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July 10, 2008

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Denis MacEoin

Irene, this is very good news all round. It serves as a gesture to Iran, where Baha'i holy sites have been bulldozed, including the original house of the Bab, a lovely early 19th-century house tucked away in the alleys of the old town. I visited it several times when I lived in Shiraz. Now they have built a mosque on top of the site on wich it once stood. So the fact that his shrine (which is not a temple) is now part of a world heritage site says something of importance (and probably means that yet more rockets will be aimed at Haifa!). I'm pleased Acco/Acre/'Akka has been included. There are a few sites in Acco itself (including Baha' Allah's cell in the old prison where the British hanged many Jewish freedom fighters), but you will have to travel out of the city a bit to a place called Bahji, where Baha' Allah is buried amidst yet more gardens. The Baha'is plan to erect a more stunning superstructure over this building, and perhaps becoming a world heritage site will hasten its completion. Back in Haifa, they plan further buildings along the arc in front of Mount Carmel. One day (sooner now, perhaps) they will build a temple. The site for it is at the top of Carmel, with an obelisk on the spot. Their problem is tricky. The design for a temple was drawn by a Canadian architect, Mason Remey, who become a very important figure in the faith up until the 1950s. He designewd the golden-domed shrine of the Bab lower down the mountain. Shoghi Effendi, the head of the religion from 1921 to 1957, approved Remey's design. But shortly after Shoghi's death, Remey became a heretic and was expelled. So, on the one hand, the infallible leader approved the design, but there's no way they can build a temple for worship created by the arch heretic. Also, Remey's design isn't very good and doesn't use any of the modern structural techniques of the past sixty years. Internationally, some of the designs for Baha'i temples are very impressive, and the newest ones make use of stunning modern concepts. The one in India is more visited than the Taj Mahal, I believe. Maybe it will be the next world heritage site.

But this is great news for Haifa, which must now expect an influx of tourists. And - something most people don't know - there are some interesting old Baha'i houses in Hapharsim (which is how the street gets its name).

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