In 1938, a bridge was built over the Yarkon River to celebrate the opening of the Reading Power Station. The cornerstone read: “This bridge will be important in the expansion of Tel Aviv on both sides of the river. Hopefully, [it] will . . . [help] turn the desolate sands into a blossoming settlement.”
Named Wauchope for the British High Commissioner at the time, the historic bridge has become part of a favorite Tel Aviv outing. It begins at the northern section of Independence Park, across from 220 HaYarkon Street.
For years, the site on which the park now stands was just a hill made of sea limestone rock. During the British Mandate, part of the area was used as a military base that was taken over by the fledgling Israeli army in 1948. Indeed, it was from here that Israeli forces shelled the ill-fated Etzel ship: Altalena.
When Independence Park was finally inaugurated in 1952, it was the biggest park in Tel Aviv. The first trees were planted here on Israel’s very first Independence Day in 1949, along with foliage that could survive in sand and salty soil. Sea fennel, scalloped-leaved sea lavender, evening primrose, tamarisk, oleander and sea daffodil were planted on the highest or upper portion of the park. On lower levels there were taller trees like olive and sycamore fig.
Not surprisingly, it turned out that the park was established on historic land: In the southern portion remains of a Hasmonean (Maccabee) citadel were discovered. Which tells us, of course, that there may have been Jewish settlement in today’s Tel Aviv over 2,000 years ago.
This section of the park features a cheerful playground and bright colored hydraulic exercise equipment. The Hilton Hotel on the left was built in 1973 on a portion of the city’s Muslim cemetery. Local Arabs were extremely upset, but the Hilton chain refused to move elsewhere and Israel, which was extremely interested in bring Hilton Hotels into the country, gave the chain 17 dunams of land in the center of the commons. Too bad, because it cut this beautiful park area in two.
Over the years, what was once the finest park in Israel, was sorely neglected. The boulevard of palm trees became desolate, plants died and it became a dangerous place to hang out. Fortunately, it was lovingly restored some years ago, and reopened officially in 2009.
At the top of the stairs, two charming bronze statues named for King Asa of Judah and King Yehoshafat of Israel peer out over the sea. A promenade leads right as far as a very tall, very stark and very simple monument resembles a bird with a broken wing. The monument honors the memory of Independence War pilots David Sprinzak and Mati Sukenik.
On June 4, 1948, after Egyptian warships bombarded Tel Aviv from the sea, Sprinzak and Sukenik volunteered to hit them from the air. Together with the pilots of two other planes, they attacked the ships. The Egyptians turned and headed back to Egypt, but not before shooting down the small Fairchild aircraft piloted by Sprinzak and Sukenik. The two young men — newly married Sprinzak, 24 years old and with a baby on the way, and 19-year-old Sukenik — were killed.
Across from the monument, a large pergola shades some very inviting benches that face the water. Further along, the Gate of Peace was created by Italian sculptor/painter Pietro Cascella in 1972.
From here, steps descend down to HaYarkon Street, past a striking red “environmental structure” and ending at a little pool. The second street on the left (Nachshon) ends up at “Metzitzim (Peepers’) Beach” — a drawing on the wall of the dressing room tells that story! From the beach, a walkway leads north to Tel Aviv Port.
Construction had just begun when a Yugoslavian cargo ship carrying a thousand tons of cement dropped anchor. Thrilled to the bone, Tel Avivians forgot their daily worries and came out in droves to welcome the astounded captain
Although a variety of plans were drawn up for a port in Tel Aviv after the city was founded in 1909, it was only after rioting Arabs shut down Jaffa Port in 1936 that a new one became a vital necessity. Despite their concern at losing control of everyone and everything going in and out of Tel Aviv, the British had no choice but to authorize construction of a new gateway into the Land of Israel. Worried that the British might change their minds, Jewish laborers immediately began work on a Jewish-run port near the estuary of the Yarkon River.
Construction had just begun when a Yugoslavian cargo ship carrying a thousand tons of cement dropped anchor in Tel Aviv waters. Thrilled to the bone, Tel Avivians forgot their daily worries and came out in droves to welcome the astounded captain. People danced and sang, and when a desperately ill Mayor Meir Dizengoff arrived in the afternoon the crowds went crazy with joy. In a shaky voice, he declared “Here there will be a great port.” Many a listener wept at his words.
Inaugurated on February 23, 1938, the Tel Aviv Port was functioning at full blast when World War II broke out a year later and the British turned it into a military base. Two minesweepers kept the coast clear of the enemy, while a special undersea unit carried out dangerous operations in the water.
As the only one of its kind wholly under Jewish control before and during the War of Independence, Tel Aviv Port was crucial to the budding State of Israel: Through this port it was possible to bring in supplies, weapons and the iron plaques used for armed convoys trying to get through to besieged Jerusalem.
After the State was declared, and Tel Aviv began rapidly to expand, the port couldn’t handle the traffic. The government decided to build an alternative, larger deep water port in Ashdod, and after the transition was completed in 1965 Tel Aviv Port was used almost exclusively for fishing, with the buildings turned into storehouses. It was not a very pleasant place to visit.
At the beginning of the 21st century, a decision was taken to renovate the port. Today the port boasts dozens of venues for entertainment, health clubs, stores, coffee shops and restaurants, many of them housed in renovated buildings that hosted a trade fair in 1934.
The port also features a recently restored hammerhead crane. Its iron body was manufactured in the Land of Israel, while the motor and electrical systems were brought here from Europe in 1938. Unique in Israel, it lifted and carried every load of 25 tons or more that went in and out of the port for nearly three decades – and was vital to the British war effort. Over the years, sea winds and salt corroded the crane, and it was dangerously close to collapse when its restoration began.
A promenade continues north to the estuary of the Yarkon River, with a beautiful rest area featuring trees, benches, and stunning, black and white spur-winged plovers.
Here stands the Wauchope Bridge, which was restored in the early 21st century.
From the bridge it is easy to see where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Yarkon River: a lovely sight accompanied by the sound of crashing waves. The promenade continues across the bridge, to a restored lighthouse dating back to the late 1930s.
The pillar immediately beyond the lighthouse is a monument to the 157th Brigade of Great Britain’s 52nd Division. It is from here that soldiers crossed the river during the British conquest of Palestine in 1917, and captured the Turkish positions on the other side.
Reading Power Station stands opposite a handsome bay, where all that is left of a wall built to protect the power station during World War II are two squat round structures. They look suspiciously like the pillboxes the British used as guard posts all over Israel during the Arab Revolt – except that there are no openings for the guards. Their function remains a mystery.
Although the walkway continues, this is where we usually turn around, to relax by the river in one its picturesque, shady spots.
While taking photographs for this article we spent the night at the Port and Blue Hotel as guests of the management. The location was perfect, as the hotel is situated right across from the Tel Aviv Port.
Probably built in the 70s, and originally called the Tzidon, the hotel offered basic lodging for young people and new immigrants. It reopened as the Port and Blue Hotel in October, after a complete overhaul, with 77 luxurious suites and no less luxurious double rooms.
Architects and designers of the newly renovated hotel paid painstaking attention to detail, with every type of accommodation tastefully and often uniquely decorated, remarkably spacious, and equipped with mineral water, unusually pleasant work stations, large bathrooms, coffee corners, a fridge and a view of the Mediterranean.
The impressive lobby bursts with striking hues, and its uniquely designed lighting includes a chandelier that reflects changing colors on the ceiling. Highly recommended hotel – and reasonably priced.
Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel.
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