Most tourists know Israel as the home of the world’s major monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Israel hopes that visitors will now pay more attention to another religion based in the Holy Land: Baha’i.
Two sacred Baha’i sites in northern Israel — the Mausoleum of the Bab on Haifa’s Mount Carmel and the Shrine of the Baha’u’llah in nearby Acco, resting places of the religion’s founders — were added last week to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage List. The shrines join some 850 sites designated by UNESCO as possessing “outstanding universal value.”
Eleven other Israeli sites, including Masada, the Old City of Jerusalem and several biblical archeological venues, are already on the list.
Baha’i, an offshoot of Islam, was established in Iran in 1862. Its main tenets are the unification of religions and equal rights for men and women.
UNESCO established the World Heritage List in 1972 to identify and protect places of “cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value.”
The Baha’i sites in Israel, the first ones connected with a modern religion to be selected by UNESCO, attract a half-million visitors each year. Built at a cost of $250 million, their annual maintenance, paid by worldwide members of the Baha’i faith, costs $4 million.
The gardens in Haifa, above, dominated by a golden-domed shrine, are located on 18 terraces. A star-shaped flowerbed, inset, honors one of the symbols of Baha’ism.
A visitor, below, photographs the terraced gardens on Mount Carmel.
“We welcome the UNESCO recognition, which highlights the importance of the holy places of a religion that in 150 years has gone from a small group found only in the Middle East to a worldwide community with followers in virtually every country,” said Albert Lincoln, secretary-general of the Baha’i International Community. “The Baha’i community is particularly grateful to the government of Israel for putting forward this nomination.”