Bahai faithful call Haifa
tomb, gardens its holiest site
The view of the Bahai Gardens from about half-way down the 700 steps, the golden-domed tomb dominating the scene. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc.
AS IF BEING HOME to the holiest shrines of the world’s three major religions is not sufficiently complicated, Israel is also the location of a fourth – lesser known – holy shrine considered by millions the holiest of all.
On the steeply sloping north face of Mt. Carmel, perched above downtown Haifa are the Bahai Gardens surrounding the tomb of the religion’s founder, The Bab.
As a group of about 25 walked down 700 steps from the top to the mid-level where the golden-topped dome covers the tomb on Monday morning, Bahai World Center guide Azriel Yitzhak explained it’s history to us.
“THE BAB (born in Iran in 1819) was brought as a prisoner to Acre (Akko in Hebrew) under the Ottoman Empire,” Yitzhak explained.
Some of the rest of the story can be found at the web site of the Bahai Gardens.
According to the web site, “these gardens, located in the heart of Haifa, comprise a staircase of 19 terraces extending all the way up the northern slope of Mount Carmel. The golden-domed Shrine of the Báb, the resting place of the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith, stands on the central terrace, looking across the bay towards ‘Akko’.”
Bahai World Center guide Azriel Yitzhak explains details to the group of about 25 of which I was part. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc.
A World Heritage Site protected by UNESCO, the Shrine of the Bab is where the founder is buried, Yitzhak explained.
The basic tenets of the faith include “harmony between all people,” he said. “We strive for global peace. Believers want to fulfill the prophecy of Abdul Baha,” the son of the founder, who is buried at another holy place called the Bajiji.
The Bab’s son Abdul Baha prophesized in 1914 that the gardens and tomb would be built in fulfillment of the global harmony aims of the founder.
The symmetrical design of the gardens symbolizes this harmony, Yitzhak explained.
Indeed, following a straight line from top to bottom through the middle of golden domed tomb would reveal a mirror-image: the left is almost identical to the right.
The symmetry of the gardens – representing harmony – is clearly visible in this view looking up from the tenth terrace. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc.
Our guide went on to explain much more than one could find in a guidebook or on the web site.
He pointed out the white-domed Universal House of Justice on the eastern edge of the gardens, the Library and Research Center, the global home of the Bahai faithful.
The gardens abound with symbolism.
“The symmetry symbolizes the harmony we are trying to achieve, and equal rights for all,” Yitzhak said. “The water flowing down the 700 stairs represents the continuity of life, and provides serenity for prayer. The 2,000 lamps in the garden represent the light blocked from The Bab while he was in the dungeon.”
The group of visitors descends some of the 700 steps at the Bahai Gardens on Monday. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc.
The 19 terraces (including the one for the tomb) represent the 18 original followers of the Bab.
Construction on the gardens, which are immaculately maintained by a slew of gardeners – some of whom were working during my visit – began in 1988 and was completed in 2001.
“The gardens are a gift to the world,” our guide explained.
THEY ARE INDEED. One need not be religious at all to appreciate the beauty and splendor of the place. (It helps to be an avid gardener, as I am.)
Anyone can appreciate the physical beauty, mystical serenity and symbolism of the fourth holy shrine located in the Holy Land.
It is a place of peaceful harmony – quite unlike the bitterly contested Old City in Jerusalem, where the holiest shrines of the world’s three major religions are located.
Perhaps the Bahai are on to something. They seem far more content to practice what they preach. Perhaps the other three faiths could learn from their example.
You raconteur is seen on a terrace with the golden domed tomb visible in the background. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc.
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