The Projects on Mount Carmel

From ancient times, Mount Carmel has been known as the "Mountain of the Lord." To Bahá'ís around the world, it is singularly significant as the site of the World Centre of their Faith. For them, a new chapter in the long history of this sacred mountain opened when Bahá'u'lláh stood on its slopes more than a century ago and outlined the provisions for the development of the spiritual and administrative heart of the new religion.

In 1987, work was begun on Mount Carmel to beautify the precincts surrounding one of the most Holy Spots of the Bahá'í Faith and to extend the operational capacity of its administrative institutions.

The seeds of these projects were planted in the latter part of the nineteenth century, when Bahá'u'lláh revealed the Tablet of Carmel, the charter for the World Centre of His Faith, and instructed 'Abdu'l-Bahá , His son, to build on the slope of Mount Carmel a befitting sepulchre for the mortal remains of the Báb, the martyred Herald of His Faith. 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself constructed the Shrine of the Báb. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Faith , embellished this sacred edifice in accordance with 'Abdu'l-Bahá's wishes and constructed the first nine terraces in rudimentary form. Following the passing of Bahá'u'lláh's daughter Bahiyyih Khanum in 1932, Shoghi Effendi established the beautiful Monument Gardens nearby as the site for her resting place and as the focal point of the future administrative center of her Father's Faith.

The first building to be erected on the far-flung arc centering on the Monument Gardens was the International Bahá'í Archives, built under the supervision of Shoghi Effendi and completed in 1957. This building houses sacred artifacts associated with the history of the Faith and is visited by Bahá'í pilgrims from all parts of the world. The next phase of development occurred during the 1970s and 1980s, when the Bahá'ís undertook the construction of a permanent Seat for its international governing body, the Universal House of Justice. This was completed in 1983.

The most recent stage has seen the completion in 2001 of three additional buildings and the redevelopment and construction of eighteen terraced gardens: nine above and nine below the Shrine of the Báb. This Shrine is, for Bahá'ís, one of the most sacred spots on earth, second only to the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh situated a few miles away, north of the city of Acre. Both Shrines are visited by thousands of pilgrims each year.

The terraces on Mount Carmel have been designed to create the most appropriate setting for and approach to the Shrine of the Báb. The Shrine is envisaged as a precious gem, for which the terraces provide the setting, like a golden ring for a precious jewel. The terraces are designed as nine concentric circles, appearing to emanate from the Shrine of the Báb. All their lines and curves direct the eye and emotions towards that central edifice. Both in plan and elevation, the terraces act like brackets surrounding the Shrine. At the same time, parallel surfaces and lines have been employed to create the most agreeable setting for the spectator along the entire landscape.

While a number of beautiful ornamental features have been incorporated in the gardens, the natural elements of light and water form the main decoration of the terraces. Different parallel mirror-like surfaces reflect light from the rays of the sun in various degrees. Each perspective provides the visitor with a myriad shades of light together with the strong symmetry of parallel lines and surfaces. In the evenings the terraces are illuminated. This illumination calls to memory that the Báb, the Martyr-Herald of the Bahá'í Faith, when imprisoned in the fortress-prison of Maku in northern Iran, was denied light from even a single candle. Now His resting place and the terraces surrounding His Shrine are flooded with light in memory of those darksome nights. Water is the main concept of the landscape, following the visitor from the top of the mountain to the bottom in a continuous cascade along the sides of the central stairway. The sound of water provides a soothing effect conducive to tranquil enjoyment and reflection.

With the terrace of the Shrine of the Báb at the centre, and nine terraces above and nine terraces below, a total of eighteen terraces surround the Shrine. These represent the first eighteen disciples of the Báb, who were designated "Letters of the Living". Nine concentric circles thus provide the main geometry of the eighteen terraces. Just as the identification of a circle presupposes a centre, so the terraces have been conceived as generated from the Shrine of the Báb.

The terraces stretch about a kilometer up the mountain, reaching a height of 225 metres, and their landscape spans the mountain from about 60 meters to almost 400 meters. The formal path of the terraces has landscaped gardens bordered on both sides with informal plantings, recreating the natural landscape of the area and featuring native trees and wildflowers. A wide variety of plant species spread over a vast expanse of Mount Carmel attracts wildlife and makes a significant contribution to the environment of Haifa.

The three newest buildings are the Centre for the Study of the Texts, an extension to the International Archives, and the International Teaching Centre's permanent Seat.


An aerial view of the administrative buildings of the Bahá'í World Centre. From left to right: The International Teaching Centre Building, the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the Centre for the Study of the Texts, and the International Archives Building. In the background (upper right) are the topmost terraces above the Shrine of the Báb.

The Centre for the Study of the Texts is the seat of an institution of Bahá'í scholars. The Archives Extension adjacent to it provides accommodation for the central office of the ever-growing Archives at the World Centre. Together they have a total floor area of more than 16,000 sq. m

The International Teaching Centre is the institution that assists the Universal House of Justice in directing the affairs of the worldwide Bahá'í community. Its permanent seat comprises the main nine-story building, the parking building and other external areas known as 'Common Area,' with a total floor area of over 19,000 sq. m. Excavations at the site began in December of 1992 and construction began in December 1994. The complex is expected to become operational towards early 2000.

These structures have been designed in a style that not only harmonizes with the classical Greek design chosen by Shoghi Effendi for the International Bahá'í Archives Building, but also respects the quality of the mountain-slope setting and the relationship of the administrative center to the sacred character of the Shrine of the Báb, which occupies a dominant position on Mount Carmel. Instead of rising upwards as massive structures, they are set in the mountain-side as colonnaded pavilions surrounded by gardens, with many of their floors descending below ground.

These buildings, while forming the core of the international headquarters of the Bahá'í Faith, represent much more than an administrative center. As the Universal House of Justice has written, "When the buildings are completed, they will stand as the visible seat of mighty institutions whose purpose is no other than the spiritualization of humanity and the preservation of justice and unity throughout the world." Furthermore, they state, "The beauty and magnificence of the Gardens and Terraces now under development are symbolic of the nature of the transformation which is destined to occur both within the hearts of the world's peoples and in the physical environment of the planet."

 

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