Jaffa lies at the southern end of Tel-Aviv‘s beach front, and the two are connected by a scenic promenade. Set on a natural hill above a harbor, Jaffa has a long and rich history, going all the way back to Canaanite times. The Bible records Jaffa as the port-of-entry of Cedars from Lebanon for Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, and the Book of Jonah records the prophet boarding a boat in Jaffa headed to Tarshish. Finally, Jaffa is also mentioned in the New Testament, Greek Mythology and played a major role in modern history as well. Here are some of the best activities to experience in Jaffa.
Explore Old Jaffa
Today, Jaffa’s hilltop combines an archaeological park amidst preserved remains from Ottoman times, all presented as an arts center. Explore Ramesses II’s Gate Garden to appreciate the oldest finds in Jaffa. Afterwords, the floating orange tree sculpture at its eastern entrance welcomes us into Jaffa’s main pedestrian street. This area is characterized by chic art and crafts shops, and cafes. Adina Plastelina, for example, revives the ancient “millefiori” technique to create unique jewelry. Nearby, Ben Zion David Yemenite Jewelry Workshop presents the ages-old techniques of making Yemenite style silver jewelry. Or visit the house and museum of the renowned artist Ilana Goor, and hear about her work while viewing Jaffa and its surroundings.
The main square of Old Jaffa is a great spot for a coffee or Gelato break. If you are a history buff, the audio-visual presentation at the underground archaeological park “Kikar Kedumim” is definitely worth stopping for. As we descend towards the port, look for the sign (over a humble door) stating “House of Simon the Tanner.” Here, by local Christian tradition, Peter had a vision that led early Christians to drop Kosher laws.
Jaffa in the New Testament
The Book of Acts records Jaffa as the place where one of the most significant events in Christian history took place. Acts chapter 10 records Peter receiving instructions by an angel to eat unclean animals and to also share the Gospel with non-Jews. To this day, several churches of different Christian denominations, mark and venerate this event in Jaffa.
Discover Jaffa’s Old Port
Jaffa’s Old Port is reputed as one of the oldest ports in the world. It was first used by the Canaanites, then Egyptian pharaohs, King Solomon, and later by the Romans, the Crusaders, and the Ottomans. In the 19th and early 20th century it held a special title as the only functioning port in central Israel. Oranges exported to Europe and Russia through this port were labeled as “Jaffa oranges,” and many pilgrims, tourists, and immigrants entered the Holy Land via Jaffa’s port. Nowadays, maritime commerce is redirected to the modern scale ports of Haifa and Ashdod. Jaffa’s harbor today only shelters local fisherman boats, eac morning selling their catch of the day.
However, Jaffa’s Old Port is evolving. Some of its former hangers now house popular art galleries, restaurants and bars. Others have become big spaces for changing art exhibits.
“Go to Jaffa!”
Instead of cursing “Go to hell,” sailors in past times would curse one another “Go to Jaffa!” The port of Jaffa was considered dangerous to access from the sea because of the huge rocks close to the seafront. To this day, buoys mark the specific entry way into the harbor. One of the rocks near the entry is known as “Andromeda Rock.” These rocks also associate Jaffa with Greek Mythology.
Jaffa in Greek Mythology
It all started when the oracle of Jaffa warned King Cepheus of Poseidon’s intention to storm the city with a deadly wave. All because of the vanity of his wife, Queen Cassiopeia. The only remedy, said the oracle, would be a human sacrifice to the sea monster, Medusa. In despair, the king ordered his daughter, Andromeda, to be tied to a rock at Jaffa’s seafront (to be devoured by the monster and appease Poseidon’s wrath). Chained to the rock, beautiful Andromeda was waiting for her death, when Perseus showed up. Falling in love with her, he chopped the head of the monster, which fell into the water, and became the famous sea rocks in front of Jaffa’s port. Finally, all the figures of this story also became star constellations.
“Andromeda Rock” is marked, to this day, at Old Jaffa Port with a flag of Israel on a pole.
Eat and Shop Around Jaffa’s Clock Tower
Head east and you will pass one of Tel-Aviv seafront’s best viewpoints, an ideal spot for a photo opp. Next to it, the Ottoman Era terminal of Jaffa still holds an impressive clock tower. The former commercial center around and behind it, is now called the Flea Market. It is a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike, offering a wide selection of eateries, old and used furniture shops, trendy fashion stores, art galleries, and a suq for second-hand items. Return in the evening to see Jaffa at night, and get a drink in the Flea Market, which turns into a hip place of bars and live music.
A tour of Jaffa can be combined in a day tour of Jaffa and Tel-Aviv.