At a timeworn crossroads where trade routes merge, travelers will come across one of the oldest, still-functioning port cities of the world. Strategically situated at the junction of continents and water, there is varied history in the arches, alleyways, and cobblestone. Now an artist colony filled with galleries and restaurants boasting exquisite sunset views over the Mediterranean, it is easy to forget that Jaffa has endured many conquests through the ages, including Egyptian, Crusader, Mameluke, and Ottoman. Some of Napoleon’s weaponry and insignia are still on display in various locations in the Old City. Nowadays,Jaffa is a thriving, vibrant part of Tel Aviv-the city that never sleeps. For families planning to visit Jaffa-here are our favorite spots to explore!
At the northern entrance to the city, on the main road called Yeffet, visitors will find an 114-year-old iconic, narrow, triple-story sandstone tower. The Clock Tower features clocks and beautifully stained glass windows. Originally given as a gift to the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II,it is a landmark for locals and a popular starting point for tours of the Old City.
Heading south, on the corner diagonally opposite the Clock Tower, is a renowned family-run local bakery. Since 1879, their wood fires have produced delicious delicacies for thousands of people. Whether one wants a heavenly almond chocolate croissant, ring donut, apple turnover or a good sambuska ( a pizza type bread pocket stuffed with a filling of your choice) the options are endless.
Abouelafia is conveniently open 24 hours a day and guests can eat their order within minutes of watching the bakers take it out of the clay ovens. Also, Abouelafia also has their Sandwich Bar on one side of the bakery and a newly opened Baklava coffee shop on the other. Opposite, with a fantastic view of the Mediterranean, one can find their fully fledged restaurant serving excellent Middle Eastern cuisine.
Up the hill from the Clock Tower, travelers will come across a white-walled, blue-gated property. This location houses the oldest educational institution in Israel. Established in 1863, Tabeetha School was born out of necessity. Under the Ottoman rule, the conditions were harsh, especially for women. Fourteen Christian, Jewish and Muslim girls received teachings in basic life skills and the number of students grew.
One of the first buildings constructed outside of the Old City walls, this property with its marble pillars, Turkish arches, and high ceilings has seen thousands of students from all over the world. 151 years later, it still serves the local community, offering high-quality education to boys and girls of all ethnicities, nationalities, and faiths.
Locally known in Hebrew as the Shuk HaPishpeshim which translates to “Bed Bug market,” the Jaffa Flea Market is a combination of traditional bazaars, antique stores, and public garage sale. The market covers a few small street blocks outside of the Old City between the Clock Tower and Tabeetha School. This location is a great place to pick up some bargains in jewelry, touristy t-shirts, and cultural knick knacks.
Simon the Tanner’s House
In the lower part of the Old City sits an unassuming but important place for many Christians. The New Testament features a story of Peter, a Jewish disciple of Jesus. In the story, Peter had a vision on the roof of Simon the Tanner’s house. God told him that the Messiah was not only for Jews but also for the other nations.
An Armenian family owned this property for many generations. The Israeli Department of Archaeology and Antiquities authenticated the location as the ‘original’ house. Inside is a still-functioning well dated back to over 3000 years!
Close to the sea, under a now defunct lighthouse, one can imagine a tanner up on the flat roof using the briny sea air to tan leather while watching port traffic.
St. Peter’s Church
The foundations of the Franciscan Catholic church are on Crusader fort ruins that in turn are on top of what remains of a Byzantine church. Under this stood a massive Roman fortification and proof that this has been an important spot for Christians for thousands of years. Because of the French connection, rumor has it that even Napoleon spent a night in one of the rooms.
Nowadays, one can attend services in the church. Visitors can also see the Baroque architecture with high ceilings and oil paintings depicting religious scenes. Legend states that the final resting place of Tabitha, the woman that St. Peter was said to have risen from the dead, is the crypt found in the foundations of the church.
Jaffa Museum of Antiquities
In 1960, an archaeologist involved in much excavation work in the area established this unique Jaffa Museum. The location chosen for the venue encompasses so many layers of civilizations, which one can see in its architecture and displays. From the mosaic floors to arched ceilings, to the exhibitions of tools, ornaments, cooking vessels, weapons and collections of discoveries from thousands of years ago, it is a beautiful place to explore this region through the ages.
This museum formerly housed Turkish government offices was in its past a soap factory, a Crusader fortress, and a Byzantine dwelling. Displaying both the old and new in the form of contemporary art exhibitions, this is a place not to miss.
Visible on the walls of the cobblestone alleys and paved walkways in Old Jaffa are little colored ceramic tiles. Those with some knowledge of astrology will find the symbols familiar.
One can see a bridge with twelve sculpted bronze plaques. Legend states that if one holds ‘their’ sign and makes a wish while looking at the Mediterranean, it will be granted. There is a large stone mosaic of the zodiac on the southern side of the bridge.
In the lower part of the Old City, in the central square, one can now see the Zodiac Fountain with sculpted chalkstone figurines. Tourists and locals use the opportunity to toss coins into the fountain and make a wish.
Nalaga’at with Kapish and Blackout Restaurants
Keeping with the interactive, sensory and hands-on theme, it would behoove visitors to visit this one-of-a-kind place in a warehouse in the Jaffa Port. It is important to see not only the work with the deaf and blind but also the promotion of interaction with the community as a whole.
Nalaga’at is a Hebrew expression meaning “do touch, ” and the goal of this non-profit organization is to change the way people think and feel. These venues emphasize the importance of the ability of every individual to contribute to the world. The center boasts a Theater employing deaf-blind actors, the Kapish Café with deaf waiters, and the renowned BlackOut restaurant with blind waiters and where diners eat in complete darkness, relying entirely on the serving staff.
From the multi-story buildings, one can see a rocky reef along the Mediterranean coast. One of these outcrops has a mythological claim to fame. It is thought to be the place where Andromeda was chained to await her demise. According to ancient Greek legend, her mother, Cassiopeia, bragged about Andromeda’s beauty. Poseidon, enraged by this shameless pride, chose “death by sea serpent” as punishment. Perseus flew over on Pegasus and slew the monster to rescue Andromeda. A flag flies on this rock begging for the telling of this story.
To end a long day, families should check out this excellent restaurant. Dr. Shakshuka serves various Mediterranean/Israeli foods. This menu includes Shakshuka, eggs poached in tomato sauce with chili peppers, onions, and spices. At this restaurant, the dishes are plentiful and delicious, and the cost is reasonable. This restaurant is a great place to introduce children to traditional, local foods and new flavors.
Autism Travel Tips:
- Parents should make sure their children are respectful in the religious areas such as St. Peter’s Church.
- The Kapish and Blackout restaurants are an excellent way to introduce kids to the challenges faced by those who are deaf and blind.
- The flea market is a great location for kids with autism to practice haggling.
- The Jaffa Museum has limited interactivity. Parents should make sure kids know what they can and can’t touch.