Amidst much anticipation, the Baha'i World Centre prepares for public opening of garden terraces on Mount Carmel
HAIFA, Israel — After a week in which Israeli and world news media gave extensive coverage to the inauguration of a series of majestic garden terraces on Mount Carmel here, the Baha'i World Centre is preparing for an expected onslaught of tourists and local residents who wish to visit them.
More specifically, the Centre has established a reservations system in collaboration with the Haifa Tourist Board and worked with other organizations in Haifa to train extra tour guides for the terraces, which will open officially to the public on Monday, 4 June. Set to start up slowly with 400 slots per day, the guided tour program could be expanded to handle more than a million visitors a year.
"We know that there is a lot of built-up anticipation on the part of Israelis and foreign tourists to visit the new terraces," said Douglas Samimi-Moore, director of the Baha'i International Community's Office of Public Information here, which will oversee the guided tour program.
"We have been getting many, many calls already from people asking, 'When can we visit the gardens, when can we walk on the terraces,' " said Mr. Samimi-Moore. "And our goal is to accommodate this overwhelming public desire as quickly as possible, while at the same time ensuring their experience matches the kind of care and dignity that went into creating the site."
In ceremonies on Tuesday, 22 May, before more than 3,000 Baha'is from 180 countries, some 650 Israeli dignitaries, and an estimated 100 members of the world's news media, the terraces were formally inaugurated. Featuring the world premiere of two orchestral works commissioned especially for the occasion, the inauguration ceremonies were seen around the world by satellite and webcast.
Along with two major new administrative buildings, the terraces were built over the last decade at a cost of some US$250 million, all from voluntary donations that came exclusively from the five million member worldwide Baha'i community, who see the completion of the project as the fulfillment of religious prophesy.
Yet while the terraces and associated gardens are sacred in character, Baha'is have always intended that they be shared with the world at large. Accordingly, like other Baha'i Shrines and holy places in the Haifa-Acre region, the terraces will be open to the public with no admission fee.
Because of the great interest in the project, however, it was decided to establish a program of pre-reserved guided tours, said Mr. Samimi-Moore. These free tours will be the only way that visitors can actually walk through the terraces from end to end. Drop-in visitors will, however, be able to enjoy three special viewing areas located at the base, the peak and roughly in the middle of the terraces, which extend nearly a kilometer up Mount Carmel.
"We know that one reason people are so attracted to our terraces is because of their beauty, their orderliness and their cleanliness," said Mr. Samimi-Moore. "And so we felt a guided tour program would be the best way to preserve that atmosphere."
In the face of the anticipated demand for visits, the Centre reached out to the Haifa Tourist Board and to the Beit Hagefen Arab-Jewish Cultural Center for assistance with the logistics of organizing the tour program.
The Haifa Tourist Board will manage the reservations system, which will begin as a telephone-only system and then expand later to an on-line system. The Beit Hagefen Center, which already sponsors a wide range of cross-cultural tours and events in Haifa, has been given the task of recruiting and training tour guides.
"What's happened is we realized we were facing a potential deluge of visitors," said Albert Lincoln, Secretary General of the Baha'i International Community, whose office has also been heavily involved in setting up the guided tour program. "And as we came to grips with the scale of the program needed, we realized we didn't have the manpower or the know-how to do the whole job, so we reached out to these two local organizations."
Dr. Lincoln said a public opinion survey done in February and March indicated that some 95 percent of Haifa residents intend to visit the new terraces "in the near future" -- and that an astounding 75 percent of those surveyed throughout Israel had similar plans.
The city of Haifa, indeed, has made the project a centerpiece of its efforts to promote tourism in the region. The city has worked closely with the project's architect and his staff throughout the construction phase and it has linked to the project the renovation of the historic German Templer Colony district, which runs along Ben Gurion Avenue from the base of Mount Carmel to the sea.
"We consider the gardens a gift to us," said Moshe Tzur, managing director of the Haifa Tourist Board. "We hope it will become one of the main tourist attractions in the world."
For its part, Beit Hagefen is bringing in both Jewish and Arab guides, mostly drawn from the students of Haifa University. The first batch of guides, for example, is composed of about 30 Jewish students and 25 Arab students, said Hani El Far, Beit Hagefen's deputy general director.
"Our aim as an organization is to convey the importance of the coming together of every community in Haifa, Jewish, Arab, Baha'i and others," said Mr. El Far, explaining why Beit Hagefen has taken on this project. "And these aims are parallel to the aims of the Baha'i community."
People wishing to reserve a place on a guided tour of the terraces should call, in Israel, 04-831-3131.