Question: At what haunted cliffs do people willingly pay for a chance to plunge over the side?
Answer: Rosh HaNikra
In northernmost coastal Israel, sighs can often be heard at stunning Rosh HaNikra, a towering white cliff punctuated by sea level grottoes. Are the sighs the sound of travelers admiring the view or a ghost haunting the caves below? It depends on who you ask.
Near Haifa, the chalk cliffs rise more than a hundred feet off the Mediterranean, their surfaces worn by time and the elements. Over many thousands of years, the action of the sea has carved deep grottoes and winding tunnels into the cliff base. Light that reaches inside the grottoes illuminates the sea water in brilliant hues of aquamarine and turquoise reflected onto cave ceilings. It was a beauty that only experienced divers could see for years, as there was no easy way to access most of the tunnels.
In World War II, there was an attempt to make a railway from Haifa to Beirut passing through the caves, but it was never finished and its use was limited. In 1968, authorities dug a new tunnel just above sea level to connect the grottoes for visitors—if they could get down that far. To make that possible, the world’s most steeply pitched cable car was installed, its line descending at a 60-degree angle. Visitors with no fear of heights could pass from the clifftop over open air to the grottoes below, and walk between caves—where they could perhaps hear the sighing.
Legend has it that a young bride was on the way to a forced marriage in Haifa. When her carriage rode along the clifftop, she threw open her door and plunged over the edge. Some say she drowned in the sea, while others say she fell into a pool of water and lived out the rest of her life in the grottoes. Both camps agree that the lyrical moaning one may hear in the caves is her voice, echoing for eternity.
Whether you think the echoes come from a ghost, contented fellow travelers, or just the wind off the water, one thing is beyond debate: Rosh HaNikra is one of the most memorable natural wonders of Israel’s north coast.
Star of the North: 10 Things to Know about Haifa
- With only six stops, the Haifa subway system is one of the smallest and shortest on earth, but it’s crucial for getting around the hilly city.
- Despite only being a city of a 250,000, Haifa has not one but eight professional soccer teams, including two of Israel’s World Cup-level teams.
- Haifa is the mother city for the Ba’Hai Faith and home to its main temple, made famous by frequent guest Dizzy Gillespie.
- There are more bakeries per capita in Haifa than anywhere else in Israel: It has 70, 20 more than Tel Aviv, whose population is nearly twice as large.
- Haifa beaches cater to religious difference. At Hof Hasket (Quiet Beach), men swim on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, while women on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The only day they can swim together is Saturdays—when the Orthodox can’t swim at all.
- The first sculpture garden dedicated solely to the work of a woman artist—Ursula Malbin, who fled Nazi Germany—is here, with 29 bronze sculptures depicting youth engaged in peaceful activities.
- Haifa’s Technion, dubbed “The MIT of Israel,” ranks among the top engineering schools in the world, and has yielded four Nobel Prize winners in just over a decade, as well as 70% of the tech company founders in Israel.
- The entire breadth of Judaism (from ultra-Orthodox to reform, and Sephardi to Ashkenazi) is represented by the city’s whopping 240 synagogues (almost 1 per 1,000 residents).
- Haifa’s Doll Museum tells the history of the Jews using 1,000 dolls in dioramas that start with Biblical stories and continue through the Holocaust to the founding of the nation.
- Israel’s best-known collective of graffiti artists, The Broken Fingaz Crew, is in high demand globally, but they still debut their new work on the walls of Haifa, their hometown, where street art remains officially illegal but the city typically waits a few days before buffing the murals off.
Discover all the best of Israel’s northern coastline on O.A.T.’s Israel, the Holy Land & Timeless Cultures adventure.