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Shrine, terraces focus on world unity

ALASKANS: Several Baha'is traveled to Israel for the opening.
By Paul Gray
Daily News Correspondent
(Published May 26, 2001)

Earlier this week, 18 Alaskans joined 4,500 people from more than 200 countries and territories at the foot of Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, to witness the opening of the Terraces of the Shrine of the Bab.

Construction of the shrine and terraces began 10 years ago. Today the ancient barren face of historic Mount Carmel has been transformed by the 19 majestic terraced gardens that cascade down its slope. The golden-domed shrine and the gardens will open daily, with no admission fee.

Visitors during the May 22 opening ceremonies were impressed with the shrine.

"The significance of this event is hard to imagine when followers have yearned for the coming of the prince of peace for thousands of years," said Robert Baumgartner, one of the Alaskans to make the trip. "The gardens and terraces surrounding the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel are a gift of love from the Baha'is to the people of the world that the people of all religions and backgrounds may share in the healing message of the lord of the age -- Baha'u'llah."

Mount Carmel, held sacred by Jews, Christians, Muslims and Baha'is alike, has been at the crossroads of human history. Prehistoric skeletons were found in caves hollowed out of the limestone walls. Pythagoras stayed in these hills on his way to Egypt; Jesus' family is said to have paused here on their way back from Egypt. The Crusades made pilgrimage to this holy mountain in 1150. In 1868, the German Templers built a colony of sturdy brick homes at the base, and in 1891 Baha'u'llah pitched a tent at the base of the mountain, making it a holy place for Baha'is. Over the centuries, military campaigns have revered the mountain by sweeping past it on either side on the way to and from battle. It was described by philosophers in the fourth century B.C. as sacred above all mountains.

The Baha'is of Anchorage contributed to the building of the terraces and helped the Alaska group to attend the events.

The 18 gardens of eucalyptus and gnarled olive trees, ivy and flowers bring to completion a century-old vision of the prophet Baha'u'llah. Followers of the Baha'i faith believe he was sent to lead humanity into an age of universal peace.

The terraces cover about a half-mile up Mount Carmel, reaching a height of 738 feet. Water flows down the sides of staircases and through a series of fountains. Each terrace has three garden zones. The central area is formal, featuring lawns of zoysia grass, annual flower beds, santolina hedges, bushes and carefully pruned trees. Side zones are more informal, with flowering trees and perennial bushes. Wildflowers and bulbs blossom in profusion from December to April, while flowering trees and shrubs assume prominence during the spring and summer.

Today there are 5 million Baha'is in the world scattered throughout the globe. An estimated 130,000 live in the United States, 3,000 live in Alaska. The group was founded in 1844.

Alaskans attending the ceremony included: Kevin Araki, Juneau; Kjersti Baumfalk, Nenana; Robert Baumgartner, Anchorage; Maniqsaq Baumgartner, Anchorage; Philip Dunne; Manokotak; Paul Hill, Sitka; Katalina Gubatayao-Bolima, Juneau; George Holly Jr., Soldotna; William Johnson, Metlakatla; Nikki Kinne, Fairbanks; Lindsay Lamar, Anchorage; Clare O'Brien, Fairbanks; Kim Seagren, Juneau; Curt and Debra Shuey, Kenai; Jacqueline Tagaban, Juneau; Nicanor Torres, Anchorage; and Jones Wongittilin, Nome.

Paul Gray lives in Soldotna and is active in the Baha'is of Alaska.

©Copyright 2001, Anchorage Daily News

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