Tel Aviv and Jaffa

Tel Aviv, Israel (Lori Erickson photo)

The twin cities of Tel Aviv and Jaffa (also known as Yafo) are home to about half of the population of Israel. For Israelis, Jerusalem is considered the capital of the country, but for the rest of the world, the official capital is Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv is a mere baby compared with the ancient port of Jaffa. It was founded in 1909 by 66 Jewish families who bought a sandy area north of the cramped city of Jaffa. The settlement quickly became a major center for Jewish immigration, particularly when the rise of Nazi Germany sent a flood of refugees to the region.

Tel Aviv today is the high-tech, commercial hub of Israel. Cosmopolitan, cultured and vibrant, it is bounded on the west by a ten-mile beach where thousands of people stroll on summer evenings. The oldest part of Tel Aviv is known as the White City because of its beautiful Bauhaus, or International, style of architecture. The district was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 and has more than 4,000 buildings in this style, more than any other city in the world.

In contrast to the newness of Tel Aviv, Jaffa is one of the oldest cities in the world. For 4,000 years it has been a major port and through the centuries played a role in many Biblical stories. Jaffa (then called Joppa) was the starting point of Jonah’s ill-fated voyage, when he tried to escape from his prophetic duty and was swallowed by an enormous fish. The cedars of Lebanon were shipped through here on their way to the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. In New Testament times, it was here that Peter raised Tabitha from the dead and where he had his vision of all foods being clean (which meant that Christians did not have to follow the kosher rules of Judaism).

Jaffa, Israel

A Street in Old Jaffa (Lori Erickson photo)

After years of decline, the oldest quarter of Jaffa has been extensively renovated and now offers a lovely place to stroll. Built on a hill, its narrow, romantic streets are lined with art galleries, restaurants, and coffee shops. (On my visit, I was especially taken by the lovely works in artist Michal Meron’s gallery.)

The old city has a number of historic landmarks. At top of hill, you can see remnants of an Egyptian gate and fortress from the 13th century B.C. Nearby is the Franciscan-owned St. Peter’s Church. Built in 1897 in Latin Baroque style, it occupies a site where a Crusader chapel once stood.  A short distance away is the House of Simon the Tanner, where Peter is said to have stayed while visiting Jaffa. While the house is clearly marked, it is privately owned and there is no access to the public.

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