The old village center of Usfiya – today one of the two Druze towns on the Carmel Mountains – was built over an ancient Jewish village from the Byzantine Period. The remains of this village, including a large synagogue with an exquisite mosaic floor depicting a zodiac (currently held at the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem), were excavated in 1933 and are mostly buried under the town's buildings.
It is suggested that the Jewish village of Hosifa was abandoned in the sixth century and the first Druze families to settle on the site would have arrived from Lebanon in the fifteenth century. Additional Druze families, from Syria and Lebanon, settled in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A few Christian families from Bethlehem and Ramallah also joined them in the eighteenth century.
The two Druze villages on the Carmel – Usfiya and Daliyat el-Carmel – refused to join the Arab revolt against Jewish settlement in 1936-1939. As a result, in 1938, the village was ransacked and two of its leaders were murdered. In 1948, the Druze on the Carmel supported the Jewish forces fighting the Arab irregulars, leading many of the Druze youngsters to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that July, to fight in the War of Independence. To this day, Druze serve in the IDF; many of whom become career soldiers and commanders.
Usfiya today is stretched along the crest of the Carmel, overlooking Haifa Bay, far beyond the precincts of the ancient village kernel. Most of the 11,000 people living in Usfiya are Druze, while 15 percent are Christian (Catholic and Maronites) and 5% are Moslem. The population also includes several hundred Jewish students who study at the nearby University of Haifa and rent apartments in the town.
The heart of the town is still the picturesque old kernel, a little-known tourism gem, tucked away behind newer buildings, along with other hidden haunts. Now is the time for the early bird to discover Usfiya, before it becomes popular and famous. ERETZ Magazine recommends:
The old village; it is small and easy to wander through. Start in the central square of the town, al-Manzul Square, at the Old Age Club, which is actually the village’s traditional meeting place. There are plans to turn it into an information center where visitors can learn firsthand about the days of old. Even today, visitors are welcome to drop in and ask for information accompanied by a good Druze tale from the Carmel.
Hebrew is the prevalent language, but all visitors are warmly welcomed. (Open Sunday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to noon.) That said, it is best to plan a visit in advance to ensure that places are open. For assistance planning a visit to Usfiya, contact Mirna Awad (Tel. 054-670 -5732) of the local tourism council or tour guide Haeyl Azzam (Tel. 052-633-3394).
The Carmel Heritage Center, in al-Manzul Square. It has an exhibit on the development of the status of women in Druze society. (www.carmel-deruz.com, open Friday and Saturday, 2-6 p.m., entrance fee).
Two ancient olive presses, in the center of the village. They are remnants of the village’s agricultural past. The older is located in a cave under a building. The millstone was presented to the owner by Alice le Strange, wife of Sir Laurence Oliphant, a British author, traveler, diplomat, and mystic. Oliphant, who believed in the establishment of a Jewish colony in Palestine, lived in Daliyat el-Carmel during the 1880s. He traveled extensively throughout the country with his secretary, Naphtali Herz Imber, the author of “Hatikva,” the Israeli national anthem. The cave is open to visitors to the Carmel Heritage Center. The second ancient olive press is today covered with earth. Next to the olive press is a typical 150-year-old Druze building that looks out onto the entire Galilee from its roof.
A market runs along the village’s main road during the weekends, selling food and haberdashery in the main. Several well-known stores, chiefly the Mansur Shopping Center, famous for its straw and bamboo furniture, can also be found on the main road.
Usfiya also boasts more than a few religious establishments: three Druze prayer houses; two churches and a monastery; and a mosque. The town’s most renowned religious site is the tomb of Abu Abdallah, the third most important of the five Druze prophets. Abu Abdallah was the first Druze kadi (judge). The courtyard in front of the tomb, with its ancient well next to the Ein Alak spring, is a favorite picnic site for Druze families from the Carmel. The tomb has become a pilgrimage site that attracts large crowds every year on November 15. (To visit the tomb, call 052-351-0504.)
Art lovers can pay a visit to two interesting artists who live in Usfiya. Amasha Shahar, a carpenter by trade, creates wooden sculptures in his carpentry shop, which is easily recognized by the huge pieces of wood strewn along the road leading to the shop. (To visit, call 052-396-6011.) And painter Farres Hamdan, whose work is exhibited frequently at galleries around Israel and the world, lives nearby. (To visit, call 050-939-1420.)
Those interested in more traditional Druze crafts can visit Amtiaz Mansur (Tel. 052-248-4411), who has dedicated herself to preserving authentic Druze art. She offers classes and seminars on the subject in the old village. Other local artisans include Umm Shahar (embroidery), Umm Salah (basket making and weaving), Wadad Said Ahmed (needle work), Lial Bat (jewelry), and Rali Hason (handicrafts).
Tourism in Usfiya is still very embryonic, but there are a few guesthouses for those seeking Druze hospitality. The largest, al-Manzul, mainly hosts families (Tel. 054-448 -1671). While another option, is to reside at the four bungalows of Marom Carmel (Tel. 054-555-5985) or the newly built Zimer Bashakim (Tel. 052-789-8449).
Usfiya is surrounded by nature sites, from the Carmel Scenic Road to the Yagur Riverbed. In addition, the thirteenth segment of the Israel Trail runs through the village, making it easy to stop there for a one or two day break while hiking from Dan to Eilat.
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