It’s a balmy evening on Jaffa’s sea-front and I’m in a busy restaurant overlooking the ocean and a jumble of small fishing boats out for their daily catch. The table is spread with a feast of salads, and on the side is pita bread with the most loved Israeli recipe hummus. On the promenade in front, an artist walks down with his canvas, cool kids whizzing on their electric bikes, young couples giggling, older ones looking out at sea and sharing warm moments, a girl having a photo-shoot, and a hubbub of activity in this old port of Jaffa, existing in complete contrast with the hip Tel Aviv, but in its own warmth and antiqueness.
Jaffa is an old abbot to the youthful Tel Aviv. A stroll through Jaffa seems like walking past many centuries and cultures – through its arched alleys, past golden stone buildings, numerous hushed mosques existing in contrast to Tel Aviv, scores of comfortable cafes and markets brimming with antiques and spices, and streets with signs marked with zodiac symbols. The district once coveted by King David, the Pharaohs, and even Napoleon, has for decades remained in the shadows of Tel Aviv. And yet, it retained its uniqueness, the enviable hospitality, the artistic appeal, the energy and authenticity – and existing as a potpourri of cultures, beliefs, and philosophies. And now a part of the old city is seemingly getting draped in luxury and comfort as it invites the artists, writers, and the cultural connoisseurs of the world.
The tranquil neighborhood is now a hubbub of activity. The winding roads of the ancient town now house various art houses and museums. And because of the golden buildings perching above the shore-line, lively weather throughout the year, thriving food scenes, and fusion of musical trends and multicultural artwork, a visit to Jaffa is a delight to the senses. Here the ancient and the Bohemian meet.
I start my day from the Peak Garden, located in the center of the town and providing the best lookout for miles. Climb the stairs and there are admirable views of the blue Mediterranean Sea, the sky-scrapers of Tel Aviv, and the old buildings of Jaffa. And on a good day views of the port of Haifa, wait for you. Opposite the park is St. Peter’s church. It was here during a convention that St. Peters sent his disciples to different parts of the world to spread the gospels of Christ. On one side of the church are Tel Aviv’s alleyways, which are among the oldest streets in the world, and house tales from the city’s rich history and ancient cultures, tales as old as Christ’s era, and on the other side are the Jaffa’s art streets, bubbling with creative energy.
The pulsating art scene
I started this from the Ilana Goor Museum in the Old City, founded by an Israeli artist Ilana Goor in 1995. The museum apart from having to bring the world of art and architecture to the visitors is also a work of art in itself. And then there is a rooftop sculpture garden. The narrow alleys from there are a perfect place for an art gallery crawl. Make sure you take an eyeful on the contemporary artwork specialist Artnova on Kaufmann Street, Har-El on Elisabeth Bergner Street for gallery prints and Frank Meisler Gallery, and many contemporary artists, sculptors, and designers. The narrow alley makes for a completely different world with traditional and alternative gallery spaces in every corner. Beit Kandinof is one of several Jaffa art spaces to support local, emerging artists. Other artistic hubs include Cuckoo’s Nest and Alamacén. These galleries serve as meeting points for local and international communities, creating multicultural dialogues and interactions between communities.
Galerie Charlot, an international gallery from Paris, opened its outlet in Jaffa recently. Located almost centrally, the gallery is a den of activity. The gallery displays digital and emerging art forms by both Israeli and international artists and is doing its bit to bring Jaffa to the international art scene. The gallery is now working on creating an online platform, to bring Israeli artists outside of Israel and international artists in Jaffa.
Apart from these big, international names, the local artists have carved a space for themselves and their work in Jaffa. The galleries like the Farkash Gallery with its elaborately designed posters, Rachel Gera gallery, with its exquisite work with jewelry, small sculptures of Jewish figures and smaller ceramic works, Gabrieli Gallery for its paintings, Art Nova has some beautiful woven paintings, and the Frank Meisler Gallery with its unique display of caricature sculptures, are great places to see Jaffa’s niche offerings and novel designs. These artists with the taste of Israeli design, food and culture, and the art scene have brought Jaffa to the international art scene.
There can never be enough of art in Jaffa, but pencil in enough time to head to the Jaffa Art Salon, in a spacious hanger by the port on Jerusalem Boulevard, for more art. The place was founded by well-established Israeli and Palestinian artists and inspires many emerging artists.
The food renaissance
There’s an edible renaissance going on in Jaffa with new restaurants and bakeries opening up alongside the traditional, experimenting with contemporary culinary trends, and presenting the old and authentic I cool and trendy fashion. And then there are traditional spreads which are not to be missed – like the Abu Hassan’s Hummus famous for its creamy chickpea spread every Friday. And the newcomer bakeries spread all over Jaffa’s alleys offering beautiful mille-feuilles, ultra-buttery croissants, and sweet cream puffs. And in the alleyways look for the Shaffa Bar for its vegan breakfasts and lunch buffets. On Mondays, it serves the traditional Ottoman cuisines. A few stones away distance is the Lima Nippo, Tel Aviv’s first Nikkei restaurant, which combines Japanese and Peruvian flavors. Or one can head to the Greek Market, one of the latest additions to the city’s vibrant culinary scene, for grilled delicacies.
For an eventful night, Cuckoo’s Nest, a bar and gallery located inside an antique store in the heart of Jaffa. The bar routinely organizes pop-up art exhibitions and live music, and makes the dinners more artsy and unique.
Jaffa’s Flea Market
One can spend a morning treasure hunting in the Shuk Hapishpeshim, selling troves of treasures from antique furniture, jewelry, clothes, cosmetics, artwork, and souvenirs. The market has hip eating points serving Middle Eastern to Turkish delicacies to pick from.
I took one glimpse at the Jaffa Port before heading back to central Tel Aviv, all along the promenade, making through one beach section to the other. It is gorgeously amazing how the old city merged into the chic, modern start-up capital Tel Aviv, like so organically conjoined, both culturally and aesthetically. The old, artistic alleys had changed to tall skyscrapers boasting some of the emerging firms, the art city transitioning to the knowledge city. I often turned to catch glimpse of the old city of Jaffa, now almost mirroring an artist’s aisle against the setting sun, the warm memories of the day-long tour now cushioning in the chill, and absolute strangeness of the coming night. I caught the beats of a music band playing on the promenade, and my ears guided my feet. That was my sign, a call from Tel Aviv, a city I had learned to admire.