Jaffa IsraelA short walk from Tel Aviv's towering high-rises and streets busy with traffic is one of the city's quiet refuges, the ancient port of Jaffa.

Called Yafo in Hebrew, the historically rich area is a fascinating place to explore on a long and leisurely afternoon.

On a hill above the blue waters of the Mediterranean, Jaffa rises as it has for centuries, a port of entry for pilgrims, refugees, crusaders and wanderers. From Tel Aviv, it's a beautiful walk along a beachfront promenade and over an arched pedestrian bridge to the Ottoman-era clock tower at Jaffa's northern entrance of Yefet Street.

Nearby is the mosque of Mahmoudiya, which dates from 1812, one of the signs of the multi-ethnic and multireligious nature of Jaffa, where Muslims, Jews and Christians live together in a densely populated district.

The layers of the port's history are in plain view in the restored stone buildings and narrow alleys that had fallen into disrepair in the late 20th century but through a long restoration project are today a romantic maze of artist studios, shops, outdoor cafes, restaurants and galleries.

The first stop should be the Kikar Kedumim Visitor's Center where maps for self-guided tours are available.

This underground center, steps below Jaffa's picturesque main square, was built around partially excavated ruins dating from the third century B.C. It houses exhibits of the excavations, including artifacts from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras.

Jaffa TachanaEarlier this year, the center opened "Jaffa Tales," a multimedia presentation that traces 5,000 years of history. Visitors walk across bridges overlooking excavation sites and are then seated to watch a "virtual" performance as animated characters from different periods tell the city's story.

There's a lot of history to work with. Jaffa plays a role in the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible: The cedars of Lebanon were shipped here to build King Solomon's Temple, and Jonah departed from Jaffa to meet the whale. Jaffa is home to the rock in the Greek legend of Andromeda, who was rescued by Perseus on his winged white horse.

On Kikar Kedumim Square is one of Jaffa's main tourist attractions, the Ilana Goor Museum devoted to the private collection and works of Goor, an Israeli artist. Overlooking the Mediterranean, the museum is housed in a 250-year-old building that was the first Jewish hostel for immigrants. Within its thick stone walls is a look into Goor's creative spirit, her eclectic furnishings and whimsical modern paintings and sculpture in bronze, iron and leather.

Also on the square is St. Peter's Church, consecrated in 1654 on a high point overlooking the sea. It has deep biblical significance as the site where St. Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. Under the church are 13th century rooms from an ancient citadel, said to be where Napoleon lived during his Middle Eastern campaigns. A short walk away is the House of Simon the Tanner, where, according to the Bible, St. Peter had the vision that spurred him to preach the Gospels.

Shoppers can spend hours in the crowded, narrow aisles of the Jaffa Flea Market, a Middle Eastern-style bazaar full of hidden treasures and relics of the area's history: ceramics, kerosene lamps, beads and brass fittings all found among piles of rugs and old and new clothing. Haggling is expected and considered part of the experience, as is a stop at one of the mom-and-pop eateries serving falafels, hummus, pita and other tasty Middle Eastern street food.

One of Jaffa's new attractions is its renovated train station building, which was built in 1892 as part of the first railway between Jaffa and Jerusalem. The station, called Tachana, was reopened earlier this year as a dining and entertainment complex.

Until 1914, the station and railway were operated by a French company under a license granted by a Turkish sultan. The train from Jaffa to Jerusalem was slow — four hours — but thousands of tourists and pilgrims made the trip, which was the start of the modern age of transportation in the Holy Land.

The building retains many of its handsome European-style architectural features, including its southern awning, made of steel beams and covered with zinc, designed by the same French company that built the Eiffel Tower.


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