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Yafo (Jaffa)

Yafo, or Jaffa, is an ancient port city in Israel, and is today a district of Tel Aviv.

The Old Yafo is my favorite part of Tel Aviv and where I spend most of my time when I visit.

The city is filled with history and has the unique charm that only ancient cities have.

Yafo was established nearly 4,000 years ago and was home to Canaanite and Philistine, governed by Phoenicians from Tyre, controlled by Seleucides, and ruled by the Hasmonean dyntesty.

It has been mentioned not only in the Bible, but in Ancient Egyptian text and Ancient Greek mythology, and Alexander the Great’s troops were stationed there.

While no one knows for sure where the name Yafo came from, but legend has it that Noah’s son Yafet built it before the flood, and so the city is named after him.

Hellenist tradition says it comes from the name to Iopeia, or Cassiopeia, mother of Andromeda.

According to Greek mythology, this is the site of the story of Andromeda.

The story goes that Cassiopeia boasts that Andromeda was more beautiful than the Nereids.

Poseidon didn’t take this well and sent the sea monster Cetus to ravage the coast of Jaffa.

The King consulted the oracle of Ammon, who the king he had to sacrifices his daughter to appease the monster.

So, Andromeda was chained to a rock by the sea – and today guides will point out which rock this is.

However, Perseus see saw her on his way back from killing Medusa and fell in love with her.

So he slayed the sea monster with his magic sword, married Andromeda, and took her back to Greece where she became his queen.

History

Yafo was once a Canaanite and Philistine city which was conquered by Ancient Egypt.

In the story of the Taking of Joppa Pharaoh Thutmose III’s general Djehuty hid Egyptian soldiers in sacks carried by pack animals and sent them camouflaged as tribute.

Then, the the soldiers emerged and conquered the Canaanite city – this story predates the story of the Trojan horse.

Then after Canaanite and Philistine dominion, King David and King Solomon conquered Yafo and used its port to bring the cedars used in the construction of the First Temple from Tyre.

Throughout history Yafo has traded hands many times but Jews have lived in Yafo since ancient times and Muslims since they conquered the Middle East in Medieval times.

Yafo was later captured by Crusaders, recaptured by Saladin, and surrendered to King Richard the Lionheart.

It was taken by the Ottomans and in 1799 captured by Napoleon Bonaparte.

The traveler Jean Cotwyk described Jaffa as “a heap of ruins” when he visited in 1598.

In 1820, Isaiah Ajiman of Istanbul built a synagogue and hostel for the accommodation of Jews on their way to the holy cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, and Safed.

This area became known as “The House of The Jews” and redeveloped a Jewish community in Yaffa.

By 1839, at least 153 Sephardi Jews were living in Yaffa and their Rabbi for fifty years was Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi.

In the early 1900s the city became over populated and some Jews began to leave the city to create what is today known as Tel Aviv.

However, the city still had a population of over 20,000 Jews, and around this time Rabbi Kook became the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa.

During the British Mandate, tension between the Jewish and Arab population increased.

A wave of Arab attacks during 1920 and 1921 caused many Jewish residents to resettle in Tel Aviv.

In 1921, Arab rioters attacked Jewish residents and buildings killing 47 Jews and wounding 146.

Still, many young Jews who could not afford the housing costs of Tel Aviv stayed, and most of the Jewish businesses remained in Yafo.

In fact, by 1948, the Jewish population in Yafo had actually grown to close to 30,000.

During the Israeli War of Independence, the Irgun and the Hagana gained control of the city.

After the war the Jewish sections of Yafo became part of Tel Aviv and in 1950 the whole of the city was part of Tel Aviv.

Since the 1990s the Yafo has become in many gentrified and is an artist colony.

Visit Yafo

Yafo is easily accessible by bus (though there isn’t a direct bus from Jerusalem) and can be walked to from many popular sections of Tel Aviv.

See the Yafo website for a list of events taking place.

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