Terraced gardens a place of peace, a sign of Baha'is growth
By LARRY KAPLOW
Cox News Service
Saturday, May 19, 2001
Haifa, Israel -- On this hillside in the chaotic Middle East, there is order and symmetry. The hedges are trimmed and simple, the roses have space to be seen and grow, and the thick green grass drapes like a blanket down a half-mile of terraces.
The Terraced Gardens on Mount Carmel were built on the site of the Baha'i World Centre as a place for contemplation and prayer. When the completion of the gardens is marked Tuesday, it will be the culmination of decades of work and a sign of the 158-year-old religion's growth.
The effort was to make the gardens a place of peace, in hope that the world may be as peaceful someday.
The Baha'i (pronounced bah-HIGH) faith is monotheistic and recognizes teachings of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other religions. The religion holds as a central tenet the belief that racial and national divisions will someday diminish, allowing a unity of all humans.
There are about 5 million Baha'is worldwide. There are more than 140,000 in the United States, according to Baha'i figures.
The dedication of the gardens will be one of the biggest events in the faith's history.
"As far as a movement, we are in the very early stages of our development, in our adolescence maybe," said Douglas Samimi-Moore, a Baha'i spokesman. "A by-product about this (dedication) is that of the Baha'i community emerging from obscurity."
The gardens were developed over decades, but the intensive construction plan started in 1987. It carved out and resculpted a large section of the mountain at an estimated cost of $250 million.
The hill is surrounded by the port city of Haifa. With a population of about 840,000, it is one of Israel's largest cities and an easy mixing of Arabs and the predominantly Jewish residents.
The gardens are neatly ordered at their centers and become increasingly wild as they spread to the woodsy edges. A major city thoroughfare was lowered several yards so the gardens could pass uninterrupted on a bridge above.
But it is the hillside shrine and the gardens -- the gold-domed building surrounded by the cascading green lawns -- that dominate the coastal landscape. The 19 main terraces are shaped loosely in concentric ovals. There's a rose garden, a desert landscape, palm trees, olive trees and neatly trimmed hedges just a few inches tall that line the walkways.
The date of the opening coincides with a Baha'i holiday, marking when the religion's first prophet, referred to as the Bab, announced his mission.
Grandstands are going up at the base of the gardens, where about 3,300 Baha'is from around the world will join hundreds of Israeli dignitaries.
AT A GLANCE
-- The Baha'i Club of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee invites the public to view a live satellite transmission of the dedication, including a half-hour video on the history of the gardens, at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
-- It will be projected onto a screen in Room S250 of the Business Administration Building, immediately east of the Student Union, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd. Video from the satellite feed also will be available live, and later in archives, at www.bahaiworldnews.org
-- For more information about the Baha'i faith see www.bahai.org. For information about Baha'i communities in southeastern Wisconsin, call Jim Beasley, (262) 691-3707.
©Copyright 2001, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel