Jaffa also called Japho, Joppa(transliteration from the Greek Ἰόππη) is the southern, oldest part of Tel Aviv-Jaffa (since 1950), an ancient port city in Israel. Jaffa is famous for its association with the biblical stories of Solomon, Jonah, and Saint Peter.
Tel Yafo (Jaffa Hill) rises to a height of 40 meters (130 feet) and it offers a commanding view of the coastline. Hence it had a strategic importance in military history. The accumulation of debris and landfill over the centuries made the hill even higher. Archaeological evidence shows that Jaffa was inhabited some 7,500 years BCE. The natural harbor of Jaffa has been in use since the Bronze Age.
Jaffa is mentioned in an Ancient Egyptian letter from 1440 BCE, glorifying its conquest by Pharaoh Thutmose III, whose general, Djehuty hid armed Egyptian warriors in large baskets and sent the baskets as a present to the Canaanite city’s governor.
The city is also mentioned in the Amarna letters under its Egyptian name Ya-Pho, ( Ya-Pu, EA 296, l.33). The city was under Egyptian rule until around 800 BCE.
Jaffa is mentioned four times in the Hebrew Bible, as one of the cities given to the Hebrew Tribe of Dan (Book of Joshua 19:46), as port-of-entry for the cedars of Lebanon for Solomon’s Temple (2 Chronicles 2:16), as the place whence the prophet Jonah embarked for Tarshish (Book of Jonah 1:3) and as port-of-entry for the cedars of Lebanon for the Second Temple of Jerusalem (Book of Ezra 3:7). Jaffa is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as the territorial border of the Tribe of Dan, hence the modern term “Gush Dan” for the center of the coastal plain. Many descendants of Dan lived along the coast and earned their living from shipmaking and sailing. In the “Song of Deborah” the prophetess asks: “Why doth Dan dwell in ships?”
The city remained in Jewish hands even after the split of the Kingdom of Israel. In 701 BCE, in the days of King Hezekiah , Sennacherib, king of Assyria, invaded the region from Jaffa. After a period of Babylonian occupation, under Persian rule, Jaffa was governed by Phoenicians from Tyre.
Alexander the Great’s troops were stationed in Jaffa. It later became a Seleucid Hellenized port until it was taken over by the Maccabean rebels (1 Maccabees x.76, xiv.5) and the refounded Jewish kingdom.
During the Roman repression of the Jewish Revolt, Jaffa was captured and burned by Cestius Gallus. The Roman Jewish historian Josephus (Jewish War 2.507–509, 3:414–426) writes that 8,400 inhabitants were massacred. Pirates operating from the rebuilt port incurred the wrath of Vespasian, who razed the city and erected a citadel in its place, installing a Roman garrison there.
The New Testament account of St. Peter‘s resurrection of the widow Tabitha (Dorcas, Gr.) written in Acts 9:36–42 takes place in Jaffa, then called in Greek Ἰόππη (Ioppe, Latinized as Joppa. Acts 10:10–23 relates that, while Peter was in Jaffa, he had a vision of a large sheet filled with “clean” and “unclean” animals being lowered from heaven, together with a message from the Holy Spirit to accompany several messengers to Cornelius in Caesaria.
During the first centuries of Christianity, Jaffa was a fairly unimportant Roman and Byzantine locality, which only in the 5th century became a bishopric. A very small number of its Greek or Latin bishops are known.
In 636 Jaffa was conquered by Arabs. Under Islamic rule, it served as a port of Ramla, then the provincial capital. Jaffa was captured in 1100 after the First Crusade, and was the centre of the County of Jaffa and Ascalon, one of the vassals of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. One of its counts, John of Ibelin, wrote the principal book of the Assizes of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. During the period of the Crusades, the Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela (1170) sojourned at Jaffa, and found there just one Jew, a dyer by trade.
Saladin conquered Jaffa in 1187. The city surrendered to King Richard the Lionheart on 10 September 1191, three days after the Battle of Arsuf. Despite efforts by Saladin to reoccupy the city in July 1192 (Battle of Jaffa) the city remained in the hands of the Crusaders. On 2 September 1192, the Treaty of Jaffa was formally signed, guaranteeing a three-year truce between the two armies. Frederick II fortified the castle of Jaffa and had two inscriptions carved into city wall, one Latin and the other Arabic. The inscription, deciphered in 2011, describes him as the “Holy Roman Emperor” and bears the date “1229 of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.” In 1268, Jaffa was conquered by Egyptian Mamluks, led by Baibars.
In 1515, Jaffa was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Selim I. The seventeenth century saw the beginning of the re-establishment of churches and hostels for Christian pilgrims en route to Jerusalem and the Galilee. During the eighteenth century the coastline around Jaffa was often besieged by pirates and this led to the inhabitants relocating toRamleh and Lydda where they relied on messages from a solitary guard house to inform them when ships were approaching the harbour. The landing of goods and passengers was notoriously difficult and dangerous. Until well into the twentieth century, ships had to rely on teams of oarsmen to bring their cargo ashore.
On 7 March 1799 Napoleon I of France captured the town in what became known as the Siege of Jaffa, ransacked it, and killed scores of local inhabitants. Napoleon ordered the massacre of thousands of Muslim soldiers who were imprisoned having surrendered to the French. Napoleon’s deputy commissioner of war Moit described it thus:
- “On 10 March 1799 in the afternoon, the prisoners of Jaffa were marched off in the midst of a vast square phalanx formed by the troops of General Bon… The Turks, walking along in total disorder, had already guessed their fate and appeared not even to shed any tears… When they finally arrived in the sand dunes to the south-west of Jaffa, they were ordered to halt beside a pool of yellowish water. The officer commanding the troops then divided the mass of prisoners into small groups, who were led off to several different points and shot… Finally, of all the prisoners there only remained those who were beside the pool of water. Our soldiers had used up their cartridges, so there was nothing to be done but to dispatch them with bayonets and knives. … The result … was a terrible pyramid of dead and dying bodies dripping blood and the bodies of those already dead had to be pulled away so as to finish off those unfortunate beings who, concealed under this awful and terrible wall of bodies, had not yet been struck down.”
Many more died in an epidemic of bubonic plague that broke out soon afterwards. The governor who was appointed after these devastating events, Muhammad Abu-Nabbut, commenced wide-ranging building and restoration work in Jaffa, including the Mahmoudiya Mosque and Sabil Abu Nabbut. During the 1834 Arab revolt in Palestine, Jaffa was besieged for forty days by “mountaineers” in revolt against Ibrahim Pasha.
Residential life in the city was reestablished in the early nineteenth century. In 1820 Isaiah Ajiman of Istanbul built a synagogue and hostel for the accommodation of Jews on their way to the holy cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Safed. This area became known as Dar al-Yehud (Arabic for “the house of the Jew”); and was the basis of the Jewish community in Jaffa. The appointment of Mahmud Aja as Ottoman governor marked the beginning of a period of stability and growth for the city, interrupted by the 1832 conquest of the city by Muhammed Ali of Egypt.
By 1839, at least 153 Sephardi Jews were living in Jaffa. The community was served for fifty years by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi of Ragusa. In the early 1850s, Rabbi HaLevi leased an orchard to Clorinda Minor, founder of a Christian messianic community that established Mount Hope, a farming initiative to encourage Jewish refugees to learn manual trades. In 1855, the British Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiore bought the orchard from HaLevi, although Minor continued to manage it.
American missionary Ellen Clare Miller, visiting Jaffa in 1867, reported that the town had a population of ‘about 5000, 1000 of these being Christians, 800 Jews and the rest Moslems.’
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the population of Jaffa had swelled considerably. A group of Jews left Jaffa for the sand dunes to the north, where in 1909 they held a lottery to divide the lots acquired earlier. The settlement was known at first as Ahuzat Bayit, but an assembly of its residents changed its name to Tel Aviv on 21 May 1910. Other Jewish suburbs to Jaffa were founded at about the same time. In 1904, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1864–1935) moved to Palestine and took up the position of chief rabbi of Jaffa. In 1917, the Ottoman authorities expelled the entire civilian population. While the Muslim evacuees were allowed to return before long, the Jewish evacuees remained in camps (and some in Egypt) until after the British conquest.
During the course of their campaign through Palestine and the Sinai against the Ottomans, the British took Jaffa in November 1917 although it remained under observation and fire from the Ottomans. The battle of Jaffa in late December 1917 pushed back the Ottoman forces securing Jaffa and the line of communication between it and Jerusalem (which had been taken on 11 December).
*Text taken from wikipedia