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Day 5 Visit to 'Akká, the prison, the House of 'Abbúd and Mazra'ih

Der Herr ist nahe Today is going to be really full – all day in 'Akká and ending up at Mazra'ih.

So at 08:15 it was, once again, into the bus and off. To my delight the route took us through the old German Templar colony, where there is a house with the inscription "Der Herr ist nahe" (The Lord is nigh) over the door. The Lower Terraces from Ben Gurion Street Then we turned into Ben Gurion Street and – what a sight, such beauty as one looks back up the mountain towards the Shrine of the Báb and the newly planted terraces. It was our good fortune to be in the back of the bus and to be able to see this fantastic view.

The bus continued through the old city with is contrasting noise and dirt, past old building soon to pass into oblivion – under the relentless drive of "development" – to be replaced by more apartments.

The Land Gate to the city of 'Akká After about 30 minutes we arrive at our destination, a tiny back street leading into the old walled city of 'Akká. By us is a steel covered wooden door – the Land Gate to the old penal city. Through the gate, one turns sharp left (a technique to slow down any invader who might manage to breach the gate) and then enters what at one time would have been the main street, a street like any other in an old Arab town (I expect). As today is the Muslim Sabbath so is quieter than usual (though far from quiet, none-the-less). A little way up the street, on the left, is the house used by the Azalís, from which they watched for visiting Bahá'í pilgrims whom they reported to the authorities so that they could be ejected from the city. The entrance to the prison where 'Abdu'l-Bahá was held By the side of the house is a small entrance which leads into the prison in which 'Abdu'l-Bahá was held for a night after some of the Bahá'ís (strictly against the orders of Bahá'u'lláh) murdered the Azalís. Later the murderers themselves were held here for several years. In front of us as we walk up the street is a mosque with a blue roof. It was here that 'Abdu'l-Bahá had a room in which he taught local people to read and write.

The caravanserai where the Holy Family stayed. Turning to the left we pass through a market square and then there is the sea – but no longer with a high sea wall. It has been removed to give access to a marina. In the distance is the Sea Gate, but we will not pass through it at this time as it is still not Bahá'í property and is covered with garish "Coca-Cola" signs. We are told that St. Francis of Assisi once passed through the sea gate and stopped to prostrate him self, announcing to those present that one day the Glory of God would pass over that threshold. As we walk on, we enter the courtyard of the caravanserai where the Holy Family stayed for a short while after they were forced to leave the Most Great Prison (when it was required for barracks). My friend Brynhild tried buying a film here but they were adamant that is was 25 NIS and would not bargain.

The excavatated courtyard of the Most Great Prison

The Most Great Prison is currently being excavated (what Bahá'u'lláh would have seen is only a very small part, there is as much again below ground as above, and they are still digging), so we were not able to see the cell of the Blessed Beauty. It's a pretty grim looking place but it is difficult to judge what it was like at the time of Bahá'u'lláh.

Courtyard in House of Abbud The house of 'Udí KhammarFrom the Most Great Prison it is only a short distance to the House of 'Abbúd. This is a comparatively small, attractive house, originally half of a pair of houses (the other belonged to 'Údí Khammar). We were privileged to enter the room originally inhabited by the Blessed Beauty and latter by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The room cannot much larger than 15ft by 12ft and is the one in which the Kitáb-i-Aqdas was revealed. The other two main rooms were shared by the 26 members of the family and believers. And these rooms were even smaller than Bahá'u'lláh's. After the murder of the Azalís, 'Údí Khammar built a dividing wall to protect his family from the Bahá'ís but later, hearing that 'Abdu'l-Bahá could not marry because He had no place to live, he made available one of the rooms of his own house. In time, the Holy Family was able to move into 'Údí Khammar's half of the house, which was much roomier. Here Bahá'u'lláh had a room with a small balcony, from which He would address the believers gathered below.

The aquaduct for 'Akká, restored at Bahá'u'lláh's request

Mazra'ihSo, having completed our first visit to 'Akká, we are carried to Mazra'ih, just a few miles south of Nahariyya and from which one can see the hills of Lebanon. This is the first of the mansions that the Bahá'u'lláh was able to move to after His imprisonment in the city was over and He was here for about two years. It is the house with the much photographed flight of stairs.

Mazra'ih At the top of the stairs was a small ante-room with several rooms off it, the largest of which was occupied by the Blessed Beauty. And there in the corner is His bed – not a later one, but the very bed in which the Desire of my heart slept and woke. (I guess I should mention that nearly all the rooms we were seeing were laid our by the beloved Guardian, the reason being that many of the Bahá'í properties in the Holy Land were occupied by the Covenant Breakers, some right up to the mid-1950s. Much of the furniture and the pictures came later and were gifts from the believers to the World Centre.)

Mazra'ihTo my great delight, in the dining room there is the original calligraphy of Mishkín-Qalam of the picture which we have on the living room wall. It is all decorated in gold and red. What a bounty to be able to see this amazing work of art, created by a master craftsman – probably the best of his time.

The gardens around the mansion at Mazra'ih were still being planted but there were already many beautiful flowers and trees. Two Israeli girls watched us through the gate as we wander around the garden. I wonder what they are thinking – they make no effort to leave until we ourselves have to leave and, ensconced in our air conditioned bus, return to the bustle of Haifa.

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