“Wow, what is that?” This question sprang from my mouth the moment I first saw the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa, Israel.

My classmates and I had just gotten off of the bus in the German Colony area and were on our way to a restaurant that sits on the street just below the breathtaking monument. Since it was nighttime, all I could make out was an organized pattern of lights seeming to ascend into the sky.

I had never heard of the Bahá’í Faith prior to my visit to Haifa. After a bit of research, I found out that Bahá’í is a relatively new monotheistic religion founded in nineteenth-century Persia and that the Bahá’í Gardens (or Terraces of the Bahá’í Faith, or Hanging Gardens of Haifa) are gardens that surround the Shrine of Bab. Bab was the founder of Babism and forerunner to the Bahá’í Faith.

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Intrigued by this new information, I decided to get a daytime look and spend my lunch hour at the brilliant edifice. The gardens are a landscaper’s dream (or nightmare, in terms of upkeep). Layers upon layers of perfectly manicured lawns, sparkling fountains, and pruned foliage scale the side of Mount Carmel. Guided tours take awestruck visitors from all faiths up and down the stairs and throughout the flower-lined terraces.

A colleague and I listened in on one tour guide as she described how the Israeli government dealt with the Bahá’í community during the establishment of the Jewish state. Holy places, like the Bahá’í Gardens, would be preserved, but the Bahá’í had to stop their missionary activities and limit for the number of followers allowed to remain in the new nation.

Leaving the gardens, I couldn’t help thinking that in Israel, religious politics plays a part in everything, even the flowers.

(photos by Ron Almog)


Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.


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Reflections

Isn't it striking how humans can create such beauty even as they can destroy each other?

The discovery of beauty may be at the core of all religious experience; the imposition of control at the core of all religious organization.

This is so wonderful, surely this garden will give you a peace that you are looking for, soothing sound of water in the fountain, beautiful landscape view, the feeling is so serene.


Fiberglass fountains can be heavy, but they are not impossible to move, so if you get a fountain and later decide you want it somewhere else, this can be achieved. Fiberglass doesn't look quite as good as some other materials, but if the fountain isn't the centerpiece of the garden, this may not matter.

 Gardens are a great way to create a private space all your own to enjoy. People spend a lot of time nurturing their garden, and find great satisfaction in it. Turning your garden into an outdoor living space takes the personality of your garden even further.

It is my earnest hope that some day, Krista Tippett will some day discuss the Baha'i Faith on her program, On Being. These gardens lie in a land where religious differences divide a very small piece of the earth. And yet, at the Baha'i World Center, people from all faiths work together, pray together, and live together. The gardens represent more than beauty, they represent the oneness of humankind.

I just attended a lecture about the architect of the Baha'i gardens and the process used in designing the gardens which took into account conservation concerns. It was quite fascinating how decisions were made with intention to assist visitors to transcend and draw closer to their own spirit. I was there ten years ago, and now long to return.