Jaffa or Yafo is the unique southern and oldest part of the business centre of Israel, Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
It was the first place we visited during our Israel tour in March 2017.
The legend says that the city was named in honour of its original founder Japhet, one of Noah’s three sons who founded the city after escaping from the flood.
Jaffa is one of the most ancient port cities in the world. It is located on the top of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Because of this strategic position, it was conquered many times by the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, King David, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, Alexander the Great, Romans, Muslim dynasties with the centre of power in Damascus, Baghdad or Egypt, the Turks, Napoleon and the British.
In 1950 Jaffa was united with Tel-Aviv (the first Jewish city founded in 1909), in the form of the city of “Tel-Aviv-Jaffa“.
The structure of the population consists of Jews 91%, Arabs-Muslims 3%, Arabs-Christians 1%; and 5% of the population do not declare themselves as religious or Christian, but they are not Arabs or Druze.
By the way, the Druze are an esoteric, monotheistic religious community. Their symbol is a colourful five-segmented star whose every segment, painted in the proper colour, represents one of the five cosmic principles.
What to see and what to do in Jaffa?
The Park – HaPisga Garden is on the hilltop of the ancient city of Jaffa. It is the best place for taking photos from where you can see the coastline, the Neve Tzedek neighbourhood, the first exit outside the walls of Jaffa and the modern part of Tel Aviv. The iron cannons were left here from the time when Napoleon conquered Jaffa in 1799.
Our tour with the guide Tanja Ben Haim Marcetic started from Clock Square and the Clock Tower.
It was built in 1906 in honour of the 25th year of the rule of Turkish sultan Abd-el-Hamid II, throughout the Ottoman Empire.
Close to the square, there is the Mahmoudia Mosque, the largest and most significant mosque in Jaffa. The Mosque was restored in 1820 by Mahmoud Abu-Nabbut, the local Ottoman ruler who rebuilt Jaffa after Napoleon had destroyed the city.
Near the mosque, there is an interesting building Sabil Abu Nabbut, built by Abu Nabbut. Otherwise, Nabbut is the translation of a “bludgeon” because the ruler wandered around the city with a bludgeon. From the side of the street, you can see two tombs and a fountain in the middle. The fountain was used to refresh thirsty travellers and camel caravans in the past times.
Wishing Zodiac Bridge
Walking through the park we come to the wooden Wishing Zodiac Bridge.
At the entrance to the bridge, there is a beautiful stone mosaic depicting the 12 astrological signs.
The bridge was built at the location of an old fountain that was considered a wishing well according to local legend. So, you have to find and touch your zodiac sign and make a wish. Then look at the sea and your wish will supposedly come true…
Franciscan Church of St. Peter in Jaffa
The impressive Franciscan Church of St. Peter is located on the western side of the hill.
It is the Roman Catholic church and monastery, first built in 1654 on the remains of a Crusader fortress. The church is dedicated to St. Peter and his dream on the terrace of kosher Simon, which abolished the obligation of kosher food for Christians. Today’s church is at the end of the 19th century, its last renovation was done in 1903.
Sculpture Gate of Faith
On the hilltop, there is an interesting white statue resembling a gate, made by the sculptor Daniel Kafri.
This Gate of Faith sculpture represents 3 biblical stories: Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, Jacob’s dream of the ladder and the trumpets of Jericho.
On a narrow land between the Mediterranean Sea in the west and the deserts in the east, the ancient civilizations developed along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, on one side and the Nile on the other. Their constant struggles for supremacy on the entire hill left a lot of archaeological ruins. Today, all along the hilltop are the Egyptian remains more than 3.500 years old.
Kedumim Square is in the centre of the old town.
From here the streets are named after zodiac signs. The entire district is filled with artists ‘studios, galleries, and shops.
Here is the Jaffa Visitor’s Centre where you can pick up maps, rent audio guides and find out about the latest happenings and events in Old Jaffa. Also, you can buy also tickets to Jaffa Tales. It is a fun virtual trip: the visitors “meet “the ancient characters through the 5,000-year-old history of the city.
Also, in Kedumim square you can see The Zodiac Fountain.
It is a modern sculpture of the twelve zodiac signs in specific designs.
In this part of the city, you can find one of the most popular museums: the Contemporary Museum of Ilana Goor.
Jaffa orange tree
Walking along the narrow streets, we suddenly find something unusual.
Well, it was an orange tree, hanging by wires about a meter above the ground! This fantastic installation was made by the famous Israeli artist Ran Morin and it attracts a lot of tourists each year.
Do you know why some sorts of oranges are called Jaffa?
Well, the orchards grew up around the city of Jaffa. The organized export of citrus fruit to European and Mediterranean markets started in the middle of the 19th century. This Shamouti orange, developed in orchards, was exported through the city port. And because of this, it got this name: Jaffa orange!
So if you visit Israel, you have to try them. Because these are the most delicious, sweetest and juiciest oranges I’ve ever tasted!
In the old town, you can find one of the most popular restaurants: Doctor Shakshuka. It is famous for serving traditional Israel breakfast Shakshuka, made of baked eggs in a tomato, peppers, garlic and onion sauce.
Flea market: Shuk Hapishpishim
A very interesting place in the old town of Jaffa is the Flea market or Shuk Hapishpishim in Hebrew.
It is open from Sunday through Friday, between 10 and 18 hours. Well, it is a bazaar, a place full of tourists and locals every day. Here you can find and buy almost everything: handmade items, carpets, jewellery, second-hand goods, antiques, Indian clothes, ceramics, furniture, souvenirs…
And when you get tired of walking, shopping, and the crowd, you can take a break and find refreshments in local restaurants and bars.
Old Port of Jaffa
The Old Port is still an active fishing port. After the renovations, today it is a marina with modern boat docks, the old warehouse, restored buildings, artist studios, galleries, stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and nightclubs as well.
One of the unique places is a small theatre and a restaurant and “Nalagaat“. Here the food is served in complete darkness and waiters are disabled with impaired vision.
Old town Jaffa
For thousands of years, the old Jaffa was the gateway to the Holy Land and Jerusalem.
It is the place and the port where invaders, pilgrims, and immigrants landed.
So today it is a tourist attraction and one of the must-see places in Israel.
In a word, it is unique and completely different from the rest of Tel Aviv.
You can spend a few hours or half a day on a Jaffa tour.
Just get lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets.
And enjoy the incredible atmosphere and scents of the Middle East.