Jaffa is one of the oldest known port cities in the world, it is being referred to in ancient Egyptian scriptures from the 15th century BC. Later it served as the main port of the Holy Land. In ancient time and in Hebrew it was known as Yafo(still being used today) and with the Arab conquests of the land in the 7th century, the name has changed to Yaffa in Arabic or Jaffa in English.
Today Jaffa is a part of Tel Aviv.
Jaffa- A Brief Background
Like the whole country, the city saw a lot of rulers over the years. From the Egyptians to the Persians to the Romans and more.
Jaffa is being referred several times in the Bible: as the place where prophet Jonah went on his journey and got swallowed by a whale, as the port where the cedars from Lebanon were brought to build the second temple. In the New Testament, it’s mentioned as the place where Saint Peter’s resurrected the widow of Tabitha.
With the Muslim conquest of the land in the 7th century, the city status decreased for other cities. Before the Crusaders came the Muslims destroyed Jaffa and the people left. The Crusaders rebuilt the city and used the port to maintain the connection with Europe. In the 13th century, Baibars conquer and destroys the city (it seem like people like to destroy this place…). It was left in ruins until the 17th century when it was settled by Franciscan monks. Later in that century, they were occupied by the Mamelukes who massacred the monks.
In 1799 the city got a visit from Napoleon. The battle was hard and the French captured many Turkish soldiers, 2000 of them including the city governor were massacred on the beach of Jaffa. Because they didn’t bury the bodies, a plague erupted the caused many casualties to Napoleon soldiers and the city residents. (Can you imagine what a headache is to the archaeologists all this building and destroying?!)
Later again the city was under Muslim control and remind like that until WW1.
In WW1 the British took over the land. In 1921 the Arabs were rioting against the Jews around the country and massacred the Jews of Jaffa. The massacre made most of them move to Tel Aviv. In 1936 in the Arab revolt, they opened a big military operation against the Arab population. In this operation, they bombed hundreds of houses and shaped the way the main streets leads today to the old city.
Since than tension rose between the Jewish and Arab population until the war in 48′.
When the state was established there was a small Arab minority remind in the city and most of the city was destroyed from the battles. New immigrants were settling in the ruined city and it got a bad reputation of a place of poverty.
With the time more and more resources were put into the old city to make it a touristic place. Archaeological excavations were conducted and parks were built. The port was no longer a commercial port and became a leisure place. In the 80’s artists moved to the old city and opened galleries and studios. Today Jaffa is a tiny place where you can find Arabs Jews and Christians in a tiny place and it’s one of the more interesting spots to visit while in Tel Aviv.
Old Jaffa Today
After reading all of this rich history you probably imagining a huge city with towers, a wall, and magnificent buildings. Surprise, it’s not, It’s tiny. so tiny it’s considered to be a neighborhood of Tel Aviv today. But size doesn’t matter, right?
The old city is built on a hill next to the sea. It is a complex of small alleys which use to be habitat by tough fisherman and seaman, which are now habitat by artists and their galleries. As you are getting lost in the small alleys feel free to enter the galleries. For some reason the streets name are after the zodiac signs, it’s a thing in Jaffa which I haven’t figured yet.
Excavations at the place were possible after the British military operation in 1936 which left many areas in ruins. The digging was conducted in the 50’s after the ruins were cleaned. The earliest findings are from the Bronze Age.
Used to be the main port of the land from ancient times until the 30’s. it is a small port and today the port is used for fisherman’s and as a leisure area. There are fancy restaurants along the ports and on weekends there will be street shows of musicians and sometimes on Saturday a street circus show.
NaLaga’t is located here.
There is an art gallery which you can visit for free in one of the hangers.
A big nice open space in the middle of the small tiny alleys, Great design huh? Well, it was designed by British bombs during the time of the Arab revolt (can read in the history). In the middle, there is a zodiac fountain (zodiacs is a thing in Jaffa) and entrance to an archaeological underground site. the square has some tourist shops and restaurants.
St. Peter Church
Jaffa served as an important junction t Christians along the history. It’s the port where pilgrims used to arrive on their way to visit Jerusalem. That why the main road in Jaffa is called Jerusalem. Because it was the road to Jerusalem. And you can guess what the name of the main street in Jerusalem is? Right! Yafo( Jaffa in Hebrew) because it was the road to Jaffa.
According to the Christian tradition, this church is standing on the place which used to be the house of Simon the tanner. In the past, it was a Byzantine church and later a Crusader fort. King Louis the 9th was visiting the place. Later it was destroyed by the Mamelukes and in the 17th-century Franciscan monk build the church. During his campaign in the holy land, Napoleon stayed in this church.
Simon The Tanner House
So actually there are 3 versions of where his house was, Peter church is just one of them. This house is the Armenian version of the house location. The Orthodox recognize his house in a church in the south of Tel Aviv….
A big mosque just next to the clock square. it is actually the 3rd biggest mosque in the country. was built in the 18 century by the Ottomans.
Outside Of Old Jaffa:
One of the main streets of Jaffa used to be the path around the Old Jaffa city wall. The street lets you feel the Arab side of Tel Aviv-Yafo. Most tourists don’t proceed on this street and just stick to the seaside of old Jaffa. This is what they are missing:
The street gives you more of the atmosphere of “real” Jaffa, it’s where people go shopping, Eating and working. The street has much historical building along it, churches, international schools and more. Some of it has interesting architecture.
The street is full of Middle Eastern culinary options, from fancy restaurants to simple hummus places. Personally, I prefer to eat here than the expensive port area.
- The Center of the Authentic Hummus – although most Israelis will recommend you another hummus place in Jaffa, I prefer this one. Yefet 73 Street.
- Andre Ice Cream – The original ice cream shop of what is today is a successful chain. Yefet 138 Street.
A very famous Arab bakery which operates continuously since 1879. It serves all kind of Arab pastries and sweets from sambusak to baklawa.
Abulafia is a Jewish name, so how come that an Arab bakery is named with a Jewish name?
The founder of the bakery was an Arab who worked for Abulafia family in Neve Tzedek. He was very close to the family and as the head of the family passed away he asked to adopt the family name.
Midron Yafo park
The place used to be a big garbage dump area. Today it is a nice quite park with a great view on the beach.