Mount Carmel refers to a 38.6 km long and about 8 km wide coastal mountain range in northern Israel that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea all the way to Jenin in the southeast. The mountain range has a gradual slope in the southwest and a steep ridge in the northeast. The Carmel Mountain Range holds a strategic position between the sea and the Jezreel Valley to the northeast acting as a natural barrier between the coastal plain and the valley. In the ancient world there were three passes through the range and Mt. Carmel loomed over the Via Maris.
Mt. Carmel is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and holds several landmarks, points of interest and communities. The most well-known section of the mount is in the coastal city of Haifa. The name “Carmel” comes from the Hebrew word for “freshly planted”. The mount has many caves, volcanic rocks and rich vegetation on the slopes including forests of pine, olive, laurel and oak trees.
Mount Carmel National Park and Nature Reserve
The Carmel Forest is in the southwest of the Carmel Range and is a lush, green part of the country with thick forest and many hiking paths, picnic areas, memorials, streams, campgrounds, observation points and outdoor activities. The Mount Carmel National Park Nature Reserve is one of the largest in the country covering 20 acres. The reserve is home to many animal and plant species. Within the reserve there are several communities and attractions including the Druze Hospitality Center. In 1989 and 2010 the park suffered massive forest fires and many of the precious forests were destroyed. Since then intensive efforts have been made successfully replanting the trees.
Sacred Locations on Mt. Carmel
Mount Carmel has being the site of religious events for centuries. With its elevated location ancient civilizations including the Canaanites considered it a good place to make sacrifices. The Books of Kings tell of an altar on the mount. In the Book of Amos Mount Carmel is considered a place where it was possible to hide from God. Other references in the Old Testament talk of the beauty and vegetation on the mount. In the Bible the mountain is depicted as a symbol of fertility. Scattered across the mountain range are a number of religious monuments.
Prophet Elijah and Mt. Carmel
Elijah is a religious figure in all three of the monotheistic faiths. In the Old Testament (Kings I 18:1-40)we read about a contest between the God of the Israelites and a pagan God that took place on the summit of Mt. Carmel. The Israelite King Ahab married Jezebel, a Phoenician. She turned the King away from the Israelite God and had the Israelite priests killed. Elijah then asked the king to assemble 450 pagan priests (Priest of Baal) on Mt. Carmel. He called on the pagan priest to pray to Baal for fire to light a sacrifice. The priests beseeched their God to no avail. Elijah then prepared an altar and a sacrifice to his God. Even though the site was soaked in water fire came down from heaven and lit the sacrifice. Today the Monastery of Muhraqa stands on the site of the contest.
There is a path from the Stella Maris Monastery down the slope of the mountain to a second cave, Elijah’s Cave. This is believed to be where Elijah came to meditate before his confrontation with the pagan Baal priests.
The Stella Maris Monastery is perched high on the western edge of Mt. Carmel overlooking the sea. This is the headquarters of the Carmelite Catholic Order. The Carmelites were founded in the 12th century on Mount Carmel (hence the name) during the Crusader era. Beneath the monastery is a small cave believed to be where the Prophet Elijah lived. During the Old Testament era it was common for people to live in caves on the Carmel Range. Outside the monastery is a statue of Elijah commemorating the victory of God over the Prophets of Baal.
Without doubt the most well-known religious site on Mt. Carmel and definitely the most beautiful is the Baha’i Gardens. The Baha’i Gardens can be seen in the center of Haifa planted in a 1 km strip like a carpet down the slope of Mt. Carmel. There are 19 garden terraces on the mountain slope. They are designed to inspire and bring harmony and unity. A path runs down the middle of the terraces and the gardens are adorned with statues, fountains, lawns and flower beds. Everything is kept in immaculate condition by a team of 200 volunteer gardeners. On the central terrace is a small white shrine topped by a gold-colored dome. The author of many sacred texts and the originator of the Baha’i faith, The Bab is buried in this shrine. Visitors can tour the gardens or get a panoramic view of the gardens, Haifa and the Haifa Bay from a balcony observation point at the top of the gardens.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
Mount Carmel is the site of the largest Ahmadiyya Mosque in the country, it is known as Mahmood Mosque in Kababir. The mosque has unique architecture including two minarets. The Ahmadiyya community was founded in British colonial India at the end of the 19th century. The major difference between Ahmadiyya Muslims and other Muslims is their belief in the movement’s founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the Messiah and Mahdi (Guided One).
Mount Carmel Communities
Zihron Yaakov, a stunningly beautiful historic town famed for its wine, art galleries and stone-paved pedestrian street. Zihron was among the first Zionist settlements in Israel established in 1882 by 300 families from Romania. Some of the original houses have survived including the Ohel Yaakov Synagogue.
On the western edge of the Carmel, just before entering Haifa from the south is a small artists’ community with many fascinating artists’ studios and galleries. At Ein Hod you can enjoy a meal in one of the quaint cafes and wander from studio to studio meeting the artists.
Haifa is by far the largest and most famous of the Mount Carmel cities; it is the third largest city in Israel. The city is built on the slopes of Mt. Carmel and at the foot of the mount between the mount and the sea. It is a major seaport and makes use of the large natural Haifa Bay. The city has a multi-racial and multi-cultural population with many excellent museums, beaches, an historic German Colony, a cable car up Mt. Carmel and many other attractions. Haifa is home to the only underground train in the country. It is actually a subterranean funicular with one track and six stations up the slope of Mt. Carmel.