Tide turns

The port that Jonah knew has been transformed into a charming fishing village and artists’ colony, finds Ann Goldberg

November 9, 2010
Not just a picture postcard backdrop, the port will remain an active fishing and sailing location

Not just a picture postcard backdrop, the port will remain an active fishing and sailing location

In the past, Jaffa's been described as "hardly changed since the day when Jonah set sail on his flight from the wrath of the Almighty". It was a nicer way of saying "seedy and neglected and in desperate need of much repair".

But you can't say that now.

In 2007 the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality bought the rights to the port area from the Israel Land Administration in order to restore and develop the area for the use of the residents, businessmen, visitors and fishermen, without destroying its character and atmosphere. Sharon Keren, director of Jaffa Port Development, says that over 100 million shekels (approximately 17 million pounds) is being spent on this development and restoration. Keren explains that the idea is not just to turn the area into a tourist resort but to give the port back to the residents of Jaffa. The port will remain as an active fishing and sailing area with the option for visitors to rent equipment. The landmark warehouses will also remain but some will be transformed into cultural areas for shows, exhibitions and musical programmes and others will house shops, restaurants and hotels.

But it isn't just the port area that is undergoing a transformation. The whole of ancient Jaffa is being upgraded. Sharon Band, director of design and marketing at the Jaffa Municipality, says that already 10 years ago, Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai started to clean up Jaffa and make it more pleasant for its 45,000 citizens.

The beach, which was a neglected mound of rubbish, unfit for swimming, has now been cleaned up and is in full use. The attractive boardwalk which stretches from Tel Aviv to Jaffa is now being extended around the edge of the coast as one long continuous promenade, with look-out points and an amphitheatre.

The Wishing Bridge: favourite spot for wedding photographs

The Wishing Bridge: favourite spot for wedding photographs

The flea market has cleaned up its act. The eyesore rubbish skips have been removed and better infrastructure, lighting and benches have been installed to make the whole visit much more pleasant.

Visitors who frequent the flea market know that the pavement pedlars are out first thing in the morning, any time from 7am onwards, selling their rock-bottom one-of-a-kind bargains, but the more upscale stalls and shops tend to open a bit later when the holidaymakers venture out.

Band says that there is now an Eastern Bazaar spread over two alleyways, which specialises in vintage fashions, jewellery and exhibitions of African and Indian art. There is also a special exhibition which provides an outlet for the art of minority groups in Israel .

Yaron Klein, of Old Jaffa Development, says that by the time you read this, the new Zodiac fountain with its stone motifs of the 12 signs of the zodiac and illuminated water and light, will be working in the main square. The signs of the zodiac are the motif for most of ancient Jaffa. The streets are named after the various signs and crossing the park is the Wishing Bridge, where many bridal couples have their photographs taken against the backdrop of the sun setting over the Mediterranean. According to tradition, if you place your hand on your zodiac sign etched out along the side of the bridge and make a wish, it will come true.

There are many new art galleries in the cobbled alleyways that are so characteristic of Old Jaffa, including some where you are welcomed into the studio to see the artists at work.

It's well worth paying a visit to Ben Zion David, a Yemenite silversmith and jeweller who has a studio, shop and gallery in Mazal Dagim Street. You can see him at work creating filigree jewellery and maybe even join one of his workshops. You can also enjoy some typical Yemenite food in the café there. Further along the same road, you'll find Made in Tel Aviv, where you can pick up some unusual souvenirs, to remind you of the great time you had in Jaffa.

Last updated: 3:19pm, November 9 2010