The Jaffa Port and Clock Tower
At the threshold of the city lies the Jaffa Clock Tower, unveiled in 1903, and built in honor of the sultan’s jubilee. The diverse inhabitants of the city traded goods and socialized with each other, but the church or mosque was still the dominant domain of their daily lives. Thus, the building of the limestone clock tower marked a major cultural shift: for the first time in the city’s history, Jews, Christians and Muslims alike were heeding the ring of the same bell, rather than exclusively that of a house of worship. Civilian life was now at the heart of the city of commerce and a steady, common ring marked the passing hours.
With the ubiquity of hand watches and iPhones, one might be tempted to dismiss the Clock Tower as a mere relic of the past. Yet just as the North Star can help guide a lost traveler, so the Clock Tower can orient modern explorers as they venture through the hidden alleyways, craftsmen’s shops, and treasured flea market behind the ancient stone walls of Jaffa.
The Namal (Port)
The pride of Jewish-Greek craftsmen, the main Yaffa port expanded in 1936 to then-fledgling Tel Aviv. The Port quickly became known as the glorious frontier of the East, shipping goods to and from distant lands. Yet what had been created out of economic necessity quickly stirred the public romantic imagination of the time. Eminent poets sang the Port’s praises, including Lea Goldberg in her Song of the Port: ‘A thousand hands unload and build / we conquer the seashore and the wave / we are building a harbor here!’
While the Port today has outgrown its primary function as a shipping hub, its fusion of commerce and romance continues to delight the senses. By day, sojourners can shop at high-end stores, dine at excellent restaurants, or pick up fresh grub from the indoor market on the sprawling promenade. Then by night, they may stroll to the old Reading lighthouse and listen to the waves’ eternal song.
Whether it’s 1948 or 2015, the spirit of the nation at the time always originates from Rothschild Boulevard. Just a little over 100 years ago, 66 families sat on the sand dunes and drew plots of land for themselves using seashells. A year later, the promised houses were built on the length of land, which was named Rothschild Boulevard after the French banking baron of the same name. The Boulevard would later become the site of the famed Independence Hall, where Prime Minister Ben Gurion declared national independence to a crowd of buzzing onlookers and which today stands preserved as a museum.
In recent years, much of the Bauhaus-style architecture on the Boulevard has been carefully restored to its former pristine glory, proving the city’s sanctity for its relatively young past. Yet Israel’s modern national identity is still shaped by and created in the Boulevard, as its leafy streets transitioned from representing statesmanship to the start-up nation. Today, it’s a swinging center where talented musicians gather to perform for a dancing crowd, locals lounge on beach chairs and everyone enjoys the historic and hip charm of the White City.
Dizengoff Square was built in 1936 as a bucolic garden with shaded benches, surrounded by a roundabout. Passersby found refuge from the buzzing shops and scorching Mediterranean sun by taking a stroll under the park’s leafy trees. The space became known as ‘the Étoile of Tel Aviv’ as its form – a meeting point of six streets – resembled a star. Yet idyll gave way to the demands of a growing city, and by the 1970s the Square was transformed into the raised civilian plaza known today, with a current of traffic rushing below. And in spite of complaints by locals, who are always well-known for their tendency to resist drastic changes, the alteration actually injected new life into the city. In fact, the 1983 addition of Yaacov Agam’s kinetic sculpture fountain, Fire and Water, transformed the Square into an iconic symbol of Tel Aviv innovation.