Legend tells us that Jaffa, Yafoh, is the oldest port in the world, being founded by Japhet, the third son of Noah. Whilst hard to disprove, it is certainly true that early Egyptian records show that it was conquered by Thutmose III in 1468 BCE and archeological excavations in old Jaffa have uncovered the name of Ramses II (often assumed to be the pharoah of Yetziyat Mitzrayim, the Exodus). Allocated to the tribe of Dan but mainly Philistine controlled and occupied, it was conquered by King David. We believe that the cedar logs used to build King Solomon's original Temple in Jerusalem around 950 BCE were probably floated down the coast as giant rafts before being landed at Jaffa, the nearest port to Jerusalem. There are Hasmonean ruins, and traces of Roman occupation. Tragically, the Hellenistic residents of the city loaded the small Jewish community in boats and sank them during the Maccabean revolt in 165 BCE.
As we read every Yom Kippur in Maftir Yonah, it was from Jaffa that Yonah set sail for Tarshish, before his encounter with the big fish and one midrash suggets that all the sunken treasure in the world flows toward Jaffa, and in King Solomon's time the sea offered great riches, which accounted for some of the king's wealth. Ever since Solomon's time, the wealth has been accumulating, to be distributed by the Messiah "to each man according to his merits."
England's King Richard I, 'the Lion-Hearted' and the Crusaders also came through Jaffa on their way to wrest control of Eretz Yisrael from the Muslims, as did Napoleon, on his campaign through the country. In the maze of streets, the Armenian convent that served as a hospital for Napoleon's troops is still to be seen.
By the end of the nineteenth century, early Jewish pioneers from Sephardi lands had made a life for themselves in Jaffa and other travellers, came to Jaffa when they arrived in the country by sea. Due to treacherous rocks (the Greek legend of Andromeda started right here), their ships would anchor off the coast and passengers and freight alike would be loaded into small boats. Jaffa had become a city where Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived side by side, one of the wealthier Jews paying for the building of the town clock tower in 1901. It was suggested that this was because he was fed up with passers by coming into his shop to ask the time, but there was a far more practical reason: following his largesse, he was also seeking permission form the Turkish rulers to buy large tracts of land for the first Jewish settlers to modern Israel.
Jaffa is now an artists’ colony of some importance, but the excellent visitors’ centre, which explains the history and development of the town in a very entertaining way, should not be missed.
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