Jaffa has been a fortified port city overlooking the Mediterranean Sea for more than 4,000 years. It is one of the world’s most ancient towns. It has been the target of conquerors throughout history, because of its strategic location between Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Jaffa’s natural harbor has been occupied since the Bronze Age. It is mentioned in an ancient Egyptian letter from 1470 BCE and was under Egyptian rule until around 800 BCE. Jaffa is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as the border territory of the Tribe of Dan. Many of the descendants of Dan lived along the shore and earned their living from ship making and sailing.
King David and his son, King Solomon, conquered Jaffa and ruled it, and the cedars that were used in the construction of the First Temple arrived from Tyre via its port. The city remained in Jewish hands even after the split of the Kingdom of Israel. Later Jaffa became a Greek port until the Hasmoneans conquered it. During the Great Jewish Revolt, Jaffa was captured and burned by the Romans.
Jaffa was mostly unimportant during the first centuries of Christianity until it was conquered by Arabs in 636. Under Islamic rule, it served as a port of Ramla and then as the provincial capital. Later Jaffa was captured during the Crusades and became the County of Jaffa and Ascalon, one of the vassals of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. It was then re-conquered by the Moslems who, in the 14th century, destroyed the city for fear of new crusades. According to medieval travelers‘ writings Jaffa was still in ruins at the end of the 16th century, although it later recovered. Napoleon captured it in 1799.
During the Ottoman period, Jaffa was well known for its valuable crops such as citrons (etrogs) and bananas. Until the establishment of Tel Aviv, Jaffa had the most advanced commercial, banking, fishing, and agriculture industries in Palestine. It had many factories specializing in cigarette making, cement making, tile and roof tile production, iron casting, cotton processing plants, traditional handmade carpets, leather products, wood boxes for Jaffa oranges, textiles, presses, and publications.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the population of Jaffa had swelled considerably, and new suburbs were built on the sand dunes along the coast. By 1909 the new Jewish suburbs north of Jaffa were reorganized as the city of Tel Aviv. By the time of the early 1930s the old city of Jaffa, which was controlled by the Arabs, was almost empty of Jews.
The Arab revolt in Palestine, 1936-1939, inflicted great economic and infrastructure damage on Jaffa. The British demolished many houses belonging to Palestinian resistance; businesses were moved out of the city; and, as a reaction to the strike of the Arab seaport workers, the Jews built a modern seaport in Tel Aviv, which resulted in decreased income for Jaffa’s
Arab seaport. In 1947-1948, after continuous attacks on Jews, an offensive was launched on Jaffa, then the largest Arab city in Palestine. The city was taken by the Haganah on May 14th, one day before the Declaration of Independence. In 1950 Tel Aviv and Jaffa were united into the single municipality, Tel Aviv-Yafo.
Modern Jaffa has a heterogeneous population of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Jaffa incorporates an exciting combination of the old, the new, and the restored. It offers art galleries, theaters, souvenir shops, exclusive restaurants, sidewalk cafes, boardwalks, shopping opportunities, and a rich variety of culture, entertainment, and food. The ancient port is now a modern sailing facility and a tourist attraction.
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