Long-considered the oldest seaport in the world, the city of Jaffa is often overlooked as simply the older sister of its larger neighbor Tel Aviv, but it’s much more than that.
Perched atop a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Jaffa was a strategic prize. With a natural harbor and fertile soil, it was conquered and reconquered countless times by Canaanites, Phoenicians, Egyptians, King David, Assyrians and even Napoleon.
A former shipping and pilgrimage hub for the faithful heading to Jerusalem, Jaffa today retains remnants of old shops and houses of worship peppered throughout the ancient city.
Discussions surrounding the origins of Jaffa’s name abound. Some speculate it was named after Noah’s son, Japheth (who supposedly built Jaffa after The Big Flood), while still others believe the name is derived from the Hebrew word yaffeh, meaning “beauty.” While both theories seem plausible, archaeological digs and ancient papyrus documents reveal that Jaffa existed as a seaport more than 4,000 years ago, giving it the status as the world’s oldest harbor in continual use. Cedar trees from Lebanon, used to build King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, came through Jaffa. It was also in Jaffa where the Apostle Peter raised the disciple Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36-43).
Jaffa’s reputation as a trading harbor began to decline when ships could no longer enter through the city’s narrow entrance, but today it’s a port for local fishing boats and small yachts. Walking through Jaffa, you can also see remnants of the city walls that once safeguarded the city. Rebuilt and destroyed over several centuries, the walls eventually fell permanently after an earthquake in 1836.
Visitors to Jaffa can experience small town life walking the narrow alleys in restored Old Jaffa, where antiquity and modernity intertwine, and a vibrant blend of lifestyles and religions remains uninterrupted.
After Israel’s independence in 1948, Jaffa became Tel Aviv’s twin city. Shortly after, in 1968, Jaffa experienced a renaissance. Old buildings, structures and alleys were restored. Parks and gardens were built. The beach was beautified. Artist quarters, galleries, shops, Judaica and jewelry now line its narrow, winding alleyways. Modernized apartments now occupy ancient buildings. A culinary community emerged.
Dining in Jaffa
And speaking of a culinary community, visiting Jaffa without eating something amazing would be a mistake, as Jaffa is home to a number of unique restaurants and food stands. Here are a few of the most popular restaurants serving Israel’s traditional fare:
- If you’re looking for some of the best hummus in Israel, Abu Hassanaims to please. A small venue with simple kitchen tables and scarce chairs, reservations are simply unheard of. Long lines prove that something special is served here, particularly on Fridays.
- Shakshukaserves its namesake, shakshuka, one of Israel’s most famous dishes. This egg dish, typically enjoyed at breakfast but enjoyable anytime, usually includes tomatoes, onions and peppers, and sometimes also includes eggplant, feta cheese, parsley and more. Expect long lines here as well.
- The Abouelafia Bakery in the center of Old Jaffa is world famous. Visiting the bakery is a must. It will delight your senses and satisfy your sweet tooth.
As Jaffa residents will tell visitors: You don’t have to dig around for long to find out what makes the city so much fun. Jaffa is a not-to-be-missed stop for any tourist in Israel.