The most striking feature of the stunning gardens that form the centerpiece of Haifa is the Shrine of the Bab, whose brilliantly gilded dome dominates the city's skyline. The renovated shrine gleams magnificently with 11,790 gold-glazed porcelain tiles.
Haifa is the world center for the Baha'i faith, founded in Iran in the 19th century. It holds as its central belief the unity of mankind. Religious truth for Baha'is consists of progressive revelations of a universal
faith. Thus the Baha'is teach that great prophets have appeared throughout history to reveal divine truths, among them Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and most recently, the founder of the Baha'i faith, Mirza Husayn Ali, known as Baha'u'llah—"the Glory of God." The Shah and then the Ottomans exiled Baha'u'llah (1817–92) from his native Persia to Akko, where he lived as a prisoner for almost 25 years. The Baha'is' holiest shrine is on the grounds of Baha'u'llah's home, where he lived after his release from prison and where he is now buried, just north of Akko.
Here in Haifa, at the center of the shrine's pristinely manicured set of 19 garden terraces, is the mausoleum built for the Bab (literally, the "Gate"), the forerunner of this religion, who heralded the coming of a new faith to be revealed by Baha'u'llah. The Persian authorities martyred Bab in 1850. Baha'u'llah's son and successor built the gardens and shrine and had the Bab's remains reburied here in 1909. The building, made of Italian stone and rising 128 feet, gracefully combines the canons of classical European architecture with elements of Eastern design and also houses the remains of Baha'u'llah's son. The dome glistens with some 12,000 gilded tiles imported from the Netherlands. Inside, the floor is covered with rich Oriental carpets, and a filigree veils the serene inner shrine.
The magnificent gardens, with their gravel paths, groomed hedges, and 12,000 plant species, are a sight to behold: stunningly landscaped circular terraces extend from Yefe Nof Street for 1 km (½ mile) down the hillside to Ben Gurion Boulevard, at the German Colony. The terraces are a harmony of color and form—pale pink-and-gray-stone flights of stairs and carved urns overflowing with red geraniums set off the perfect cutouts of emerald green grass and floral borders, dark green trees, and wildflowers, with not a leaf out of place anywhere. The gardens, tended by 120 dedicated gardeners, are one of Israel's 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Three areas are open to the public year-round, except on Baha'i holidays: the shrine and surrounding gardens (80 Hatzionut Avenue, near Shifra Street); the upper terrace and observation point (Yefe Nof Street); and the entry at the lower terrace (Hagefen Square, at the end of Ben Gurion Boulevard). Free walk-in tours in English are offered at noon every day except Wednesday. These depart from 45 Yefe Nof Street, near the top of the hill. Note: the Shrine of the Bab is a pilgrimage site for the worldwide Baha'i community; visitors to the shrine are asked to dress modestly (no shorts).