Prepare for an Enriching Adventure: An In-Depth Guide to the Bahá'í Faith, Gardens, Terraces, and the Shrine of the Báb during Exclusive Access Days
Get ready for an extraordinary journey where you'll discover not only the profound essence and history of the Bahá'í Faith but also delve into the enchanting world of the Bahá'í Gardens, Terraces, and the majestic Shrine of the Báb. What makes this experience truly unique are the exclusive access days when the pathways from the lower gardens to the middle terraces and the Shrine of the Báb are open for exploration.
As you embark on this captivating expedition, you'll be immersed in the teachings and principles of the Bahá'í Faith, gaining a deep understanding of its spiritual significance. Moreover, you'll have the privilege to wander through the meticulously designed Bahá'í Gardens, adorned with breathtaking landscapes and architectural wonders that harmoniously blend with the natural surroundings.
The Terraces, with their intricate design and symbolic elements, will unveil the profound concepts of unity, spirituality, and interconnectedness that lie at the heart of the Bahá'í Faith. Each step you take on these terraces will bring you closer to a deeper connection with nature, the divine, and humanity.
Lastly, the journey culminates at the awe-inspiring Shrine of the Báb, a sanctuary of tranquility and reverence. You'll explore the history and significance of this sacred site, where the remains of the Báb rest. It's a place where spirituality meets architectural brilliance, creating an atmosphere of profound reflection and serenity.
So, get ready to embark on this comprehensive and spiritually enriching voyage, where you'll not only learn about the Bahá'í Faith but also experience the beauty of its gardens, terraces, and the sanctity of the Shrine of the Báb during these exclusive access days.
If you're planning to visit the Bahá'í Gardens in Haifa, I've got an excellent tip for you. Consider parking at the Botanika Hotel's paid parking facility. Once you're there, head up to the lobby level, where you'll find a cozy bar and café. This is the perfect place to kick off your evening — relax, soak in the atmosphere, and perhaps enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine. Then, continue on to explore the gardens. This way, you're not only ensuring that your car is safely parked in a modern garage, but you also don't have to worry about the usually elusive parking spots. Plus, you get to experience a lovely bar as an added bonus. What more could you ask for?
The Bahá'í Gardens in Haifa, situated on Mount Carmel, are among the world's most stunning gardens and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The gardens are terraced, featuring 19 terraces in total. While only the upper and lower terraces are regularly open to the public, there are a few special days each year when visitors can freely wander from the lower to the middle terraces and even reach the tomb of the Báb, the forerunner of Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith. Information about these special events can be found on the official Bahá'í website. Additionally, twice a week, there are organized walks from the upper to the middle terraces, but these require prior registration, details of which can also be found on their website.
As you ascend from the lower terraces of the Bahá'í Gardens in Haifa, you're rewarded with a breathtaking view of the German Colony Street and the lower part of the city. This vista is particularly mesmerizing during the twilight hours, and it's an excellent moment to reflect on the origins of the Bahá'í Faith. It all began in 19th-century Iran with the Báb, whose name means "the Gate" in Arabic. Born as Siyyid `Alí Muḥammad Shírází, he emerged from Shia Islam with a revolutionary spiritual teaching. He preached about the coming of another divine messenger and gained a considerable following. Unfortunately, the Báb was executed in Iran for his beliefs.
His remains were secretly transported and ultimately laid to rest on Mount Carmel in Haifa. This tomb became the focal point around which the Bahá'í Shrine and the terraced gardens were later built. So, while enjoying the magnificent view, you're also standing amidst a site steeped in deep spiritual and historical significance.
Directly across the bay from Haifa is the city of Acre (Akko), another site of immense significance in the Bahá'í Faith. It was here that Bahá'u'lláh, the prophet who succeeded the Báb, was imprisoned. Born as Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Núrí in Tehran, Iran, Bahá'u'lláh was exiled from his home country due to his controversial teachings. The Ottoman Empire, into which he was exiled, also found him problematic. After declaring himself the Messiah in Baghdad, he was imprisoned in Acre.
Bahá'ís around the world direct their prayers toward Acre, making it the faith's most significant holy site, with Haifa and the tomb of the Báb being the second most important. So, in a way, these two cities across the bay from each other serve as twin spiritual poles for followers of the Bahá'í Faith, deeply connecting the landscapes with spiritual and historical layers.
Bahá'u'lláh's initial conditions in Acre were harsh; he was confined in a dungeon. Despite the imprisonment, his fame spread, and he was in correspondence with various people, which he primarily maintained through letters. Known as the "Tablets," these letters were not only spiritual but also diplomatic, garnering attention from rulers and religious leaders of his time, including the Ottoman and Persian empires.
Due to his growing influence and diplomatic efforts, along with those of his son 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'u'lláh managed to persuade the Ottoman authorities to convert his imprisonment to house arrest. Eventually, his followers were able to purchase a mansion near Acre, known as Bahjí, where he lived out the rest of his days. It was here that he composed many of the writings that serve as the foundation of Bahá'í literature.
As for the financing of what was initially considered a sect, the Bahá'í community relied on voluntary contributions from its members. 'Abdu'l-Bahá later formalized this into a system of financial contribution known as Huqúqu'lláh, utilized to support Bahá'í activities and projects. The community's ability to purchase Bahjí was likely due to these collective contributions.
In Bahá'í faith, the concept of understanding God is anchored in the belief in special beings known as Manifestations of God. These aren't just ordinary thinkers but spiritual entities with capacities far beyond average humans. They exist in spiritual realms before their birth and are sent to Earth as instruments of divine intervention, aiding human development according to God's plan.
Manifestations are viewed as mirrors that perfectly reflect God's will and purpose. The metaphor implies that just as various mirrors reflect the same sun differently due to their positions and times, Manifestations offer guidance tailored to the unique conditions and needs of their eras. Bahá'u'lláh likens these divine beings to physicians treating the world's ills with prescriptions that evolve over time to meet changing needs.
The Bahá'í faith also views each major world religion as a chapter in a long, divinely-orchestrated educational process. This process has progressively enabled human civilization to embrace widening circles of unity, culminating eventually in a global unity. Bahá'u'lláh ties this "process of progressive Revelation" to God’s eternal covenant, a promise each Manifestation makes about the next one to come. Followers of each religion have a duty to keep an open mind and investigate claims of new Manifestations, fulfilling the prophecies of this great covenant.
In Bahá'í teachings, the Holy Land holds a special significance as the location of divine revelations. However, it's important to note that Bahá'ís believe no Bahá'í community should exist in the Holy Land itself. The faith aims for a global presence and for unity among all of humanity. In this context, an Israeli resident who chooses to adopt the Bahá'í faith is expected to leave Israel and can only return annually for volunteer service in the Bahá'í gardens. This unique approach underscores the Bahá'í vision for a unified global community while respecting the sacredness of the Holy Land.
The Shrine of the Báb, the burial place of the Bahá'í founder known as the Báb, was constructed between 1909 and 1953. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of Bahá'u'lláh, initiated the project, and the building was completed under the guidance of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith. The land for the shrine was acquired from local landowners in Haifa, and the funds came primarily from Bahá'í contributions worldwide.
The terraced gardens surrounding the Shrine, known as the Bahá'í Gardens, were completed much later. Construction began in 1987 and was completed in 2001. The project was overseen by the Bahá'í World Centre and was funded by contributions from Bahá'ís around the world. The gardens and terraces serve not only as a stunning visual complement to the Shrine but also as a space for meditation and reflection, embodying the Bahá'í principles of unity and beauty.
The Shrine of the Báb, situated on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, is a significant religious structure housing the remains of the Báb, the forerunner of Baháʼu'lláh in the Baháʼí Faith. Baháʼu'lláh designated its exact location to his eldest son, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, in 1891. The design was later completed by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá’s grandson, Shoghi Effendi, featuring an 18-windowed drum and a dome, as well as an octagon and an arcade.
The original mausoleum was constructed in 1909 and was a simple six-room structure of local stone. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá himself was buried there in 1921 in a separate room. The building's expansion into its current form began in 1949 with Shoghi Effendi laying the first stone of the superstructure. It was fully funded by Baháʼís worldwide and completed in 1953.
The main architect behind the Shrine was Canadian Baháʼí William Sutherland Maxwell, who harmonized Eastern and Western architectural elements. After his passing in 1952, Shoghi Effendi oversaw the completion, receiving significant help from Leroy Ioas, an American Baháʼí. Due to post-World War II material scarcity, most stones were carved in Italy, facilitated by Baháʼí Ugo Giachery, and then shipped to Israel. This effort made the Shrine one of the largest prefabricated structures to be moved from Europe at that time.
Entering the Shrine of the Báb requires visitors to remove their footwear, symbolizing a transition from the earthly to the sacred. Shoghi Effendi eloquently describes the Shrine as the "Queen of Carmel enthroned on God's Mountain, crowned in glowing gold, robed in shimmering white, girdled in emerald green, enchanting every eye from air, sea, plain and hill." He also refers to it as the Kúh-i-Núr (Mountain of Light), which faces and is overshadowed by the Daryá-yi-Núr (Ocean of Light, referring to the Shrine of Baháʼu'lláh).
Inside the Shrine of the Báb, visitors are expected to maintain a tranquil environment suitable for meditation or prayer. No religious ceremonies are held within. The structure itself is a marvel, featuring a dome with 12,000 fish-scale tiles, made through a meticulous process involving porcelain and gold solution. Below the dome, an 11-meter high cylindrical drum rests on a circular steel-reinforced concrete ring, which is part of the octagonal main body that centers around the tomb of the Báb. The Shrine is adorned with emerald green and scarlet mosaics, a fire-gilded bronze symbol of the Greatest Name of the Baháʼí Faith at its four corners, and a host of intricate decorations and motifs. A special prayer, known as the Tablet of Visitation, is displayed on the wall in both Arabic and English for those who wish to engage in focused spiritual reflection.
The Shrine of the Báb achieved a significant milestone when it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List on July 8, 2008, along with other Baháʼí holy sites in Haifa and Acre. This recognition marked the first time that sites associated with a relatively new religious tradition were honored by the World Heritage List. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee highlighted the sites' "outstanding universal value," emphasizing their role in the Baháʼí tradition of pilgrimage and their profound significance to the faith. Albert Lincoln, the secretary-general of the Baha'i International Community, welcomed this international recognition as a testament to the global reach of the Baháʼí faith, which has expanded from a small Middle Eastern group to a worldwide community in just 150 years.
As of my last update in January 2022, it's estimated that there are between 5 to 7 million Baháʼís worldwide. The Baháʼí community is diverse and spread across almost every country. The largest communities are often found in countries like India, the United States, and Kenya. However, numbers can vary, and the community is continually growing. Keep in mind that these are approximations and the situation might have changed after my last update.
Maintaining the exquisite gardens surrounding Baháʼí holy sites is no small task; 120 gardeners are employed to keep everything looking pristine. These gardens are part of a larger complex at the Baháʼí World Centre, a hub for the faith's administrative and spiritual activities. This isn't a place for a centralized clergy—there isn't one in the Baháʼí Faith. Instead, local, regional, and national councils, elected annually, guide Baháʼí communities based on principles of consultation and collective decision-making. These councils don't have the power to dictate personal beliefs or actions; the emphasis is on personal initiative and community engagement.
The Baháʼí administrative order is coordinated globally by the Universal House of Justice, elected every five years from representatives around the world. This organization is vested with the authority by Baháʼu'lláh himself, as laid out in his Book of Laws. Funding for Baháʼí projects comes solely from voluntary contributions from its members, adding another layer to the community-driven nature of the faith. So, the Baháʼí World Centre is not just a place of beauty and pilgrimage, but also a living model of the Baháʼí principles of governance and community life.
The Eastern Pilgrim House, also known as the Haifa Pilgrim House, serves as a sanctuary for Baháʼí pilgrims. It was built after ʻAbdu'l-Bahá laid the remains of the Báb to rest on Mount Carmel. Mírzá Jaʼfar Rahmání of ʻIshqábád both oversaw its stone construction and covered all expenses. Originally designated as the residence for Persian pilgrims, it became known as the "Eastern Pilgrim House." However, after 1951, when the Western Pilgrim House at 10 Haparsim Street was transformed into the seat of the International Baháʼí Council, the Eastern Pilgrim House opened its doors to pilgrims from around the world.
Certainly, the central, expansive terrace of the park provides an unparalleled setting for deep meditation and committed study of the Baháʼí faith and its philosophies. It is in this serene environment that you can delve into the extensive corpus of Baháʼu'lláh's writings, considered by Baháʼís to be divinely revealed. While some revelations were penned by Baháʼu'lláh himself, most were spoken aloud and recorded by an amanuensis, often at a pace that made it challenging to capture every word.
Baháʼu'lláh's body of work is formidable, amounting to over 100 volumes. These writings primarily take the form of short letters or tablets directed to individuals or groups. His more comprehensive works include the Hidden Words, the Seven Valleys, the Book of Certitude (Kitáb-i-Íqán), the Most Holy Book (Kitáb-i-Aqdas), and the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. Originally penned in Persian and Arabic, his writings cover a broad spectrum of topics that are not only material but also social, moral, and spiritually pertinent to both individual lives and societal structures.
The topics he touches upon are indeed extensive, ranging from commentaries on scriptures, prophecies, and beliefs of previous religions to the introduction of new laws and spiritual ordinances tailored for this new age. He also penned mystical writings, claimed proofs and explanations about God, discussions on the nobility of human souls capable of knowing God, and the continual progress of souls in the afterlife across divine realms. His works also encompass principles of just governance, the establishment of world order, knowledge, philosophy, alchemy, medicine, and calls for universal education.
Bahá’u’lláh engaged in a unique form of correspondence, writing letters to the world leaders of his time, such as Queen Victoria, Czar Alexander II, Napoleon III, and Sultan ʻAbdu’l-ʻAzíz, among others. In these letters, he made profound claims about his divine mission and offered guidance on governance and spiritual matters. He urged these leaders to rule justly, renounce materialism, and work toward global unification. The letters also contained detailed ideas like the creation of an international auxiliary language and a global currency, all aimed at fostering worldwide unity.
The response from these leaders was largely dismissive during his lifetime. Queen Victoria reportedly responded equivocally, while Czar Alexander II promised further investigation. Napoleon III outright tore up his tablet, and Nasser al-Din Shah executed Bahá’u’lláh's messenger. However, history validated Bahá’u’lláh's prophecies in these letters, as many of the warned leaders faced downfalls, loss of territories, or other divine chastisements for failing to heed his advice.
Author Christopher de Bellaigue commented that Bahá’u’lláh had little success in persuading these temporal leaders to accept his revelations during his time. Yet, the failure to heed his guidance led to prophetic fulfillments that later gained significant attention and even resulted in conversions to the Bahá’í faith. So, while initially met with skepticism or outright rejection, the weight of Bahá’u’lláh's words would be borne out by subsequent events, adding another layer of complexity and prophetic relevance to his teachings.
Baháʼu'lláh proclaimed himself as the divine figure foretold by the Báb and additionally asserted his role as the Universal Messenger predicted across various religious traditions. Instead of a literal interpretation, Bahá'ís view these prophetic fulfillments through a symbolic, spiritual lens, grounded in Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings on the unity of God's manifestations and the essential singularity of all religions. Accordingly, for Jews, Baháʼu'lláh embodies roles like the "Everlasting Father" and "Prince of Peace." In Christianity, he is seen as the "Comforter" and the "Spirit of Truth" that Jesus foretold, as well as the second coming of Christ. In Islam, he's considered the return of Imam Husayn for Shí'ahs and the descent of Jesus, the "Spirit of God," for Sunnis. He's also identified as the awaited Shah-Bahram in Zoroastrianism, a reincarnation of Krishna for Hindus, and Maitreya, the future Buddha, in Buddhism.
In the Bahá'í Faith, God is considered an "unknowable essence," the ultimate source of everything, understood through human virtues. Though adhering to monotheism, Bahá'ís also embrace panentheism, seeing God's presence in all things while maintaining that God transcends the material world. Shoghi Effendi, a key figure in Bahá'í history, portrayed God as personal yet unknowable and omnipresent.
Communication from God to humans comes through divine intermediaries called Manifestations of God, who are prophets that have established religions across time. Accepting these Manifestations is seen as a path to spiritual growth. Bahá'ís don't attribute any gender or physical form to God; the use of male pronouns in their scriptures is a matter of convention. Various names refer to God, with "All-Glorious" or "Bahá" in Arabic considered the greatest.
Bahá'ís understand God as the creator of all existence, with an essence that's completely unknowable and beyond physical reality. Humanity's varying conceptions of God are seen as products of the human mind and not reflections of God's true nature. However, a lesser form of understanding God is accessible through divine intermediaries, known as Manifestations of God, who bring teachings suited to specific times in human history. Recognizing these Manifestations is key to fulfilling human purpose—knowing and loving God.
In Bahá'í belief, methods to grow closer to God include prayer, studying holy texts, developing virtuous qualities, and serving humanity. Despite differing cultural and religious views of God, Bahá'ís see these as varied expressions of the same divine being, each appropriate for its societal context. Bahá'í teachings consider all world religions as progressive chapters in one unified story of faith.
While Bahá'í writings present God as personal, having faculties like mind and will, they clarify that this doesn't imply a physical or human form. Gender-specific pronouns used for God are conventional, not literal. Shoghi Effendi, a central Bahá'í figure, described God as unknowable yet personal, rejecting any pantheistic or anthropomorphic interpretations.
In the Bahá'í faith, numbers hold symbolic significance, especially the numbers 9 and 19. The number 9 symbolizes unity and is integrated into various Bahá'í symbols and rituals. The Bahá'í calendar, known as the Badi calendar, consists of 19 months of 19 days each, plus a few "intercalary" days to align it with the solar year.
There are several Bahá'í holidays, the most significant being Naw-Rúz (New Year), which falls on the vernal equinox, usually around March 20th or 21st. Another central celebration is the Festival of Ridván, celebrated over 12 days from April 21st to May 2nd, which commemorates Bahá'u'lláh's public announcement of His mission. Other holidays include the Day of the Covenant on November 26th and the Ascension of Bahá'u'lláh on May 29th.
All these elements serve to foster spirituality and unity within the Bahá'í community, as well as deepen understanding of teachings about the unity of mankind and spiritual progress.
In Bahá'í symbolism, numbers, shapes, and architectural elements carry specific meanings that echo central teachings and concepts of the faith. For example, the number nine is highly significant; it symbolizes completeness and unity, reflected in the nine sides of Bahá'í Houses of Worship. The gardens surrounding these temples often incorporate star-shaped designs, another nod to unity and interconnectedness.
However, as for the specific elements you mentioned - the eagle, the arch, and the pinecone - these are not universally recognized Bahá'í symbols. While Bahá'í temples feature unique architectural elements designed to inspire and uplift the spirit, there isn't a standard set of symbols like in some other religious traditions. It's worth noting that Bahá'í architecture strives to be culturally and environmentally harmonious, often blending into the existing cultural or natural landscape.
So, if you see an eagle, an arch, or a pinecone in Bahá'í architecture, their meanings would likely be specific to that particular setting and not necessarily a part of broader Bahá'í symbolism.
As you descend the stairs and leave the gardens, it's essential to reflect on the central teachings of the Bahá'í Faith, rooted in the revelations of Bahá'u'lláh, the latest Manifestation of God. These teachings emphasise unity, equality, and the oneness of all religions. The Bahá'í World Centre, with its Shrine of the Báb in Haifa, Israel, represents the spiritual and administrative heart of the faith. The experience in the gardens serves as a reminder of these core beliefs and the beauty of their expression in the Bahá'í tradition.