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Jaffa the Oldest Port in the World

Jaffa or Yafo, as it is known in Hebrew, is one of the oldest ports in the world. According to the Bible, it was founded by Japheth, one of the sons of Noah, after the Great Flood and it was from here, too, that Jonah set sail on his voyage, before being swallowed by a whale. Myths, legends and stories attenuated by the passage of time – the fact is that Jaffa is one of the most charming spots on Israel’s seaboard. Its narrow streets, craft stalls and views of Tel Aviv make this a magical place to wander through leisurely.

History, Artists and Street Markets

Various excavations in the area have unearthed remains dating back to 2,000 BC, making Jaffa one of the oldest active ports in the world.

After a period of splendour and its flourishing under the Ottomans, Jaffa went into a period of decline on account of the growth experienced by neighbouring Tel Aviv, which absorbed it in 1948. Today, however, it has become one of the city’s most vibrant districts.

The entrance to Jaffa is dominated by the Clock-tower, built in 1921 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Turkish sultan at the time. Radiating out from the tower are a number of streets that make up the street market. In Jaffa you can find souvenirs, craftwork and even second-hand objects. Be sure to visit the flea market, held every Sunday morning between Yefet street and the Jerusalem Boulevard. Their wares range from brick-a-brac to mid-century designer jewellery, furniture and crockery. If you won’t be visiting the quarter on a Sunday, however, rest assured all the streets make up one big bazaar where you can always pick up the odd gem any day of the week.

What’s more, the streets surrounding the market feature quaint, vintage-style restaurants with terraces where you can dip into a hummus or salad for just a few shekels.

Hub of Artists

While prices are no longer the way they once were, Jaffa is a still favourite haunt of local artists. Situated in the north of the district is the so-called Artists’ Quarter, a compact area of old Arab houses and narrow alleyways which have been turned into artists’ studios and craft workshops. One of the best known venues is the Ilana Goor Museum, an 18th-century building owned by this Jewish artist. It boasts a vast collection of ethnic art, as well as works by such established figures as Henry Moore, Diego Giacometti and Joseph Albers. And, if you’re lucky, you might bump into Ilana herself as she walks her dog through the museum.

The other major venue in Jaffa is the Old Jaffa Museum of Antiquities. Housed in a lovely 18th-century building, it features exhibits unearthed during excavations in the area itself.

A Mix of Religions

A stone’s throw from the Ilana Goor Museum stands the so-called House of Simon the Tanner where, according to the New Testament “Acts of the Apostles”, St Peter stayed. Israel is a land where various religions coexist, so don’t be surprised to find mosques, synagogues and churches in the same street. Indeed, the Catholic St. Peter's Monastery stands in Kedumim Square, underneath which we find a visitors centre, housed on the site of excavations from the Roman period. Immediately behind it and overlooking the sea is the Monastery of St Nicholas, dating from 1667, the seat of the area’s Armenian community. The quarter also has synagogues and two important mosques, notably the Sea Mosque, where fishermen traditionally go to pray, and the Mahmoudiya, dating from 1812, which serves the local Muslim community.

Make a Wish

There are two things you should not fail to do before leaving Jaffa. First, stroll through the Gan Ha-Pisga, a park sited atop Old Jaffa hill, with spectacular views over the Tel Aviv coastline.

And, lastly, you should cross the Wishing Bridge and make a wish of your own. However, make sure you do so while touching your sign of the Zodiac on the bronze statue while gazing out over the sea. It’s certain to come true.

Take a Vueling to Tel Aviv and discover the oldest port in the world.


Text by Aleix Palau for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

Images by Aleix Palau, amira_a


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