On the slopes of Mt. Carmel, overlooking Haifa Bay, is a small, but very impressive golden dome. This is the Shrine of the Bab, a mausoleum that is the second holiest Bahá'í site. Looking down from the scenic viewpoint on Yafe Nof Street you see the eighteen monumental terraces, the domed shrine, the lower city, the port, and the Mediterranean coast all the way north to Rosh Hanikra.
Across the bay in Acre (Akko in Hebrew) are additional finely landscaped gardens. These surround the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, the final resting place of the founder of the Bahá'í faith and the religion's holiest site.
Israel is known to be sacred to the three major monotheistic religions so it comes as a bit of a surprise to find it central to the Bahá'í faith as well. Who are the Bahá'í and what is their connection to Israel, and to the Haifa area in particular?
A visit to the Shrine of the Bab, or at least a walk on its winding pedestrian pathways, is a must on a stopover in Haifa. The shrine's mausoleum houses the remains of the Bab, a Persian merchant believed to be an independent messenger of God. In 1844 he announced the imminent appearance of an even more important messenger - Bahá'u'lláh.
Both the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, were persecuted in Persia for their religious teachings. The Bab was publicly martyred in 1850 while Bahá'u'lláh was exiled to Akko in 1868. He was imprisoned by the Ottomans and lived in an estate near the city.
The Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh is next to the building on the estate where he lived until his death in 1892. This small unpretentious structure is holier to the Bahá'í than Haifa's prominent golden landmark. Outside the shrine are magnificent gardens set in a beautiful oasis of serenity. Visitors are encouraged to stroll through the gardens and marvel at the greenery. It is a perfect setting for quiet prayer and meditation.
With its roots in the Holy Land, the Baha'i live in mutual respect with the State of Israel. The religion does not recruit or accept Israelis and none of the nearly 700 volunteers who serve at the Baha'i World Centre are from Israel. The Baha'i Faith is considered one of the fastest growing religions in the world and its members fund the maintenance of the gardens on Mt. Carmel and in Akko.
The Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh gardens are located near Akko just off the main road north to Nahariya. The gardens are open to the public from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Friday through Monday, while the shrine itself closes at noon on those days. There is no entry fee. Guests should dress modestly.