Travel writers salute 'floral jewel'

15 December 2003

HAIFA, Israel — The Baha'i garden terraces surrounding the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel have received an award from the Society of American Travel Writers.

The society, comprising 1300 members in North America, named the garden terraces as one of six recipients of its Phoenix Awards for 2003.

The awards honor individuals or groups which "have contributed to a quality travel experience through conservation, preservation, beautification or environmental efforts."

In its citation, the Society said: "At the turn of the last century (19th), historic Mount Carmel, sacred to Jews, Christians, Muslims and Baha'is, was nothing more than another desolate hill, rock and scrub brush."

But with the creation of the garden terraces, the once barren face of the mountain that overlooks the city is now "a magnificent floral jewel," the citation said.

"In a region where water is precious, the gardens use a combination of ancient and modern gardening practices, from mulching and composting to computerized irrigation systems. The noise of the city is masked by the gentle sound of water, which flows down the sides of the staircases and through a series of fountains. Water for the 70 fountains is recycled."

As of 24 January 2004 there have been 2,083,185 visitors to the terraces, which were first opened to the public on 4 June 2001.

"Some 465,000 of these visitors have taken a pre-reserved guided tour," said Eliza Rasiwala, Guided Tours Operation manager at the Baha'i World Centre.

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View from the informal gardens of the upper terraces. Photo by Rouhulah Ferdowsian.

"More than 12,200 tours have taken place since the opening in June 2001. At present, regular tours are available in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and Russian and there are occasional tours in French, German, Spanish, Danish, Norwegian, and Armenian," Ms. Rasiwala said.

The Baha'i World Centre provides the tours free of charge.

The terraces and two adjacent administrative buildings were completed in 2001 after 10 years of work at a cost of some $250 million in voluntary donations from the worldwide Baha'i community of some five million believers.

The terraces were built primarily to adorn the Shrine of the Bab and as a path of approach for Baha'i pilgrims to what is the second-most holy spot for Baha'is.

The terraces also offer a symbol of peace and hope to the world at large, and the guided tours come with a message: that harmony and co-existence are possible.

For more stories and photographs of the terraces see