The city's tumultuous past includes reminders of many of the events that shaped Israel and the region over the centuries. First mentioned in the Talmud, the area around Haifa had two settlements in ancient times. To the east, in what is today a congested industrial zone in the port, lay Zalmona, and 5 km (3 miles) west around the cape was Shiqmona. The city was under Byzantine rule until the Arab conquest in the 7th century, when it became a center of glass production and dye making from marine snails.
Crusaders and Ottomans
In 1099, the Crusaders conquered the city and maintained it as a fortress along the coastal road to Akko for 200 years. In the 12th century, a group of hermits established the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (the Carmelite order) over Elijah’s Cave. After Akko and Haifa succumbed to the Mamluk Sultan Baybars in 1265, Haifa was destroyed and left derelict. It was a sleepy fishing village for centuries.
The city reawakened under the rule of the Bedouin sheikh Dahr el-Omar, who in 1750 ordered the city to be demolished and moved about 3 km (2 miles) to the south. The new town was fortified by walls and protected by a castle, and its port began to compete with that of Akko across the bay.
From 1775 until World War I, Haifa remained under Turkish control with a brief interruption: Napoléon came to Haifa en route to ignominious defeat at Akko during his Eastern Campaign. General Bonaparte left his wounded at the Carmelite Monastery when he beat a retreat in 1799, but the French soldiers there were killed and the monks driven out by Ahmed al-Jazzar, the victorious pasha of Akko. A small memorial stands before the monastery to this day.
The 19th Century
The religious reform movement known as the Templers founded Haifa's German Colony in 1868, and in 1879 European Jews settled in the city.
Under the auspices of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, Haifa was connected to the legendary Hejaz Railway through the Jezreel Valley to Damascus. Although the line is long dormant, a Turkish-built monument to the sultan stands in Haifa to this day.
After World War I, Haifa was taken from the Turks by the British, and during the British Mandate period (1921–48), the city was the scene of many dramatic confrontations between the British who sought to keep Jews from entering Palestine and the clandestine efforts of the Haganah to smuggle in immigrants and survivors of the Holocaust. One of the ships used to run the British blockade, an old American craft called the Af Al Pi Chen, can be seen in the Clandestine Immigration and Maritime Museum.
The city became the center of the Baha'i faith in the early 20th century. With the creation of a deep-water port in 1929, Haifa's development as a modern city began. By the time the State of Israel was declared in 1948, Haifa had a population of more than 100,000. Today it's the country's third-largest city, home to 270,000 Jews and Arabs.