T from Timewalking in Tel Aviv – Day 2

T from Timewalking in Tel Aviv – Day 2

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Yafo, the floozy of Tel Aviv (history)

On the real first day of my stay on “the Hill of Spring”, I wanted to start my visit in the oldest part of the city: Yafo.
Oh you paid attention? You’re right, I was there the night before. And that was an excellent introduction, but I wanted moar ! MOAR !

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Walking around in Yafo, much felt like ‘stepping back in time‘. True that the old town has been experiencing its fair share of ups and downs throughout the centuries but it’s been wonderfully rebuilt and restored since its makeover in the past decade. Going through the history of Yafo would take a long blog post of its own, but the short version goes like this: everyone and their grandmothers have invaded, conquered and/or destroyed this small city port on the hill. Strategic location, excellent view over the sea, very fertile soil… everyone wanted a piece of Yafo.

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(this view of Yafo, unfortunately, you can only see it while on a boat/cruise on the sea and we didn’t have the time for that, or on the fisherman’s pier and we tried to access that pier but didn’t find a ‘legal’ entrance. So, thank you Google for the scenery.)

Archaeological evidence shows that Jaffa was inhabited roughly 7,500 years BCE. Since then, the city has been under Egyptian and Assyrian rule, under Babylonian occupation, under Persian rule and then governed by Phoenicians. It was burnt down to the root by the Romans, rebuilt by Arabs under Islamic rule, then conquered by Egyptian Mamluks and a century or two later, the city was completely destroyed for fear of new crusades. At the end of the 16th century, the city was still a heap of ruins. Rebuilt by the Ottoman sultans in the 17th century (re-establishment of churches and hostels for pilgrims en route to Jerusalem), just to be ransacked in 1799 by Napoleon. The French somewhat massacred most of the local inhabitants, and those who survived died in an epidemic of bubonic plague that broke out soon afterwards.

And then one starts to wonder: is this harbour cursed?

Things seemed to quiet down a bit after that and the Ottoman governor who was appointed after these devastating events, commenced wide-ranging building and restoration work in Yafo. This marked the beginning of a period of stability and growth for the city, residential life in the city was re-established in the early 19th century. A synagogue was built for the Jews on their way to the holy cities of Jerusalem and Hebron; and became the basis of the Jewish community in Yafo. By the beginning of the 20th century, the population of Yafo had swelled considerably. But then the British took Yafo and during the British Mandate, tension between the Jewish and Arab population increased. A wave of Arab attacks during 1920 and 1921 caused many Jewish residents to flee and resettle in the (all-Jewish) Tel Aviv, initially a desolate and marginal Jewish neighbourhood north of Yafo.

The government decided on a permanent unification of Tel Aviv and yafo only 66 years ago. And it’s only since 1990 and onwards, that efforts have been made to restore major (Islamic) landmarks.

In the sign of the zodiac

Today, a lot of the old city has been renovated. Why thank you, I had a delightful morning, spent in the signs of the zodiac, strolling through meandering streets, getting lost in the maze of alleys and peeking into some of the galleries, in souvenir shops and walking over promenades with amazing views.

Feel like taking a walk with us? 🙂

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The Clock Tower is one of seven clock towers built in Israel in the Ottoman Empire in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the reign of some Turkish sultan.

St-Peter’s Church sits at the top of the Yafo, at a strategic spot, and has served as a Christian centre for thousands of years. As opposed to most churches which face east, St. Peter’s faces west, towards the sea, where Peter’s famous dream took place.

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At the foot of St-Peter’s Church, lies the Kedumim Square with the pretty Zodiac Fountain. The fountain was made by the sculptors Varda Ghivoly and Ilan Gelber in 2011 so it’s very recent. It has chalkstone sculptures of the twelve zodiacs in beautiful, original designs. That’s where I started wondering where the obsession with astrology in Yafo was coming from.

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We continued climbing up higher to the Peak Park, past the Wishing Bridge. At the entrance to the bridge is a beautiful stone mosaic depicting the 12 astrological signs and the bridge itself is built at the location of an old fountain that was considered a wishing well according to local legend. The same legend states that anyone who stands on the bridge, grasps the relief of their astrological sign and gazes at the sea –will have his wish come true! I sure hope that mine will come true, and I have a small inkling that both my and N.’s wish weren’t too different from one another =)

There are not many cities in the world that have such a BEAUTIFUL prime oceanfront location. And I’m honestly a suck for water. Sea, ocean, river, pond, puddle of rainwater… If I weren’t born in December, I’d be an aquarius.

Atop of the hill, you get an ultimate view of the Tel Aviv skyline in the backdrop… and because a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a full 360° panorama (click to enlarge):

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On the hilltop stands the beautiful white Statue of Faith, sculpted resembling a gate. This Daniel Kafri gateway sculpture portrays 3 biblical stories about God promising the land of Israel to Abraham and Isaac, to Jacob and to Joshua.

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Venturing back down, we walked over the remains of an old amfitheater and saw some more spectacular views over the Sea. You can see Andromeda’s Rocks.

Greek mythology tells of Cepheus, and his daughter Andromeda, who was reknowned for her great beauty. His wife, queen Cassiopeia, boasted that she and her daughter were more beautiful than the mermaids, making them jealous and causing them to appeal to Poseidon, to punish the humans. Poseidon agreed, and sent a deluge of water and a sea monster to destroy the lands of the Jaffa. King Cepheus, after consulting with the oracle, decided to sacrifice his daughter Andromeda to the monster, with the hope of appeasing Poseidon’s wrath. Beautiful Andromeda was tied to the rocks on the shore of Jaffa and left there. Perseus, son of Zeus, was passing through, saw Andromeda and fell in love with her. The king and queen promised him their daughter as a wife should he be able to rescue her from the monster – which he did. Perseus chopped off the head of the monster, which fell into the water, and became the famous sea rocks of Yafo.

And I was there in person with the hero of my very own epos. I told you, Tel Aviv puts even the non-romantic people in a loveydovey mood.

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We sat by the fishing boats in the Yafo port, sipping from a ridiculously tasty mits rimonim (pomegranate juice). It’s funny, there is a juice stand every 100 meters and they all somehow manage to make a living.

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The fascination with the zodiac continues through the many picturesque, winding alleyways you can get lost in. There are 12 of them, leading from Kedumim Square to the Yafo Port. Each one is named for the signs of the Zodiac. And I swear to the Jewish God whose name can not be spoken, that we tried to find ALL of the street plates, but we came short a few 🙁 Until next time, Yafo!

Those alleys are SO photogenic. With art galleries, pretty decorations and souvenir shops … I must have at least 150 pictures.

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Paper Creatures

A bit of a random pitstop, if you ask me, but I adore origami and paper art, so I couldn’t resist entering the Yafo Museum for a quick peek at their ‘paper creatures’ exhibition. Small, local and humble collection, but pretty creations none the less. For all ‘yo wowheads (like me and N.) out there, we found Helya.

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The Arab food customs on a Jewish Shabbat.

I was not prepared – threefold style.

  1. I had planned going to “the best hummus bar in Israel” according to Trip Advisor: Abu Hassan Caravan. I may have forgotten to check the opening hours and may have forgotten that Saterday is ‘Sunday’ for the Jews. On Saturday, there is no public transport and all the shops close on Friday afternoon. Many restaurants do too. But Abu Hassan is Arabian cuisine, not Jewish! Exactly ! But it was closed, none the less. On the bright side, if you want some peace and quiet while visiting Tel Aviv, go early on Shabbat day, you’ll almost have the city to yourself.
  2. While driving to our next gastronomic location, we drove round the corner and past… an Abu Hassan hummus restaurant. One that was open. The fact that customers were queuing half the way to the Himalaya, took a bit of the sting off missing out. Great research, Vixxie. But then N.’s mom came to our rescue and secured us a place in another renown Arabian cuisine restaurant: Abu Nassar Hinnawi (an authentic middle eastern restaurant run by a family of Christian Arabs –does that even exist??!– for many generations). If anything at all, at least I had the ‘Abu’ part right and the food was exquisite!!! 🙂
  3. Wow ! Little did I know, really. The only Arabian cuisine in my hometown is the local kebab bar. We were instantly greeted with a table full of salads and side dishes! And I didn’t even order anything yet! In all my naivity, I told N. not to dig in, because I thought we’d have to pay for everything (like in Lisbon) if we touched it, but he assured me that we had already paid for it, just for having it brought to us. Lol! Those waiters just kept going until the table was bulging full of food. Good thing I was starving as well. As I carefully navigated my way through spicy sauces, spicy falafels and even more spicy chili salads, I mentally prepared for a night of toilet camping, but in retrospect, nothing happened. I had a chicken shipud (skewer) and N. had lamb.
    I apparently faffed around so much that N. felt like teaching me how to eat hummus like a true Israeli. “You tear off a piece of loaf from the Naan bread and you swipe it through the hummus. Wipe is like you mean it. Like when you’re wiping your arse. And then you eat it.” Worked like a charm, and a hummus fangirl was born.

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The museum of modern art

It’s always a bit of a risk, planning a trip to a modern art museum in the company of someone who is not as art-minded as yourself. I often find people being bored when I reach the first floor, and then there’s at least six more to go. By the time I reach the third floor, most of my companions were lying in the hallway stairs, sound asleep. But not N. He’s one of the few art-‘illiterates’ who understand that you don’t have to carry the knowledge of an encyclopedia to enjoy art. It was very refreshing and surprising too, because to be really honest, the Bauhaus isn’t for everyone. You don’t walk into a Bauhaus exposition and spontaneously go like “whao! this is so much fun!!” The Bauhaus’ way of thinking and interpreting life’s necessecities, grows on you as you learn how everything you know today is, somewhat, in one way or another, related to the Bauhaus. So no, Bauhaus can be described by a lot of adjectives, but ‘easygoing’ isn’t one of them. I was proud of N., not only for struggling through the exposition, but for also making it to the very end of the modern permanent collection.

And for recognizing a Van Gogh and a Klimt – that weren’t the most famous of their works! 🙂

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Why visit this kind of exposition when you have only three days time to visit all the landmarks in a city? Well…

Firstly because the Tel Aviv modern museum of art is internationally renown for its elaborate and well presented temporary expositions. They have some amazing curators.

Secondly, because the building on the in- AND outside is breath-taking.

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And thirdly because Tel Aviv breathes Bauhaus like Barcelona breathes Jugendstil. There is just no way around it. In Tel Aviv only, more than 4,000 “Bauhaus” style buildings were built. Thousands more were built in Haifa, Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel. I initially planned walking down Rothshild boulevard, Bialik and Dizengoff street (all of which are dotted with Bauhaus heritage) but my exhausted legs imposed a strong veto on Sunday. To be continued, next time in Tel Aviv. For sure!

These are a few of the buildings I wanted to visit but I didn’t quite make it that far.

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What is “Bauhaus”? Can you eat it like Baklava?

I wish. Bauhaus, known in Israel mainly as an architectural style, is so much more than that!! The Bauhaus is the single most influential school of design and even if you barely recognize the name, a lot of things you see and touch today, are somehow connected to the Bauhaus. That neat little thing we call ‘typography’ and makes letters look nice on your party posters? Bauhaus. That paper you hold in your hand and call A4, A5 or DIN? Bauhaus. That fancy minimal white cabinet you drooled over in the furniture shop? Most likely inspired by Bauhaus. Almost anything that you see in the world that you consider to have that classically modern look – whether architecture, graphic design, fashion; even websites, apps and digital media – almost certainly had its roots in Weimar and Dessau, between the world wars. The Bauhaus shouted so loudly that you can still hear their voice today and I genuinely cannot stress just how fucking GREAT they were.

The schools formulated universal design principles that combined art, craft, technology and industry to reach a common vision of a purer design without unnecessary decoration. Practical, functional, rational and clean. We know it as ‘modernism’ today, but at the time it was more of a collection of ideas and visions. The basement of the famous “less is more” and “form follows function”, if you want. The Bauhaus had a talent for classifying creative ideas into a system of principles, that still stand tall like a bastion today. They also developped the modern mindset that art was not to be narrowed down to fine arts paintings and sculptures only, but that proper design could be used for mass-communication. And thus Graphic Design (my field of work!) was born. Muchos gracias, Bauhaus.

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What you can learn from the Bauhaus is to broaden your horizons and look for inspiration in the world around you. In the Bauhaus schools, print designers collaborated with architects and fine artists got inspired by the geometric shapes of the typographers. It was an exchange of ideas that built towards a common goal : a whole new ‘lighter’ world. That is exactly why the Bauhaus is reached such magnitude: because the social-cultural ideology behind the “Bauhaus Style” hit the world on a perfect timing and fitted the society of that time like a glove.

A few of the famous Bauhaus names you may know are: Wassily Kandinsky and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who taught us extensively about composition and how forms relate to each other. Paul Klee, who’s entire career was a study in colour theory and taught us how colour can trigger a desired response.  And Herbert Bayer, who broke down typography into as few geometric shapes as possible, pushing sans-serif fonts to be globally accepted.

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Like with so many things, the Bauhaus couldn’t escape the hands of the Nazis. Seen as a centre of ‘degenerative’ thought and socialist sympathy, the school was forcefully closed. Many of the students and teachers moved to London and the United States to become eminent professors, tutors, and scholars in their various fields. A couple of prominent architects moved south and continued their line of work in Israel, most of which you can admire in the “Whity City” district of Tel Aviv today.

The third and last part of my journey starts here !

 

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