Bahai shrine Haifa - AP - 12/4/2011
The newly renovated Baha'i Shrine of the Bab and the gardens is seen in Haifa, Israel, April 12, 2011. Photo by AP
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Eyal Toueg
The Baha'i Gardens in Haifa Photo by Eyal Toueg

Jerusalem has for centuries maintained a monopoly on must-see holy sites in Israel. Yet one attraction that has succeeded in luring tourists and pilgrims who are willing to expand their radar to include Haifa is the Baha’i Gardens.

The Baha’i Gardens are the sacred grounds surrounding the Shrine of the Bab, which contains the remains of the Baha’i faith’s first prophet; the site is the second holiest for followers of the Baha’i faith -- probably the lesser known of the monotheistic religions with spiritual ties to the holy land, which originated in Iran in the 19th century. The religion came to Israel in that same century when Baha’u’llah, the second prophet and founder of the faith, was exiled to Akko – where another of the Baha’i gardens is located.

Baha’i’s believe that every religion stems from a single shared source. Accordingly, the cornerstone of the faith is to promote unity among humankind.

While visitors are allowed to wander through the gardens independently, there are also free guided tours available that expound upon the complex meaning behind the gardens' distinctive architectural features. The gardens incorporate a medley of styles from both eastern and western cultures and blend them to create a novel style that reflects the Baha’i belief in unity. The gardens’ symmetry reiterates this motif by visually conveying a sense of balance and harmony.

The Baha’i Gardens, both in Haifa and Akko, were declared UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2008.

Entrance into the gardens is free and visitors can begin exploring the Haifa site from either the bottom or top end. Considering there are roughly 1,700 steps, most visitors, as well as the official tours, start from the top. The gardens open every morning at 9 A.M.; the inner gardens close by noon, while the outer gardens remain open until 5 P.M. Tours are free and do not require reservations, but they do not run on Wednesdays. English tours are only offered once a day at noon. Tours are also available in Hebrew and Russian.

For more information about visiting hours and tours visit www.ganbahai.org.il/en