Tel Aviv Jaffa: Top 10 Things To Do


                                               Zodiac Fountain at Kedumim Square, Old Jaffa

Jaffa or Yafo contains famous stories of heritage of Israel. I walked around the seafront from my hotel Harods Tel Aviv all the way to Jaffa which is around 2 kms, which took me about an hour 10 minutes. There are buses too that goes to Jaffa that I took while coming back. As a tourist, there is interesting architecture, Artist’s Quarter, Jaffa Port and a lot of other places to shop and buy souvenirs. The prices are a drool here ! And the stories are mysteries.

‘So on this strip, everything that’s underneath is excavations , they found this site about 10-12 years back. Now they show everything in the underneath museum. Nowadays everything in underground, the underground museum actually shows the Ancient Jaffa. As we go through the alleys, we will see how this whole area was like.’ - Avihai said on the artists quarter and nearby places and we are tourists or travelers were stunned ‘How many layers of underground does whole of Israel have!’ To which he said ‘Layers and layers of destructive city filed on top of one another’ . Our smile turned into bewilderment. Israel feels like ancient treasure hunt!

So what is Tel Aviv Jaffa?

Jaffa is the older city of Tel Aviv although Tel aviv is more talked about, and is much much more popular than Jaffa. Tel Aviv is a younger sister ,vibrant and youthful built in 1908-1909 grabbing all flashlights which has recently celebrated 106 years where Jaffa is there for around 5000 years. In 1951, Tel Aviv and Jaffa was connected together forming Tel Aviv Jaffa or Tel Aviv Yafo. The owner of one of the most famous restaurant named ‘Jaffa Tel Aviv’ believes that this is exactly the way to call it. Israel is a land of minorities and a lot of people are welcomed here.

                                                                     Statue of Faith, Jaffa
                                                   For previous posts on Israel, click here

The history of these places trace back to Biblical times when Jaffa was a small port mostly for export of Oranges, Watermelons, etc. But it was also the place for people to come to Jaffa to Jerusalem. So the path from Jaffa to Jerusalem was always a big deal, there had been first train for centuries on this route, earlier it used to take 8 hours by train, now it takes two hours and the path itself is very organized. People used to take their horses which takes 2 days and camp on the midway. Jaffa is located 65 kms from Jerusalem and when staying in Jerusalem you would feel there is something very similar between the cities - probably so, because both of them are ancient cities.
The first buildings that came up here were mostly motels for the pilgrims who came to the city, came to the port, and then went to Jerusalem. So in 1960’s there was a thriving business here of motels, cab drivers, porters, horse drivers, carters and etc. 5000 years ago people came here and settled because it was very easy for fishermen to go out of Jaffa. It’s actually a natural port made of rock by erosion of sea. So by 11 and 12th century, it became an important city and was very popular because of Jerusalem. People would come from as far as England.

The Stories of Jaffa

Johna, The prophet was swallowed by a whale and stayed inside her belly for 3 days when he was on his way from Theurasis in Greece to Jaffa in an extraordinary sea storm. In the fish’s belly, Johna prays and he his spit out. The same was taken in the story of Pinnocia.

Now, Jaffa and all of middle east was once attempted invaded by Napoleon when in 1779, he came from France for 2 weeks and set his camp in Jaffa. He had set his gate which you can still see in Jaffa. Somehow Napoleon got stuck somewhere and his conquest went haywire.

For centuries Jewish and Arabs have been living together in Jaffa. Jaffa was once the Arab part of Tel Aviv but today we have a mix of Jewish and Arabs here. The city was abandoned for many many years, before Napoleon came and destroyed, but the structures of that era, still to some extent remain intact.

Top 10 Things To Do In Tel Aviv Jaffa

1. Enjoy the Clock Tower 

The Clock Tower, Jaffa

                                   Unique Signature of Sultan on Clock Tower

 Once upon a time, Jaffa was a city surrounded by walls. It’s wasn’t a big city, but a city of the size of old city of Jerusalem. Avihai pointed us, to the big circle where the northern wall of the city was, on our right were gates to go outside of the walls. The walls had surrounded the city upto the Big Mosque also called the Central Mosque of Jaffa, with the Clock Tower which was the opening gate of the city spreading around the area of a mile and a half. The Clock Tower has stayed the same for past 200 years, and during the rule of Abdul Hamid the 2nd, he decided to build 100 clocktowers in the middle east in the Turkish Empire. One more clock tower was built and that formed the entrance of Jaffa.On the glass of the Clock Tower his unique signature is embedded, a signature that every Turkish sultan had its own.

 The clock has been taken out taken in and taken out, renovated and fixed 20 different times. Because whenever people of jaffa would protest, this would be the first thing to go/ to break its handle. The last was in 2009.

 The person who was in charge of the clock was a Jewish person who was the founder of Tel Aviv. He only got to start tel aviv city because he had such a strong connection to the local ruler and he helped fixing the clock.

 The Central Mosque was made out of sand rock, made right on the beach here and was very very soft sand. The buildings in Jerusalem where as is made of Strong Limestone with tinge of red. The mosque was similar to the mosque of Afghanistan and Peru, dating 4000 years ago. Right next to the mosque is a boutique hotel and then we have Kishle - The main Jail - and during Arab City times it was used to be one of the main place of the city. Then there is Saraya where the governor would sit.

So at one side you have the ruler, and on another side you have the condemned.

2. Enjoy Jaffa Flea Market

                                                                         Jaffa Flea Market

The area surrounding the Kishle, Saraya and the Mosque is the Jaffa Marketplace of 6 lanes around the central junction. These all came into light by excavations of 16-17th century. Markets kept rolling in with successful vendors. This street was mainly for motels and transportation for cab drivers. Today here we have lot of boutique shops, furniture shops and flea markets (old, new, entrepreneurs like us trying to sell their goods) and 2nd hand goods market.

This is also a cool place to shop for Souvenirs , Jewelry, Bags and decoratives.

This place is very comfortable for tourists, I went twice on my stay.. and did some random shopping with a bit of bargaining and haggling.

                                                             2nd hand goods market, Jaffa

3. Historic Site of Old Jaffa 

Sabil for drinkable water.

 The original mosque was most of the times closed, so it became the back entrance and in the middle of the 19th century, they opened a very very big mosque where not only would the locals come but people of Jaffa. The rulers got a brilliant idea of making their journey easy by making a bunch of shades or structures called Sabil that not only supply water, but to tie the horse and to give shade. The water on these Sabil’s are drinkable. There are 27-28 ones like these till Jerusalem.

The suspended Orange Tree 'Orange Suspenda' / Floating Orange Tree in Jaffa
The Orange tree's soil and root system are encapsulated by a planter that resembles a seed.
The tree is fed by the drip system and
represents Israel's rebirth as a nation and triumph over sand and wasted lands.

The Egyptian Gate

                                                                   Tel Aviv from Jaffa

4.The Artists Quarter

All of Jaffa is siting under the ancient city of 4-5th century and goes about 7 metres down. Only when Jaffa was excavated, some 50 years ago, the found the gate build here and the architecture under the kingdom of Egypt. Underneath us, was the top of the dome. They can’t take people outside of home, so they pre-cemented it. Initially , it had criminals, but the artists were bought in the 1950’s and all the shops remained. Today its thriving places for artists where they sell.

At one point you can see the beautiful sister of Tel Aviv from the eyes of Old Jaffa. There is a statue of Faith binding the stories of Abraham and Isaac and the angel with the rings gave him the gold sheep. There is also a custom here to put our right hands towards the sign and make a wish and span it around. I had already wished a chit full of wishes in the wishing wall, Jerusalem!

It looks like plaza of sorts in the Artists Quarter. But in those times, Jaffa was filled with so many criminals for so many years and this was like an Arabic Kasbah. Every arabian city has a Kasbah(camp) in the middle of the city. Hence all the houses are Arab, the last muslim settlement of Jaffa,

Where we were walking in those alleys, were once home to crooks and criminals.When the Jaffa Mafia used to fight, and overtime someone would get murdered, they would put concrete to build another house and they would put the body in the concrete. Some people say that it may be myth or may be truth. Gross eh!

But interesting too..

Eventually Jaffa became polluted with crime scene in the city, however when Britishers came here after World War I, they saw the potential but found no other way to control the city than to destroy home.

At one end ,we can say they took us all the beautiful homes but another way, we found a route to excavation which happens these days.

When we entered one of the boutique shops which showcased handmade jewelry made of Plasticine, she told us this was a Turkish Bathhouse and a few years back when we were renovating the shop, we found a room full of dirt, and inside of excavations we found it was kept like this for 3000 years. You can see the Arrow head, the clay pots, the cannon balls, bullets as an exhibit in that shop.

One thing is clear, in Israel, you might never know what you can find under!

5. Saint Peters Church

As we trolled more into the Jaffa city, we found ourselves gazing towards Saint Peters Church. The original of Saint Peters Church has a very interesting stories behind it.

When Jaffa became safe and important for Christians, after Jesus Crucifiction his 12 decibels were left alone including Mother Mary and each of them went to a different place. Peter the youngest of decipels this is where he decided to stay in a small house where people wouldn’t recognize him as much as they would in Tel Aviv, Nazareth or the North.

The story of Tabitha, a women from Jaffa was healed by Saint Peters. Tabitha was once very very sick girl and their family was very very rich but they didn’t know how to cure her. They had heard that Jesus was crucified and one of the students was living not so far away from Jaffa . That place is about 4-5 hours of ride with horse from Jaffa and they called him to Jaffa. He felt as he has never done a miracle, he wasn’t capable of one so he refused to come twice until he was bought by force.

He came and he saw the girl very very sick, and he told the family he wanted to sleep on the roof and run away the next morning. He went to sleep on the roof and he had a dream. In this dream, an angel came to him and told him exactly how to cure the girl. The angel also saw that Peter was very very hungry and told him eat whatever you want. Since Peter was Jewish, he can only eat Kosher and he said ‘I cannot eat everything'

To which the angel said, Anything that god created, we cannot say its okay to eat or not okay to.

After which Judaism and Christianity started falling apart until then it was the same thing. Only when the in the non-kosher part, kosher part was taken out of it, it started to be different religion.

All Peters did was then, said to Tabitha wake up and she woke up and she was ok. So Peters became first pope of Saint Peters and then started Christianity. Jaffa became sacred.

This church goes 5 more stories underground.

6. Jaffa Port Market: 

A converted hanger in the harbor below the old city is a very very small market but a little different one - there are no more than 18 shops. The Idea of this market came from Barcelona or Chelsea market of NYC. A really nice place to visit in Jaffa with food specialities such as the finest hot dogs of Israel, hummus, spice shop, pizza shop, beer and etc.

If you are looking for sausages, look no further than Alan Talmor. Alan Talmor was making sausage for years, and never wanted to sell it here, and people convinced him to sell it here.. We also tried beer that sells 120 varieties at the Jaffa Port.

7. Harachana, Jaffa’s Old Railway Station

This is one of the hippiest place for tourists which used to be once the first station from Jaffa to Jerusalem which was once the old Rail Station of Jaffa. It was abandoned for years, before it became an army base. Few years later, it was abandoned again. 10-12 years back they started renovating it and today its a great place for a lot of things for tourists there are plenty of boutique and souvenir shops, 6 restaurants and a great ice cream place. Concerts too happen here. This place is also open till midnight.

In renovation, they had let the rail itself. The clock tower that we talked about the rail used to go till there.

This stands on just the border between Jaffa and Tel Aviv, and there is a board here that says one side Jaffa another Tel Aviv. In terms of the crowd that we get in this market its more touristy compared to the crowd at the Flea.

8.German Colony of Sorona and The American German Colony of Jaffa

If you are looking for something hip and beautiful right now, you could drive on the German Colony of Sorona where you would see amazing restaurants, wine bars, boutiques etc. The American German Colony is very very small and is right across the street.

The American German Colony was founded in the middle of the 19th century by the 156+ immigrants from the United States, who even bought their dismantled wooden houses with them for reassembly, they build it exactly like they were in Maine. About 10 of the houses were in two streets. Most of them did not know the whole area , the language and the local culture of Arabs.

When they used the US farm methods to farm the land here, they failed and so sold their properties to german settlers. An Immanual Church is also there.

Mark Twin had come to Israel to write.

9. Neve Tzedek The Jewish Neighborhood of Jaffa

Next we entered Neve Tzedek,a picturesque neighborhood and the first Jewish Neighborhood built outside of Jaffa. The architecture of this place is very very different than Tel Aviv, where we mostly see Urban Architecture. Here the first settlement was living under the arab rulers of Jaffa and he would approve on how the houses would look like, the circle window would be very Jaffa like(circular) , no actual electricity before and everything is very small.

Before Tel Aviv was founded out as a city, there were 100% Jewish neighborhood built on the walls of Jaffa. These neighborhoods however never had a chance to be independent and the taxes went under the local rulers of Jaffa. So in the end of 19th century, new Jewish settlement were symbolized by New Jewish Neighborhoods outside of the walls of arab cities and lot of Jewish people started coming from overseas and started to build their own homes.So it was the first kind of jewish independence in the land of israel.

They build their own houses and houses are on both sides, and some of them also have no windows on the outside. It almost feels like walls, to protect oneself from the outside world. Today its one of the most expensive places in Tel Aviv costing about $400 per night.

So in those times in the end of the 19th century, most of the Jewish population was not secular. Most of the jewish people in jaffa, were orthodox, even when they moved to neighborhoods, they would build more synagogs. It was more of a symbolic thing that the actual thing because under the muslim ruler in jaffa, they didn’t let them build synagogs and houses were very very small places .So when they built the neighborhoods. so they built different synagogs.

Avihai also told us, that his grandfather came from Morocco, and each Synagog has its own accent, customs and prayers.

He also pointed us to one of the houses behind us, the last one to be renovated from original ones, and we saw the circle window similar to how we see them in Turkey Istanbul. 

He also showed us the first houses in the neighborhood, were the owner of this home had a simple way of making money and he was just 26 years old. He understood by getting the Turkish coin which is made of silver, he could melt it and the actual material would be 25% more than the original one. He sold a lot of them and became rich.

Those times, it was simplest way, to buy and make more money.

10. Rothschild Boulevard

In 1906, the people from the Basilica decided that neighborhoods out side the walls of Jaffa was not enough and they decided to build the first people city or a society.

They contacted the Jews of Jaffa and Tel aviv and decided to make new homes on 6-7 acres for 66 homes.

They decided to establish the building society by lottery using seashells as of course there were more than 66 families in total. 

The president of the society collected seashells - half of them white and half of them grey. The members name were written on white shells and plot numbers on grey shells to decide which family would have which home.

This is an important and popular junction today!

So guys, I never thought the post would be so so long, but the mysteries of Israel are never ending, Before much ado, let’s talk about the party scene of Tel Aviv in next post, the beaches and bollywood night!

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