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Haifa is the third-largest city in Israel, with a population close to 300,000. Areas and towns around it are deemed to be in the Haifa District, of which it is also a part. It is a seaport, located below and on Mount Carmel, and lies on the Mediterranean coast. |
Haifa is first mentioned in written records (including the Talmud) around 3rd century AD, as a small Jewish town near Shikmona, the main town in the area at that time. It had been under Byzantine rule until the 7th century, when it was conquered first by the Persians, then by the Arabs. In 1100, it was conquered again by the crusaders, after a fierce battle with its Jewish inhabitants. It then became part of the Principality of Galilee. The town was taken again by the muslim Mameluks in 1265, and was ruined and mostly abandoned until the 17th century.
In 1761 Daher El-Omar, Bedouin ruler of Acre and Galilee, destroyed and rebuilt the town in a new location, surrounding it with a thin wall. This event is marked by many as the beginning of the town's modern era. After El-Omar's death in 1775, the town remained mostly under Ottoman rule until 1918, except for two brief periods: in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Haifa as part of his brief and failed campaign to conquer Palestine and Syria, but withdrew the same year; and between 1831 and 1840, the town had been under the rule of the Egyptian viceroy Mehemet Ali, after having been conquered by his son Ibrahim Pasha. In the years following the Egyptian occupation, the town saw rise in traffic, population and importance, while Acre was declining due to the damages it suffered in a succession of battles and wars. The town saw another surge of development with the arrival of members of the Templar Society in 1868, who settled in Haifa and built their sturdy houses in the town's "German colony". The Templars greatly contributed to the town's commerce and industry, and played an important role in its stride towards modernization.
Noted by Jews for the Cave of Elijah, Haifa is also cherished by the Christian and Bahá'í faiths. The Bahá'í World Centre (comprising the Shrine of the Báb, terraced gardens and administrative buildings on the Carmel's northern slope) is an important site of worship and administration for the members of the Bahá'í Faith, as well as providing the city with a much visited tourist attraction.
Haifa is the site of two universities, the University of Haifa and the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology.
In the past, its docks and industrial areas have made the city a consistent stronghold for the Israeli Labor party, and it was often dubbed 'Red Haifa' (One result of this has been that Haifa is the only city in Israel in which public transport operates on Saturdays); this status is now debatable, however, the centrist party Shinui's candidate, Yona Yahav, having won the 2003 municipal elections and having become the mayor (The labor party's candidate, Elize Shenhar, had removed her candidacy prior to the elections with the intention of raising Yahav's chances of overcoming the Likud party's candidate, since the polls indicated that he had much more electoral support than she did).
Haifa is home to one of the two oil refineries in Israel (the other located in Ashdod). The refineries are capable of processing about 9 million tons of crude oil a year, and are the center point of a wide array of petrochemical industries located in Haifa and the vicinity. Its twin 76-meters-high cooling towers, built in the 1930's, have long become a landmark tightly identified with the city of Haifa. The Refineries and other industries are located in a large industrial zone in the north of the city, near the Kishon river.
Matam park, one of the largest industrial hi-tech parks in Israel, is located at the southern entrance to city, hosting manufacturing and R&D facilities for a large number of Israeli and international hi-tech companies, such as Intel, Elbit, Zoran, Microsoft, and Amdocs.