Recently Ramla World City Festival took place. And we decided it was the perfect opportunity to visit the city and its best attractions. Let’s begin!
Map of the area:
And it can be reached by public transport, either by bus or by train.
Also, since the city is not that big (population is around 90,000), and not touristic, there is no problem finding parking. Moreover, before the Ramla World City Festival, three parking lots were marked, and we had no difficulties finding a spot.
Here is one of the parking signs:
Ramla is a city in central Israel. The city is predominantly Jewish with a significant Arab minority. Ramla was founded circa 705–715 CE by the Umayyad governor and future caliph Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik. Ramla lies along the route of the Via Maris, connecting old Cairo (Fustat) with Damascus, at its intersection with the road connecting the port of Jaffa with Jerusalem.
It was conquered many times in the course of its history, by the Abbasids, the Ikhshidids, the Fatimids, the Seljuqs, the Crusaders, the Mameluks, the Turks, the British, and the Israelis. After an outbreak of the Black Death in 1347, which significantly reduced the population, an order of Franciscan monks established a presence in the city. Under Arab and Ottoman rule the city became an important trade center. Napoleon’s French Army occupied it in 1799 on its way to Acre.
The town had an Arab majority before most of its Arab inhabitants were expelled or fled during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. The city was subsequently repopulated by Jewish immigrants. In 2001, 80% of the population was Jewish and 20% Arab (16% Arab Muslims and 4% Arab Christians).
In recent years, attempts have been made to develop and beautify the city, which has been plagued by neglect, financial problems, and a negative public image. New shopping malls and public parks have been built, and a municipal museum opened in 2001.
A 2013 Israeli police report documented that the Central District ranks fourth among Israel’s seven districts concerning drug-related arrests. Today, five prisons are located in Ramla, including the maximum-security Ayalon Prison and Israel’s only women’s prison called Neve Tirza.
What Does Ramla Mean?
According to the official site, the city was built in the years 705-715 CE on the historic Via Maris (sea road). The town was established on sands, and “Ramel” means sand in Arabic. That is how Ramla got its name.
Crime Rate In Ramla
When most Israeli hear Ramla, their first thought is not about archeological findings or touristic attractions in the city. Instead, they think about crime in the city. And that because whenever you hear about Ramle in the news, it is usually about an additional offense. It is not only a biased feeling, but it is supported by data. For example, this 2014 study checked crime rate in 230 cities across Israel, and Ramla was in the third place. And according to different sources (like this one), it is mostly drug-related crimes. Some even call Ramle and Lod as the drug capitals.
This unfavorable image probably hurts tourism. But it can also be beneficial. You will see and encounter real people, and not something that was polished for visitors. Moreover, most offenses are performed by offenders against other criminals, and not aimed at the tourists. And we walked alone around the city for several hours, and I felt perfectly safe.
Ramla World City Festival
Ramla World City Festival is an annual event that usually takes place around October (during the Sukkot holidays). Besides visiting the most popular touristic attractions, the festival allows you to taste ethnic food, join tours and workshops, and enjoy live music.
We decided to use this opportunity and visit the city. But, since all workshops and tours took place in the middle of the day, and the festival takes place during working days, we could not join any of them (you need to take a vacation for that). Thus, instead, we left the work early and toured in Ramle from 5 pm till 7:30 pm. And this post is the result of that urban exploration.
The World City Festival took place in several different compounds. The smaller one was near Ramla City Hall, and since we parked not far from the Police Station (on the parking lot behind Sderot Herzl 84), we started there.
Near the city hall, we saw a small stage and several areas where you could see Mehndi ceremony decorations. Each space showed Mehndi decorations used by people from different places. Ramla is a diverse city, according to the official site, there are Jewish immigrants from over 55 countries, Muslims, Christians, and Karaites. And the Mehndi presentation wanted to show that.
Here is short background information from Wikipedia about Mehndi (or as it called in Hebrew: Hinna):
Mehndi is a ritual practiced by various peoples in the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and India. This ritual is celebrated before the wedding, and it marks the passage from living alone to a couple life. The ceremony was also adopted by some Eastern Jews. In the ceremony, red-orange material, extracted from the white ransom leaves, is spread in a round shape over the hands of the bride and groom. It is a hint of the shape of a coin, as a blessing of abundance and as a sign of good luck.
Mehndi was used for ancient ceremonies of joy in the ancient Near East. It was celebrated by the Sumerians, Canaanites, Ugaritic inhabitants, Babylonians, and Assyrians. And in Southern China, Mehndi was also used for erotic events for 3,000 years.
Decorations for Mehndi ceremony:
Twin Cities to Ramla:
Ethiopian Mehndi decorations:
Bukharian Mehndi decorations:
I overheard somebody asking about ethnic food at the Bukharian tent. The ladies answered that all food was consumed by noon. Thus, if you want to taste ethnic dishes, come early.
And the Star of David was part of Indian decorations:
From the city hall, we headed to the unique attraction of Ramla.
Pool Of The Arches
The most significant building left from the time when the Abbasid caliphs ruled in the Land of Israel is the Pool of Arches. The structure is a rare witness to the quality of construction and beauty of Muslim architecture, especially given the fact that the Pool of Arches has survived for 1,200 years since its construction, and also the enormous damage caused by heavy earthquakes which destroyed large parts of the town of Ramla.
The pool was fed by a central aqueduct coming from the region of Gezer and leading to the reservoirs on the compound of the White Tower. The opening where the water entered the pool was recently discovered in the course of an archeological excavation carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authorities. It is possible that the pool’s location is due to a small spring in the vicinity.
A few stairs lead down to the pool, and there are three rows of columns built from stone, and each row has five columns which carry the curved arches on which the roof rests. Cut into the ceiling are square hatches through which previous generations drew water with pails and ropes.
The pool’s basin is almost square and measures 19.82 x 21.17 meters. In the winter, its waters overflow and are pumped off. The Pool of Arches offers rowing boats to be used by adults and children to enter the magic historical space.
Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.
The pool was built as a roofed water reservoir for the residents of Ramla. In Christian lore, it is also called the Pool of St. Helena, based on a tradition according to which Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I (who also built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem), was the one who ordered it to be dug. Also, the pool is also known as The Pool of The Goats in Arabic. And indeed, there were arches in the past through which the beasts were watered.
Opening Hours And Entrance Fee
Sunday – Thursday: 8:00 – 18:00 (till 16:00 during the winter)
Friday and holiday eves: 8:00 – 14:00
Saturday and holidays: 8:00 – 16:00
And the entrance fee as you can see in the next photo is 14 NIS per adults, and the reduced price of 12 NIS is per children, students, soldiers, handicapped, and people in groups of over 20 participants.
As you can see from the photo above, you can also buy a combined ticket for two or three attractions.
When looking from the outside, at ground level, you can see only the top of the arches.
But when you go down, this is how it looks from a boat.
Once you enter, you get a rowing boat and start sailing across the Pool Of The Arches. Though cruising a strong word, as the whole place is not significant, nonetheless it is a unique experience.
The pool is about one meter deep.
After about 10-15 minutes, you are asked to return the boat.
On our way out I photographed the inscription on the wall, that appears near the entrance to the Pool Of The Arches.
The underground water reservoir was built in 789 AD, in the days when the famous Caliph Harun al Rashid ruled from Baghdad. The year of its foundation is chipped into the plaster of the pool’s wall, saying, “In the name of Allah and with Allah’s blessing, the agent of the Emir of the faithful ordered construction, may Allah lengthen his days, in the month of Haja in the year one hundred and seventy two.”
Near the entrance to the pool, you can find remains of 900 years water fountain.
From the Pool Of Arches, we headed towards Ramla’s bazaar.
On our way, at Herzel Street 67, we passed near the Anglican Church, AKA Emmanuel Church.
And nearby you can find The Franciscan Church.
The Franciscan Church
Many Christians believe that Ramla is the town where Joseph of Arimathea lived who, together with Nicodemus, took Jesus off the cross. At the end of the 13th century, some monks came to the Holy Land, representatives of the Vatican, to guard the assets and sites holy to Christianity.
For this purpose, they established the “Custodia di Terra Santa” – the “Guardianship of the Holy Land.” The Franciscan “Terra Santa” organization bought land and in 1396, erected a monastery on the site. Besides, it served pilgrims on their way from Jaffa to Jerusalem.
In the second half of the 19th century, the construction of the church at the center of the monastery started, with the help of donations from the Spanish church. In 1902, the building was completed. The compound also includes the “Terra Santa School” which belongs to a countrywide network.
It is told that in the adjacent hospice, Napoleon Bonaparte was hosted during his attempted conquest of the Holy Land in 1799 and that he shot at the muezzin of the nearby mosque who disturbed his sleep. The room he stayed in is closed to visitors.
A visit is possible upon arrangement in advance through the offices of the school, for a symbolic fee.
Telephone: 08-912 7200
But since we did not make prior arrangements to attend The Franciscan Church, we did not visit inside.
Our next stop was Ramla Market.
Ramla’s bazaar is a colorful and vibrant market. Take your time and enjoy the large variety and abundance of products offered to you by hawkers while they praise their wares as the best products available, and at the cheapest of prices.
The market was established at the end of the Ottoman period, underwent renovation during the British Mandatory period and has been in existence for well over a hundred years.
The market is one of the most colorful and buoyant in Israel. As the peddlers in their stalls promote their goods as the best and the cheapest, they often use tape recorders on which they tape their traditional advertising. In the market, you will have the opportunity to buy spices you will not find in any supermarket. And don’t forget to quench your thirst with fresh lemonade at the Limonero’s booth.
The “Wednesday Market” is an Israeli food and clothes market which first took place in Ramla and Lod and then started to migrate all over the country.
A visit to the market enables you to stock up not only on rare spices but also on all kinds of Arab style antiques. The Ramla market is open on all days of the week, except for Shabbat.
Markets usually are open from the morning until the evening. But I was hoping that due to the festival it will be open later.
As you can see, we arrived at around 6 pm, and most of the stores were already closed. It is another place that should be visited earlier in the day.
We left the Ramla market disappointed and headed towards the White Tower.
But before we leave the area, I want to mention two other touristic attractions that are located near the market. They are The Great Mosque and the Ramla Museum.
The Great Mosque
The Great Mosque is one of the few Crusader buildings in Israel to have survived almost completely intact. The structure was erected in the 12th century as a Christian church, and the inscriptions found inside the mosque are indeed characteristic for the 12th century.
The building’s general layout includes three parallel halls, a nave, and two transepts, forming the structure of a classical basilica. There are other mosques in the shape of basilicas, but they are usually not this spacious. The mihrab, the prayer niche, points in the direction of Mecca yet in the eastern wall, there is another large niche – which in the past, was the apse of the former church, facing towards the east, to Nazareth.
The mosque is also called the al Umari Mosque. The term al Umari indicates that the mosque had been built with a different purpose and was later adapted to its new use. With the Mamluk occupation in 1266, the building was turned into a mosque, and a minaret for the muezzin as well as a prayer niche was added. At the entrance to the mosque is an inscription with a quote from the Koran, Sura 9, section 18. It also declares that Sultan Baybars erected the mosque in 1268 AD.
Sunday to Thursday 8:00 am – 11:30 am (summer time) or until 10:30 am (winter time)
Visits must be coordinated in advance at 08-922 5081. The entrance fee is 7 NIS.
Ramla’s Municipal Museum was opened in 2001 in a historic building erected in 1922 which served Ramla’s municipality in the course of the British Mandatory period.
The Municipal Museum documents and presents the town’s history from its founding in the 8th century AD and until today. The permanent exhibition is housed in six rooms, showing finds representing everyday life, commerce, and art as well as the population’s multi-cultural ethnic fabric. Also, the exhibition includes a selection of coins and hidden treasures that were discovered in the town, as well as models of central and historic buildings – the Pool of Arches and the compound of the White Mosque.
Sunday – Thursday: 10:00 to 16:00.
Friday and holiday eves: 09:00 to 13:00.
* Group visits require a previous reservation.
Address: 112 Herzl Street, Ramla
We are approaching the White Tower compound.
You can find Azrieli mall nearby. It can be an appropriate spot for parking, getting a snack or if you are looking for a restroom.
Festival Celebrations At The White Tower
The White Tower was the main compound where most of the celebrations took place.
As we entered, we saw a big crane that lifted mostly teenagers. And then they slid down the rope. I did not check the entrance fee.
We also saw about half a dozen live statues. But it was way less impressive than Rehovot International Live Statues Festival.
Besides the live statues, there were also several other attractions.
There was also ice skating. Well, not really ice. I guess plastic skating would be more accurate.
And when we approached the stage, we heard some Indian music.
Japanese style live-statue performer:
There were also some food and toys stands. The usual stuff.
The White Tower
Note: in many places, the White Tower is also referenced as the White Mosque. The tower is the minaret of the White Mosque.
The compound of the White Tower is located in the center of ancient Ramla and dates from the time when the town prospered. The area contains four historic sites. The White Mosque was first built in the 8th century A.D. The remnants we see today date from the end of the 12th century A.D. when the building was renovated upon orders by Sultan Saladin, and also from the time of Mamluk rule in the 13th and 14th centuries.
The White Tower rises to a height of 30 meters. The Mamluk sultan Muhammad Ibn Khalhoun ordered its erection, to be completed in 1318. It served as a watchtower, since even today, its top offers a panoramic view of the entire area, from the Mediterranean coast in the west (including Tel Aviv) to the foot of the Judean Mountains and Samaria in the east.
Some researchers claim that the tower was possibly built as a minaret, an architectural structure serving the muezzin when he calls the Muslim faithful to prayer five times a day.
You can see the White Tower in the photo above. But unfortunately, we could not visit it. We arrived a couple of minutes before 7 pm, and it was almost the closure time. And hence I mentioned times, here they are.
Opening Hours And Entrance Fee
The opening hours of The White Tower are the same as of the Pool Of The Arches. You can see them at the beginning of this post, or in the following photo.
Entrance feed is 10 NIS per adult or 9 NIS per child (you can see a photo of the fees in the Pool Of The Arches section).
As part of the Ramla Festival Celebrations, you could purchase tickets for different concerts. We did not. Thus, at this point after seeing everything at the main compound, we called it for the evening and headed home.
Ramla is not a touristic city yet. But it has things to offer. Unfortunately, as we found, the presentation in the touristic attractions is lacking. Thus, if you want to enjoy the city, I would advise joining one of the tours. There are many tours both during the festival and on Fridays.
Have you ever been to Ramla? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!