Jaffa is a port in the southern part of Tel Aviv with an incredibly rich history. Some believe it was built by Japheth, one of Noah’s sons, after the great flood. It was later conquered by King David and his son Solomon; cedars from Jaffa were used to build King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. The Bible says Jonah set sail from Jaffa before his encounter with the whale, and it is here that St Peter had a vision from God and also raised Tabitha from the dead. And that only takes us into the very beginning of the time we refer to as AD!
Jaffa is about a twenty-five minute walk along the beach from near the centre of Tel Aviv. To be fair I could normally walk the distance in about fifteen minutes, but it really is very hot indeed, so it takes a bit longer. There are plenty of benches along the route if you feel the need to sit down and the view over the sea is well worth pausing for. Jaffa is easy to find as the tower is visible from the beach in Tel Aviv. Just head along the beach towards it and you’ll soon be there!
A Stroll Around Jaffa
An amazing enclave, Jaffa is a real step back into the past. While the tiny streets near the town square and gardens may be crowded with tour buses, only a few streets back quiet cobbled stair lined streets meander up and down past buildings that have been standing for centuries.
There’s something amazing around every corner – like this house, the home of Simon, The Tanner.
“Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
Acts 10 : 6-7
‘Joppa’ was the latinized form of the name ‘Jaffa’. This is the house where Saint Peter had the vision described in the following verses of Acts 10. The vision God sent led Saint Peter to include gentiles in the newly founded Christian church.
Some sources say that Peter also raised Tabitha from the dead there (Acts 9), others claim it was in a house on the site of the church of St Peter.
St Peter’s Church is such a beautiful, profoundly peaceful place. It’s a relatively new building, built in 1894, but there have been churches on this site for over a thousand years.
I felt such a sense of awe as I knelt to pray.
There are also lots of wonderful, quirky old buildings in the side streets of Jaffa, as well as many shops and galleries. Don’t miss the Zodiac Fountain in the main square, just up from the church.
Archaeological excavations under this fountain lend support to the legend of an ancient wishing well on this spot. The legend says that if a person made a wish and cast a coin into the well, the wish would be granted instantaneously. Curiously, there were no coins in the fountain, so I didn’t throw one in to test the legend!
Taking a Break in Jaffa
If you feel the need for an ice cream at this point (I often do!), try the Gelateria just across from the fountain. They sell gelato by the scoop in little cups (so no tears when it falls off the cone in the heat). I tried the Hazelnut and Mint flavours and they really were refreshing and delicious. There are also lots of little restaurants and cafes scattered around if you fancy something a little more substantial.
If you wander down the steps and across the road (watch out for buses and motorbikes!) you will see public toilets. They were very clean when I visited. Suitably refreshed, you may want to climb the steps next to the conveniences up into the beautiful gardens.
There’s a Zodiac Bridge in the gardens, a sister or brother to the fountain, which is also supposed to grant your wishes, but it’s really not very remarkable – just an old iron bridge. Enjoy the sculptures in the garden and climb up to the highest point for a fabulous view of Tel Aviv. Or walk downwards and see two archaeological sites – one a Canaanite temple, one a Egyptian fortress.
Archaeologists were actually working in the Egyptian Fortress one of the days I visited. It was incredible watching the ancient buildings being excavated, cleaned and looking almost new in the sunlight.
Jaffa is billed as ‘The Gate to the Ancient World’ and it truly is that. Even after several visits, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of of this remarkable place and I look forward to exploring it further. If you ever find yourself in Tel Aviv, do take the time to pay a visit to Jaffa.