Self Guided Jaffa Walking Tour
Here is a free, complete self guided Jaffa walking tour. In the following map I’ve charted my usual route when guiding in Old Jaffa, so that anyone can follow these instructions and get a pretty comprehensive experience. Zoom in for more comfortable reading. There are 3 types of location markers, which toggle a little window when clicked: The red alphabetical markers are stops along the tour, starting with “A” and progressing from there. The green star markers point to other places of interest off the route. The brown arrow markers contain the walking instructions. Below the map is the information section, with a summary about each stop. The entire self guided Jaffa walking tour can take about 1.5-2 hours. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring water and sun protection 🙂
1. Start/Finish – The Clock Tower
Begin your tour under the most central landmark in Jaffa, the old Clock Tower. Ottoman sultan Abdul Hameed II built the tower in the year 1900, to mark his 25th anniversary on the throne. The guy loved these towers and built dozens of them all around his empire. For most of Jaffa’s history there was a fortified wall surrounding it, and this spot used to be the main gate, dubbed “Jerusalem Gate”. Here was the starting point of the most important road in the Holy Land – the one leading up to Jerusalem. In later years the city expanded so far beyond the walls that they became useless, and were taken apart for construction material.
As one of the oldest port cities in the world, Jaffa is said to be named after Jaffeth, son of Noah (yes, the one who built the arc). Throughout most of history it was the main port of entry into this land, and was mentioned in the bible when Solomon had some cedar trees from the Lebanon shipped over to build the first Temple, and when prophet Jonah attempted to escape God’s will by boat. Pilgrims making the journey by sea would have had to come through here, and catch a carriage leaving for Jerusalem from this very spot. For this reason, whenever along history Jerusalem was enjoying a golden age – Jaffa would flourish. Whenever Jerusalem was forgotten – Jaffa would sink into a slump.
* The New Seraya
This facade is clearly visible from where you stand under the Clock Tower. There were several “Serayas” built around this land (this Seraya is from 1897), as administrative centers for the Ottoman government (the Turkish word saray means “palace”).
During the turbulent days leading up to the Jewish-Arab war in 1948, Jaffa’s Seraya became a center for the local Arab paramilitary organizations, orchestrating armed operations against the Jewish city of Tel Aviv. Therefor, on January 1948, in the midst of a civil war between the Jews and Arabs of Palestine, the Jewish paramilitary organization “Lehi” blew it up with a truck bomb, killing and injuring dozens. The building’s southern wing (the governor’s house) was restored and reopened recently as a center for Turkish culture. The northern wing only had its facade partially restored as a monument.
2. Mahmudia Mosque
Jaffa’s most important mosque is also Israel’s 3rd largest one. It was renovated in the early 1800’s by Jaffa’s Ottoman governor, Muhammad Aga A-Shaami, aka “Abu Naboot” (literally: “Father of the Mace”, as he was always carrying one with him). He named the mosque after his late son Mahmud.
Abu Naboot also built an impressive water fountain, dedicated to the ruler of Akko and his superior, Sulayman Pasha. It’s attached to the front the mosque facing the street, as free water was a ruler’s gracious gift to his people.
Legend has it that he built the fountain after getting stuck outside the city gates one night, tired and thirsty, and refused entrance in by his own guards, who couldn’t identify him in the dark. Next morning he returned home, and declared that last night’s guards will be rewarded for doing such a good job, not succumbing to his pleas and threats. However, since he had to spend the night out there, he overheard them badmouthing him, so now they’ll also be put to death… The fountain was built in an area accessible from outside the walls, so that no one will ever go thirsty while the gates were closed for the night.
3. The Old Seraya
This used to be the Ottoman governor’s residence, up until the dedication of the new Seraya down by the city gates. Built in the 18th century on the remains of a crusader fortress, it originally served as an inn. Then ruler Abu Naboot made it his administrative center, complete with a post office, a jail, a well, a mosque and a Turkish bath. After the inauguration of the new Seraya, it became a soap factory, until it was deserted in 1948.
Today it contains Jaffa’s archaeological museum (not open to the public), Jaffa’s Hebrew-Arabic theater, and quite a boisterous colony of fruit bats, visible through a barred doorway facing the street (just follow the noise!).
4. The Gate of Faith
Daniel Kafri’s sculpture stands at the top of Old Jaffa hill, overlooking the entire coastline of Tel Aviv. Its gate shape symbolizes Jaffa’s historic role as the main port of entry into the country. The gate depicts three biblical stories, all dealing with God’s promise of the land to the Jewish people: the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, Jacob’s dream ladder, and on the top part, the conquest of Jericho.
The park all around us used to be covered with the narrow, winding alleys just we’d expect to find in a place like Old Jaffa. Unfortunately, the British blew it all up in the 30’s. This was done to allow for better military control over rioting Arabs, during the Great Arab Revolt (1936-1939). The place sat in ruins for years, until finally getting a restoration as part of Jaffa’s renewal, and planted with salt-and-wind resistant plants.
* The Zodiac Bridge
As part of Jaffa’s rehabilitation, some legends and traditions were polished off and put on display. Such is the case of this bridge: stand on it near your zodiac sign, face the sea and make a wish.
5. Ramses II Gate
We’re looking into an archaeological excavation, where an impressive gate bears hieroglyphics praising Pharaoh Ramses II, who ruled during the 13th century BC. This is a replica; the originals are kept in the Jaffa Museum. The top beam is not a replica because they never found the original.
What are ancient Egyptians even doing here? For the past several millennia, this region has had significant strategic importance. Israel was a bottleneck, connecting the two superpowers of the ancient world: Mesopotamia and Egypt. Whenever one became more powerful than the other, it would expand and take over this area; this is why we find archaeological remains from both empires over several historic periods. Think of Jaffa hill as a layer cake, containing remains from many different versions of the city, stacked on top of each other. The Hebrew term for this is “Tel”, which is a word you’ll see often if you travel around Israel.
There is an Egyptian tale of the conquest of Jaffa around 200 years prior, by Pharoah Thutmose III. The Egyptians brought over “gift baskets” as a sign of surrender and the city accepted. Later that night, Egyptian warriors hiding in the baskets sprang out, opened the gates and allowed their army to move in and take over. This was all a couple of centuries before the famous Trojan horse!
6. Alley Entrance
Remember the British blowing up the top of Jaffa hill so they could take over when the Arabs rebelled? This was as far as the damage from that operation reached, and we can now start to enjoy Jaffa’s typical alleys.
The Old City was built on a coastal ridge of calcareous sandstone (think of it as a petrified sand dune), and that’s what all of these buildings are made of. You can see the rock is light and porous, so in order to achieve good insulation they had to cover it in plaster and maintain it constantly. The Old City was abandoned during the 1948 war, and rehabilitated throughout the late 20th century as an artist colony. It even has a fringe theater, which you’ll see on your way to the next stop. During the restoration of the buildings, they removed the old plaster to reveal the beautiful original stone. They replaced the plaster with modern materials, to fix the insulation problem once and for all.
7. The Floating Orange Tree
Sculptor Ran Morin’s suspended orange tree is an homage to the now bygone Jaffa oranges, which used to be the pillars of the local economy. To create his art installations, Morin has worked with the Volcani Agriculture Institute to develop methods of sustaining full size trees in unusual locations, such as suspended in midair, or on top of some 50 ft tall columns.
This statue is meant to symbolize mankind’s disconnect from nature. You can also look at it the other way around – how nature always finds a way.
8. Ilana Goor Museum
This impressive 18th century building served as an inn for Jewish pilgrims who arrived to Jaffa by sea. After long years of neglect, successful artist, designer and sculptor Ilana Goor bought the building and restored it, reopening as a museum. The place contains Goor’s own creations in different contemporary mediums, as well as her private art collection, comprising of over 400 pieces. This covers painting, sculpting, video, ethnic and tribal art, antiques, sketches, high concept designs and everyday appliances. She acquired all of these on her journeys in Israel and abroad, spanning 50 years. This is also her private home, which makes a visit even more unique. On top of 3 floors of this “artistic jungle”, there is a sculpture garden on the roof, overlooking the coast.
For more information, visit their site.
* House of Simon the Tanner
This site is not open to the public and not on the way to anything else. I put the marker up for those of you who are interested in just seeing the location according to Armenian tradition. The locked premises contains a lighthouse and a small mosque, and belongs to a Christian Armenian family.
In the Book of Acts we read that Saint Peter was staying in the house of a tanner named Simon in Jaffa. One day he was praying on the roof while awaiting dinner, and had a vision with many animals that were unfit for consumption according to Jewish law. Then a voice told him to “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (Acts 10:13-15).
This is one of the earliest signs of Christianity starting to break away from Judaism. Judaism sees great importance in separation – holy vs.unholy, kosher vs. non-kosher, Jews vs. non-Jews. With this story we start to see a shift through the character of the strict, Jewish Peter, being told that the time of separation is done. The very next thing he does is go to Caesarea and baptize the first non-Jew, Cornelius.
9. The Zodiac Fountain
You’re now in a square called Kikar Kedumim (“Square of the Ancient Ones”). Underneath your feet lies the main archaeological excavation of Old Jaffa. There’s a visitor center here, featuring remains from different time periods and fun audio visual presentations. For visits, go to their website.
Among other things discovered on the excavation was a wishing well. To keep the tradition going, they added a fountain right above that spot on the square’s last renovation. You may have noticed that Jaffa has a bit of a theme going on, namely the zodiac star signs. You see them in the street names, the Wishing Bridge and of course, this fountain. This is due to Jaffa’s connection to Greek mythology, which we’ll talk about near Andromeda’s Rocks. You have all 12 signs here, depicted in very unique (and some might say trippy) designs. Try to identify them all.
One last thing to note – do you see the Napoleon figures strewn around? Those are here to remind us that Napoleon Bonaparte himself conquered Jaffa in 1799, during his attempt at getting to Turkey via Egypt. He was stopped in Akko and had to retreat, leaving behind some of his soldiers who’ve contracted the plague, at the care of the monasteries. There are rumors that he couldn’t take them back with him so he had them killed, but a famous painting in the Louvre (see it here) claims it never happened. Guess who commissioned the painting…. (Napoleon. It was Napoleon.)
10. Saint Peter’s Church
As we’ve seen in the story of Simon the Tanner, Jaffa holds a respectable place in Christianity, as a center of transformation. Thus the Catholic order of Franciscan monks (representing the Vatican in the region for the past few centuries) established a monastery and church here, dedicated to St. Peter. This was where Catholic pilgrims used to come and stay when first arriving by sea. Today the church is still in regular use, mostly by local Christian Arabs, work immigrants and foreign diplomats.
The church faces west instead of the east, to symbolize the change in the attitude of Jesus’ followers, who started addressing the pagans from the West rather than Jews exclusively. Above the altar there’s an art piece depicting a dove drenched in warm light. This is a direct reference to a similar (albeit much more intricate) piece above the alter, in the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican. The idea is that any worshiper who enters this church will symbolically leave Jaffa behind and arrive at the Vatican. Catholics believe that Peter was the first pope, so the connection is clear. There’s also art depicting Peter’s dream and other stories from his life.
Outside, if you look to the very top of the facade, right under the cross, you’ll see a chunk of natural rock. This was brought here from Caesarea Philippi in the north, where according to tradition Jesus told Peter “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18).
11. The Port
This small, sleepy port used to be an explosion of people, traffic and noise. As you can clearly see, the advent of large sailing vessels made docking impossible. Thus, ships would lay anchor out at sea, and porters would make their way back and forth in little dinghies.
Many a pilgrim have described in vivid detail the experience of being hoisted by those hulking porters into their flimsy boats, sitting there shivering on a pile of other travelers belongings, terrified at the boatmen maneuvering ever so close to the rocks. Then they would stagger through the chaotic harbor, looking for their belongings and the correct paperwork in the blistering heat, until they could finally enter the city and find an inn to recover in.
During the Great Arab Revolt of the 30’s, the Arabs shut down the port for a while. Unfortunately, that only drew its end nearer, as naval traffic was diverted to the competition – the new port in the Jewish city Tel Aviv. Today this port serves fishermen, boat owners and naval scouts, with a mix of art and dining spaces, a music venue (“The Container“) and fishing gear storage.
* Andromeda’s Rocks
These are clearly visible from the shore as you’re walking back towards the Clock Tower. In Greek mythology, Andromeda was the beautiful daughter of king Cepheus and queen Cassiopeia. Her mother boasted that Andromeda was more beautiful then the daughters of Poseidon, god of the sea, which naturally made these ladies angry. At their behest, Poseidon sent the terrible sea monster Cetus to lay waste to the kingdom. The only way to appease the beast was to tie Andromeda to the rocks by the coast of Jaffa as a sacrifice. She was saved at the last minute by the hero Perseus, and together they sired the Persian nation.
The whole story appears in the night sky, as the constellations Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Cetus and Andromeda. The latter contains a whole galaxy by the same name, which is the closest one to earth and clearly seen by the naked eye. This constellation connection was the reason behind the modern rebranding of Jaffa around the zodiac.
So here we are, back at the clock tower. I sincerely hope you found this self guided Jaffa walking tour helpful and fun. Feel free to use and share it for all to enjoy!