If you came to this page directly, you might wish to read a page with an introduction to this section first.
En route to Stella Maris, the Convent of the Carmelites
We went up Mount Carmel, to
the Latin convent of the Carmelites, inhabited only by two or three
monks; great part of the convent, and particularly the church and refectory, are grots cut out of the rock, this place having been made a
monastery not long ago; for when the large convent was destroyed,
they lived as hermits in the grottos. (..) They say, this is the
pleasantest part of the mountain, being beautified with many sorts of
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745
At eight o clock I left Acre to visit Kaifah, a small town under Mount Carmel reckoned three hours distance. Our road lay along the large bay of Acre on a hard beach with sand hills to our left. (..) At twenty minutes past ten we reached Kaifah, a small town surrounded with a new wall and having a small castle above it. (..) At eleven we set off for the Convent of Carmelites on the top of the mountain at the north west extremity. (..) Our road lay beneath an irregular grove of olive trees and the sides of it were absolutely covered with flowers.
W. Turner - Journal of a Tour in the Levant - 1820
Over this convent are
the ruins of the old monastery, where probably the order of Carmelites
was instituted. (..) They have a tradition, that the part of the mountain, over this
corner of the bay, was the spot famous for the sacrifice of Elijah, by fire
from heaven, after the priests of Baal had, to no purpose, invoked their
God, and cut themselves from morning to evening, on which Elijah
caused them to be slain. Pococke
The motto of the Carmelite Order is a sentence by Prophet Elijah who according to tradition lived in a cave at Mount Carmel. "Hosts" in Latin is translated as exercituum (army) and the choice of the sentence was most appropriate to the time when the Order was founded by a group of hermits on Mount Carmel. This occurred at the end of the XIIth century, after Jerusalem had been conquered back by the Muslims and when all the Christian States in the Levant were under threat of being wiped out.
(left) Entrance to the church inside the convent; (centre) interior of the church; (right) inscription celebrating St. Simon Stock, one of the first priors general of the Order and listing Our Lady of Carmel's attributes including "Stella Maris"
The old church is now in ruins, its arched ceiling having been pulled down by order of Abu Dekel, a powerful Mameluke chief who about half a century ago came from Cairo to attack Syria (..) and settled himself here. He had ordered the whole convent to be destroyed, but when his
soldiers had worked two days in ruining the church he died suddenly struck by God said the Catholicks of course for his impiety. (..)
There were some English names on the walls of the convent to which I added mine. Turner
The church was rebuilt in the 1820s. Mount Carmel was regarded as a holy site by the ancient Egyptians and in particular by their seamen. Stella Maris, the attribute of Our Lady of Carmel which gives the name to the convent was an attribute of Isis and of Venus to whom temples were built by seamen, e.g. at Sabratha and Amathous.
Square opposite the convent: (left) Monument to the French who fell in 1799 with the inscription "Quomodo ceciderunt fortes in bello" (How are the valiant fallen - King David's Lamentations); (centre/right) 1894 Monument erected by the Republic of Chile to Our Lady of Carmel, their Patron Saint
The convent is very considerable. When the French attacked Acre they made their hospital here and some French words and the numbers for the wards and beds still remain on the walls. (..) It is an old custom for a French ship passing the convent to fire a gun and the convent hoists a white flag. Turner
After Napoleon withdrew to Egypt, Ahmed al-Jazzar, governor of Acre, attacked the convent and massacred all the French.
(left) "Elijah's Cave" inside the Carmelite church; (centre/right) another "Elijah's Cave" at the foot of Mount Carmel which has been turned into a synagogue and split into separate sections for men and women
Near it is a chapel in a grot, where, they say,
Elias sometimes lived, which is resorted to with great devotion, even by
the Turks, as well as by the Christians and Jews, on the festival of that
saint. (..) The next morning we descended the hill; and turning to the west
side of it, went a little way to the south, and then to the east, into a
narrow valley, about a mile long, between the mountains, and came to
the grotto, where, they say, Elias usually lived. Pococke
There are a great number of natural caves on and about Carmel. Turner
(above) View from Central Carmel, a modern neighbourhood of Haifa; (below) enlargement showing Acre at the end of the bay
We went on to Caipha, which is on the south side of the bay, opposite to Acre. It was a bishopric, and there is a
well-built old church entire, which might have been the cathedral.
There are also ruins of a large building, that seems to have been the
castle; and they have built two forts, as a defence against the corsairs;
for this, in reality, is the port of Acre. (..) We stayed all night in the Latin convent, from which there is a
very fine prospect. Pococke
From the terrace I saw the sea bounding the horizon to the west and Acre six miles to the north east. Turner
The walls of Kaifah which Turner saw were pulled down in the late XIXth century and eventually the whole old town and its harbour were replaced by modern buildings. Today Haifa is the third town of Israel and its main manufacturing centre as well as its main harbour.
German Colony: a house in Ben Gurion Avenue and several inscriptions
In the late XIXth century members of a sect of Evangelical Germans settled at Haifa (and other towns of the Holy Land). They developed a neighbourhood at the foot of Mount Carmel which reflected European town planning standards. Eventually the settlers had to leave their homes during WWII as they were regarded as enemies by British authorities and were deported. Today the main street has become a tourist attraction owing to its many restaurants and cafés.
Bahà'i Gardens leading to the Mausoleum of the Bab, the Prophet of the Bahà'i faith
The remains of the Bab were buried in a simple mausoleum in 1909. This was enlarged and given a golden dome in 1953. The gardens were designed between 1990 and 2001. In 2008 the site (together with another Bahà'i memorial near Acre) was included by UNESCO in their World Heritage List "for their profound spiritual meaning and the testimony they bear to the strong tradition of pilgrimage in the Bahá’i faith". The whole complex however is a modest copy-and-paste homework from a manual of architecture and rightly UNESCO refrained from commenting on its artistic value.
Contemporary architecture: (left) Sail Tower; (right) Technion Faculty of Medicine
In Jerusalem they pray, in Tel Aviv they party and in Haifa they work. is a saying which reflects the character of the three cities. The skyline of Haifa provides evidence of the town's rapid growth.
A centre for interfaith exchanges
The University of Haifa has programs to improve understanding among the believers of different faiths. The cosmopolitan, business-driven inhabitants of Haifa make it a place where religious divisions have a lower impact than in other parts of Israel.
The image used as background for this page shows the emblem of the Carmelite Order: a cross on a mountain surrounded by three stars: the star in the lower part symbolizes Elijah while the two stars above it represent Christ and Mary.