In this neck of the woods, everywhere you throw a stone there’s a battle of some kind going on. Jaffa has seen upheavals, conquests, victories, and defeats, and all the good folks have visited there, from the Phoenicians and the Crusaders, to the Muslims and the Mamluks.
Even Napoleon himself strolled around proudly and haughtily in Jaffa after conquering the city at the end of the 18th century. It doesn’t matter how long you wander around in Jaffa and how much you investigate the alleys; you’ll always be surprised by the scrap of forgotten history or the plain old local gossip hiding at every turn. And the night just intensifies everything.
Start your wanderings at the clock square. The clock tower was built in 1906 in honor of Turkish Sultan Abed-el-Hamid II to mark the 30th anniverary of his reign. Several hundred yards west of the square, on Ruslan Street, you’ll pass the front of the Mahmoudiyeh mosque. Go into alley number 3029, which winds and turns into money changers’ alley.
Today it is all neglected, empty, and a bit shabby, but these two alleys have known much better days (and nights). Jaffa’s natural port served as an important marker for many sailors, large numbers of whom came to Jaffa from all over the Mediterranean. In the 18th and 19th centuries they used to stream through these alleys, which were the entrance gate to the city.
According to local myth, three types of people used to frequent this area: the elders of the city, the prostitutes, and the money changers. How did such different kinds of people connect?
Jaffa was a port city to which sailors came from all over the Mediterrean. Sailors, of course, have a woman in every port. Jaffa was no different, and “working girls” used to hang out there as well. Sailors would arrive with foreign currency only, which is where the money changers came into the picture, providing local currency for the “entertainment industry.”
And the elders of the city? They were the local Lonely Planet guides who recommended where to go, what to do, and where to have a good time.
Continue to Hatzorfim Street, and go west to Gan Hapisgah (Summit Park) and Jaffa’s ancient bath house. The bath house served the citizens of Jaffa as a place to bathe and a location for steamy (literally) social encounters. Following Israeli independence the bath house became a center of crime and neglect.
It’s not a coincidence that the films Azulay the Policeman and Casablan were filmed here. In the early 1960s the residents of the area were evacuated, part of the area was destroyed, and it became a prestigious location for artists and kitschy galleries. Now, at this late hour, everything is closed, there is only an occasional tourist, and otherwise the alleys are all yours.
A bit farther west (and a bit to the north, depending how far you’ve gone in your wanderings) you will come to Kedumim Square. Not far from the Dungeon Club, the first Jewish S&M club, the impressive Church of St. Petrus proudly stands.
Several yards to the right of the entrance gate is the colorful zodiac alley, which passes by dream houses and provides night-time views of the black ocean, leading softly down to Jaffa port. Here, not far from the Street of the Virgin, lived novelist, playwright, and journalist Dahn Ben-Amotz.
Now is the time to go down to the port that has known more prosperous days. Today it is filled with dozens of fishing boats, some of which look quite rickety, and several fish restaurants are still there.
Who hasn’t been there over the course of history? Tatooed sailors, cruel conquerors, shrewd Roman merchants, Phoenician builders with wood for building, daring Crusaders, sensitive pilgrims, Jews escaping from Europe, and many others. Today, the only sailors there are the silent night fishermen.
Length of route: 1-2 miles
Type of route: Circular
Level of difficulty: Easy
Full moon: Not required
How to get there:
Jaffa’s clock square, at the beginning of Japhet Street, is the starting and ending point of the walk. Park in the area of Retzif Ha’aliyah Hashniyah Street. At the end of the walk, at Jaffa Port, return to your car by way of Retzif Ha’aliyah Hashniyah Street.
Reproduced with permission: Ynet