Days Out in Tel Aviv

Old Jaffa – An Introduction

The ancient port city of Jaffa is one of the oldest cities in Israel and one of the oldest sea ports in the world. It is also called the “Old City of Jaffa” or simply called “Old City.”

Old Jaffa has a strong link to the historic events that took place in Israel in particular and, generally, the eastern Mediterranean basin ever since the recorded events of settlement there. Old Jaffa is built on a high cliff jutting from the shoreline into the sea and the port lies on its base.

“Welcome to Old Jaffa”

History and origins

Legend claims it is named for Noah’s son Jefet, who is said to have settled there after the flood. Still others cite the similarity between Jaffa or Yaffo in Hebrew and Yaffa, the Hebrew word for beauty.

The multiple layers of human civilization that comprise its ancient tell (or mound), have yielded up discoveries as unique as an Iron Age altar with a lion’s skull.  Ancient Egyptian papyrus tells of the city’s conquest by Pharaoh Thutmose III in the 15th century B.C.E. Thutmose’s general used his own version of the Trojan Horse by sending baskets of gifts to the king of Jaffa with Egyptian soldiers hidden inside.

Later Jaffa is mentioned in the Bible as the port through which Solomon brought cedars of Lebanon to build the Temple.  Jonah set sail from Jaffa’s port, when he sought to flee the Lord and was swallowed by a whale. In the New Testament, Jaffa was the home of Simon the Tanner, on whose roof Peter had a vision that changed Christianity’s relationship to Judaism ever since.  In Greek mythology, a rock at the entrance to Jaffa’s port is where Perseus saved Andromeda by slaying the Hydra.

old weathered brown building with a bicycle in front

Old Jaffa today, and things to do there

Today Old Jaffa is home to many galleries, its charming alleyways, restaurants, design shops, street art and terrific views of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean coast make it a great place to explore and enjoy a later afternoon stroll.  During the summer months a series of performances is held in the old town known as Jaffa Nights

If you choose to visit Old Jaffa, don’t miss the sculpture with a live suspended orange tree at the end of Mazal Arye Street.

Another one of the must-do things in the Old Jaffa is — you guess it — shopping! As well as exploring the charming streets and alleyways and discovering its rich history and art, Old Jaffa is home to the biggest flea market to be found in Tel Aviv-Yafo (Jaffa), which is just right at the port. You can other find some hidden shopping gems there.

Within the context of Tel Aviv-Jaffa’s world-class food scene, Old Jaffa is known for its excellent and diverse dining options. With the majority of Jaffa’s population being Arab, you will find no shortage of places to sample the best traditional Middle Eastern dishes. There is also a few notable high-end restaurants, many of which offer both Israeli and international cuisine, as well as quaint and charming cafes.

Old Jaffa is also home to lively bars and nightclubs. Most bars and nightclubs there offer happy hour deals. Old Jaffa is, in fact, the perfect place to have a bar crawl. There are some bars that also function as art galleries with a particularly fun atmosphere.

It’s impossible to end your tour in the Old Jaffa without checking at least one or a couple of art galleries there. The vibrant energy of Tel Aviv is expressed all across in this relatively young city — as evidenced by its street graffiti to several galleries, both established and recent. Old Jaffa, though, cannot be left behind — the community has several established and up-and-coming art galleries that give Tel Aviv’s art galleries a run for their money. But these places only add more “zing” to the already-lively and thriving Israeli art scene. 

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