Baha’i Shrine & Gardens

In the port city of Haifa, Israel, is one of the most amazing gardens I’ve ever seen. The Shrine of Bab, the second-most holy site in the Baha’i religion, is surrounded with a spectacularly designed, immaculately maintained, terraced garden. The Baha’i garden was designed by Fariborz Sahba (a Canadian) and constructed from 1990-2001.

The terraces are lined with stone balustrades, fountains, and stone eagles.

The number 19 is a spiritual number in this religion (their year consists of 19 months, each having 19 days) and there are 19 levels to this garden on the side of Mt. Carmel. There are nine terraces above and below the shrine (completed in 1953), with the shrine taking up a terrace on its own.

The base design of the garden is concentric circles, or waves, out from the shrine. The terraces are linked by stairs flanked by twin streams of running water cascading down the mountainside through the steps and terrace bridges.

The religion values symmetry — gardeners use measuring tapes when they prune to insure every plant and hedge is uniform.  

The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the full gardens are open to the public from 9-12 daily. The outer gardens are open from 9-5 daily. Wouldn’t you know, they were closed the day we were there. I think it was a Baha’i holy day. Oddly enough, I think this is one garden that can be more appreciated seen from a distance.

We got our first look from the top of Mt. Carmel, over looking the gardens, shrine, the city of Haifa, and the Mediterranean. Across the bay, up the coast, just out of visual range, is Lebanon. We then drove to the base of the mountain and got the view looking up the bottom terraces toward the shrine (photo, left).

Rumor has it that underneath the gardens is a huge underground hideout with bomb shelters, conference rooms, medical clinics, dining hall, supermarket and parking garages – all spotlessly shiny, clean, and freakishly empty.

The Baha’i religion isn’t even that old — started in the mid-1800s in Iran. Emerging from Muslim society, Baha’is believe in the unity of ALL religions and believe that messengers of God — like Elijah, Moses, Jesus, Buddha & Muhammad — have been sent at different times in history with doctrines varying to fit changing social needs, but bring substantially the same message.  

They teach that there is only one God, one human race, and that all the world’s religions represent stages in the revelation of God’s will.  Its believers support the unification of all religions and world peace. They preach equal rights among men and women, the dispersion of knowledge, education around the world and the creation of one worldwide community based on justice and equality. There’s believed to be about five million Baha’is world-wide, largest concentration in India.

You can see more on their gardens website here.

I like me some espalier. Here this espalier went up the sides of the stairwells. You could only see them from the side. Looking straight on the garden, you’d never see them.

If there were a few ideas I could steal from this garden, it might be trying to use more symmetry in my own garden. Though it would seem symmetry requires maintenance & work, both of which I abhore. Really only my vegetable potager garden has any symmetry. I also liked the idea of having a spiritual number and repeating it throughout the garden. I don’t have a spiritual number though. Do you? And how do you determine one? Your height, divided by your width?

I have a long-time garden blog, a popular garden on America's largest garden tour, and have co-written a book on garden design titled, "Buffalo-Style Gardens: Create a Quirky, One-of-a-Kind Private Garden with Eye-Catching Designs" When I'm not doing all that, I am an advertising designer always out looking to design things to promote your business. Look me up at #jcharlier.

0 comments on “Baha’i Shrine & Gardens

  1. Spectacular garden, indeed!


  2. Thanks for the background on the Baha'i religion. The photos are awesome.


  3. Anonymous

    Dear JC, What a fascinating posting which I have much enjoyed reading. First, this is a garden about which I knew nothing, therefore of huge interest to discover something new, and, secondly, I found your comments about the Baha'i religion informative.I note what you say about symmetery in the garden. I do not necessarily believe it makes for more work and, along with repetition, does help the overall structure. Possibly I would say that as I most enjoy formal gardens.I have only just discovered your site, as I am quite new to blogging, through Blotanical but will return.


  4. A terrace gardenis an element where a raised flat paved or gravelled section overlooks a prospect. A raised terrace keeps a house dry.


  5. Tatyana,It was pretty cool. I do wish we'd had the chance to walk through it, especially the top 9 terraces (the bottom all looked alike!)allenbecker-gardenguru,Thanks. There are other aspects of the religion that are not all touchy-feely like the description. There is no tolerance of gays, for instance, obedience to government and non-involvement in partisan politics,and for me, a deal-breaker – a nineteen-day sunrise-to-sunset fast each year from March 2 through March 20.Edith Hope,Why thank you very much. I'll be by to visit your site as well. I enjoy formal gardens also – I marvel at their taming of nature. Symmetry in my garden is beyond my gardening skils.Shikha,A terrace, in agriculture, is just a leveled surface (had to look it up!). Terraced is how they describe their own garden on their website as well.


  6. Dear JC,The rumor about huge underground hideout with bombshelters, conference rooms etc… all spotlessly clean and freakishly empty is not quite true. There are offices for security and garden staff, storage and equipment rooms that house the pumps for the fountains and pools at each terrace. The pump rooms are probably the only rooms that are habitually empty except when time for maintenance. There are two public bathrooms that are kept spotlessly clean. Most of the staff that maintain the gardens and the spotlessly clean bathrooms are Baha'i volunteers from all over the globe. There is also a visitor center off of Hazionute Road just under the bridge for those who want to learn more about the gardens and the Baha'i Religion. Erik


  7. Excellent post dear blogger, I've been visiting the blog to learn more about this culture and their structures, so I think the location is right above the German Colony, as a favorable issue, which was established in the 60's, according with others blogges by the German Templer Society, who were working for the Kingdom of God on earth, so this place is one of the most important in Haifa. 2j3j


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