Ramla, the City with the Colorful Markets

It’s not quite as old as nearby Jaffa – history here stretches back ‘only’ 1300 years – but Ramla’s bustling market, underground pools and crumbling Islamic architecture make it an interesting half-day trip from Tel Aviv. Try to visit on a Wednesday, when the market is at its busiest and most colorful. Map.

Ramla
Ramla

Established in 716 CE by the Umayyid caliph Suleiman, Ramla (spot of sand) was a stopover on the road from Egypt to Damascus. Prior to the arrival of the Crusaders in the 11th century, it was Palestine’s capital and it maintained its importance in the Middle Ages as the first stop for the Jerusalem-bound pilgrims who came ashore at Jaffa. Following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War the majority of the Arab population were expelled or fled and was replaced by poor Jewish immigrants, mainly from Asia (eg India) and North Africa. It’s now a friendly mix of Arabs (20%) and Jews (80%).

A joint ticket for the Ramla Museum, White Tower and Pool of Al-Anazia costs 22/25NIS adult/concession and can be purchased at the museum. The museum acts as the town’s de facto tourist information centre. For information, see the municipality’s Goramla (http://en.goramla.com) website.

Pool of Al-Anazia (HaHaganah St; adult/concession 14/12NIS; 8am-4pm Sat-Thu, to 2pm Fri, to 6pm Wed & Thu Jun-Aug ) Map.
The name means ‘Pool of Arches’, a reference to the majestic stone structures in this underground 8th century reservoir. The most significant structure left from the Abbasid period, it is sometimes called the Pool of St Helena in reference to a Christian idea that the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine I, ordered its construction. Visitors explore the structure by rowboat.

Pool of the Arches - Ramla
Pool of the Arches – Ramla

Ramla Museum (08-929 2650; 112 Herzl Ave; adult/concession 12/10NIS; 10am-4pm Sun-Thu, to 1pm Fri ) Map.
Housed in a building dating from the British Mandate, this small museum provides an overview of the town’s history. Exhibits include locally excavated gold coins from the 8th to 15th century CE, a collection of traditional products of Arab soap manufacture from the beginning of the 20th century and a display on the 1948 Arab–Israeli War in and around Ramla.

White Tower (Danny Mass St; adult/concession 10/9NIS; 8am-4pm Sat-Thu, to 2pm Fri ) Map.
Experts can’t agree whether this 14th-century tower was built as a minaret or a watch tower. One indisputable fact is that the 30m-high structure was built as an addition to the 8th-century White Mosque (Jamaa al-Abiad), of which only traces remain. The site includes three now-dry cisterns and the shrine of Nabi Salih, an ancient prophet mentioned in the Quran.

Ramla
Ramla

Great Mosque (Al-Umari Mosque; 08-922 5081; admission 7NIS) Map.
Though it doesn’t look particularly impressive from the outside, this is one of the few Crusader buildings in Israel & the Palestinian Territories to have survived almost completely intact. Erected in the 12th century as a Christian church, it was converted into a mosque in the 13th century and the minaret and mihrab (prayer niche facing Mecca) were added at this time. Visits are by appointment only.

Church of St Nicodemus & St Joseph of Arimathea (08-912 7200; cnr Bialik St & Herzl Ave; 9am-noon Mon-Fri)
Constructed in the 19th century on a site that Christians believe to be the site of biblical Arimathea, the hometown of Joseph, this Franciscan church has a distinctive square bell tower and a painting above the altar that is attributed to Titian (The Deposition from the Cross). To visit, you’ll need to call ahead.

Food

Samir Restaurant (08-922 0195; 7 Kehlat Detroit St; mains 40-90NIS; 8am-7pm Mon-Thu & Sat, to 6pm Fri ) Map.
The clock turns back several centuries in historic Samir, an old Arab family-run restaurant hidden in a dusty backstreet behind the market and set in a refurbished Turkish house. It has an English menu and serves various meat kebabs, dips (try the excellent hummus), falafel and salads.

Transport

There are trains to Ramla (map) (13NIS, 25 minutes) from Tel Aviv departing every 20 minutes throughout the day. Buses 450 and 451 depart from Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station every 20 minutes (14.90NIS, 40 minutes).

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