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by Hossein Amanat

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 11
New York: Columbia University, 2003
HAIFA, a port city in northwestern Israel and the site of a number of significant Bahai holy places, administrative buildings, and historical monuments. Bahais consider it their most sacred location after the shrine of Mirzā Ḥosayn-ʿAli Nuri Bahāʾ-Allāh (d. 1892), the prophet of the Bahai faith, situated across the bay in nearby ʿAkkā(Acre; Shoghi Effendi, 1945, p. 92). The history of the Iranian Bahai Community on Mount Carmel may be traced back to 1868, when the Ottoman Sultan ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz (r. 1861-76) ordered the exile and imprisonment of Bahāʾ-Allāh, his immediate family, and a number of his followers to ʿAkkā, which was then a desolate provincial port in Ottoman Palestine (Shoghi Effendi, 1944, p. 185). On a visit to Mount Carmel in 1891, Bahāʾ-Allāh identified a site on the mountain as the permanent resting place for the remains of Sayyed ʿAli-Moḥammad Širāzi, the Bāb (d. 1850), the precursor of Bāhāʾ-Allāh according to the Bahais, entrusting the execution of the plan to his son ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ (Balyuzi, 1980, p. 374; Shoghi Effendi, 1944, p. 194). The foundation of the shrine of the Bāb was laid at the end of the 19th century, and now forms the heart of the Bahai architectural complex, whose structures can be seen in three main categories: the shrine with its surrounding garden and monuments, the Bahai World Administrative Center, and the future House of Worship (Mašreq al-aḏkār) and ancillary sites. All the developments were funded exclusively through the voluntary contributions of individual Bahais worldwide. The Bahai writings attribute spiritual and religious significance to both the buildings and the locale, seeing it as the representation of Judeo-Christian and Islamic prophecies (see Isaiah 2:2, 35:2; Amos 1:2; Matthew 6:10; Koran 69:17). Bahai ideas and symbolic numbers influence the architecture of the shrine, monuments, and the site to a certain extent.

The shrine of the Bāb and its surrounding garden and monuments. In 1898, ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ made arrangements for the remains of the Bāb to be removed from their place of concealment in Tehran and brought to ʿAkkā, where they arrived on 31 January 1899 (Shoghi Effendi, 1944, p. 274). The first section of the Bāb’s mausoleum, comprising six rooms, was completed in 1907. On the day of Nowruz in 1909, ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾplaced the remains of the Bāb in a marble sarcophagus donated by the Bahais of Burma and had it interred in a vault in the shrine’s south central room (Ruhe, p. 138; Balyuzi, 1971, p. 126). ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ (d. 28 November 1921) was buried in the north central room, adjacent to the tomb of the Bāb. It was in 1942 that Shoghi Effendi (d. 1957), the then leader of the Bahai faith (Wali-e amr Allāh “Guardian of the Cause of God”), commissioned his own father-in-law, the prominent Canadian architect William Sutherland Maxwell (the architect of the Manitoba Provincial Legislature), to design a superstructure encasing the original shrine. Although Shoghi Effendi approved the plan as early as 1944, actual construction did not start until 1949 and was completed in October 1953 (Shoghi Effendi, 1969, p. 244; Giachery p. 67) at a total cost of 750,000 US dollars (Shoghi Effendi, 1965, p. 141).

The shrine’s superstructure is described as the shell enshrining the pearl; the original building, erected by ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ(Shoghi Effendi, 1965, p. 79), consists of several distinct features. The colonnade, the octagon, the drum, and a gilded tile dome. The architect, inspired by Shoghi Effendi, implemented a number of features in the design. He combined diverse architectural traditions as a reference to the unity of mankind. Each of the colonnade’s four sides consists of seven Venetian ogee arches, which along with the octagon’s eighteen lancet windows reflect the Middle Eastern influence. The white marble brim at the spring of the dome and the bell shaped cover of the lantern are reminiscent of Indo-Islamic architecture, while the composite Corinthian columns of the colonnade and the lantern on the top of the dome suggest the Classical tradition. Shoghi Effendi’s esteem for the classical domes of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London inspired Maxwell to fuse elements of both structures in his design.

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