“The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” – Baha’u’llah
While Israel is most famous for its religious significance to Muslims, Christians, and Jews, it is also home to the most important spiritual sites for another religion, the Baha’i faith. The Baha’i faith is one of the most unique religions I have come across, and my experience at this holy site offered an incredible glimpse into its beliefs. The Baha’i faith is an independent world religion founded in Iran in 1844 and has been described as one of the youngest of the world’s major religions.
As a monotheistic religion, Baha’is believe in one God, and that is Baha’u’llah. The faith’s central theme is that humanity is one single race. Other fundamental teachings include; the oneness of God, the oneness of religion, the oneness of humanity, equality of men and women, elimination of all forms of prejudice, world peace, harmony of religion and science, universal compulsory education, obedience to government, elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty, and moderation in all things. The faith is also unique in that there is no clergy and minimum ritual.
There are about 7 million Baha’i’s spread over 236 countries, which makes the Baha’i Faith one of the most geographically widespread religions in the world. It is astonishing to me that I have lived my whole life without an inkling of knowledge of this faith. I had never heard of this religion or its people until stepping foot in Israel.
The religion’s global headquarters are located right here in Haifa. In fact, this holy site is likely the most iconic landmark in Haifa. Type in Haifa, Israel into Google and the first thing that will appear are thousands of beautiful pictures of these perfectly landscaped gardens. These headquarters are also known as the “Hanging Gardens of Haifa” and extend for more than a mile vertically across the slopes of the Carmel Mountains, overlooking the Mediterranean sea. Thousands of tourists and locals alike travel to the Bahai Gardens to witness the beautiful terraces of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The 200,000 square meters of land were designed by Iranian architect Fariborz Sahba who began work on the gardens in 1987. Opened to the public in 2001, the gardens consist of 19 terraces, each linked by a set of stairs. Running water cascades down the mountainside through the steps of each terrace and extravagant iron gates lead to vibrant flower beds, ornate fountains, and stoic eagle sculptures.
As an English teacher I have spent all of my training and career analyzing symbolism and attempting to lead students to noticing symbolism themselves. This has inspired an appreciation for the art of symbolism; using an object or a word to represent an abstract idea. The symbolism used in the architecture and landscape of these gardens is incredible. 18 garden terraces represent the first 18 disciples of the Bab. The symmetrical design of plants, trees, flowers, grass and other greenery convey the Baha’i values of health and equilibrium. Although, initially the terraces look absolutely identical, upon further inspection, there are slight differences that symbolize the unique personalities and traits of each of the 18 disciples.
On the 19th terrace sits the iconic golden-domed Shrine of the Báb, the resting place of the Prophet, which looks across the bay towards ‘Akko. The central theme of the Baha’i faith, unity between all people, is again symbolized through the combination of western and eastern styles that sit in peace under one common golden dome. Another testimonial to the unity I have witnessed here in Haifa, one that was largely unexpected thanks to the media back home.
The panoramic view of the city, the Mediterranean sea, the Galilee Hills, and surrounding gardens are a stunning sight. Never have I witnessed such a groomed and nurtured garden. My Grandmas garden is pretty exquisite, but these gardens are something else! I was astonished to learn that the Baha’i World Headquarters employs 100 full-time gardeners to keep the 19 terraces in tip top shape. They certainly do an excellent job.
The Baha’i Gardens are absolutely breathtaking, and the glimpse into the uniqueness of the faith offers an interesting perspective, one that I truly appreciate. Imagine a world in which all religions lived as a unified humankind. Men and women were treated as equals, and quality education was a value globally. Imagine if we all respected each others beliefs and accepted our differences, maybe then could we live in peace together under one golden dome.