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Updated: December 20, 2009 15:14 IST

Hundred, and counting

GEETA PADMANABHAN
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RICH IN HISTORY Tel Aviv Photo: Geeta Padmanabhan
RICH IN HISTORY Tel Aviv Photo: Geeta Padmanabhan

It's Tel Aviv's centenary, and the perfect chance to explore the city

The city of Tel Aviv is celebrating its centenary.

In a country that cradles the history of three religions, tourism is big. At the end of a week, I've had enough gyan to cram two heads.

After a warm welcome at the Ben Gurion airport from hosts Rami and Tami, and into a tour bus, I take a first look at the city. Flags in the main squares announce the celebrations — the first serenade would come from Zubin Mehta's baton conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Expansion mode

In 1909, Tel Aviv (“Springtime Hill”) was designed as a suburb of the Arab Jaffa, and grew into an independent municipality in 1934. Uprisings in Jaffa drove the Jews here, swelling its population.

European immigrants descended, and one of them, Geddes, planned a Garden city, but Tel Aviv expanded into a patchwork of neighbourhoods, with greenery where possible.

A hip city on the Mediterranean Sea, Tel Aviv teems with the trendy and fashionable. As the day grows warm, gorgeous-looking men and women spill into the streets, smoking, shopping, or en route to work. Almost everyone eats at roadside cafes — falafel and aerated drinks being favourites. Eating out is a metropolitan pastime.

Tami's Mediterranean breakfast is a great pick-upper. It's a spread of Tabouleh salad, omelettes, tossed avocado and onion pieces, pita bread, seedbread slices (yummy!) and fresh curd. The water has mint and home-grown mini oranges.

Tel Avivians have plenty to celebrate. The city hasn't seen a terrorist attack in years. Its Sommer gallery and the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art have wonderful art collections.

Building buffs can gaze at the unique Bauhaus architecture (UNESCO World Heritage Site), and skyscrapers by internationals Philippe Starck and Richard Meier. You could dine at the hotel owned by Nobu, the famed Japanese chef, and Robert De Niro. The bicyclist-friendly, eight-km beachfront promenade is one of the loveliest.

Jaffa, the other face of Tel Aviv, is a combination of the old, the new and the restored. In its 4,000 years of uninterrupted inhabitation, Jaffa, the port city founded by the Canaanites, has welcomed Egyptian, Phoenician and a host of other sailors. Its 19th Century clock-tower shares space with mosques, churches, the Libyan synagogue, and the Zodiac alleys leading to the harbour. Walk up Jaffa Hill to the Egyptian Gates, about 3,500 years old, to make a wish at the bridge.

Culture-rich

The Diaspora Museum (Beit Ha Tefutsoth) at the Tel Aviv University campus is a one-stop show of Jewish history and culture. In its multi-storeyed collection the 2,500-year Jewish history comes alive through posters, dioramas, documentary films and multimedia presentations. A model of the Cochin synagogue is part of the display!

Israeli art blooms in the Bialik Street home-turned-gallery of the late Romanian-born, Paris-trained, internationally-known artist Reuven Rubin. At Independence Hall, you hear Ben Gurion's famous speech declaring Israel's independence on May 14, 1948, and watch a film on the painful birth of the nation. Independence Hall is preserved as it was that evening.

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