporary Jewish playwrights.

In the evening hours if you want to walk a little further north, you can touch the city of Tel Aviv. Walking the promenade between Jaffa and Tel Aviv is an experience in Israeli energy.

A boardwalk stroll in the later afternoon.

So many people. So many different and varied recreational activities. The surfers in the sea catching waves together as the sun sets. Swimmers in the sea cooling their bodies in the clear water after a long, exhausting hot day.

Children’s hoarse voices sound between the water and the sand, as they follow their imaginations and dreams in sandcastles with water canals. And as soon as a big wave comes and smashes everything, only the dream remains, but soon after they start rebuilding. Sports enthusiasts run on the sand, barefoot. A herd of athletes runs on the boardwalk, sweating with satisfaction.

Organized teams of jubilant, singing skateboarders. Yoga exercisers. Chess players. People playing cards. A romantic couple sitting and drinking beer. Musicians playing and singing.

A colorful “salad” of people who want to live and enjoy.

The city of Jaffa meets both criteria.


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