It is a garden at the center of the world, or at least the center for pilgrims. The pilgrims come from all over the globe to pray at the Sacred Shrine. In different places in the garden the natural rock of the mountain side is left exposed and incorporated into the gardens, other areas were more formal. This is a semiarid part of the world, so rain is precious and grass is green only in the first months of the year after the winter rains. Snow is rare.

Some desert creatures find a refuge here in the midst of this otherwise urban area, such as small lizards. They live in small cavities and like to sun themselves on the sides of retaining walls, benches, or steps. The pilgrims did not mind. They are amused to watch the lizards. The lizards feed on insects which mean less to torment the pilgrims.

The Shrine is the focus of the gardens. It’s original structure is of simple, hewn stone. Later that was enclosed in an arcade and surmounted by a dome. The dome is supported by a drum raising the silhouette of the structure. The building has nine equally square rooms, the Prophet is buried under the center room. No one walks in the center room, except staff for cleaning and maintanence.

The center room is filled with light, in contrast to the Prophet’s prison cell when, in winter, He was denied even a candle for warmth and light. The surrouding rooms have doors which open to each other. The center room is open on all four sides by large archways opening more than half of the wall space.

Under each arch is a threshold to the inner room. This threshold is raised a foot or so above the floor, obvioulsy not for walking across. On each threshood is a deep green cloth covering, the color representing the Prophet’s family. On the cloth were sprinkled rose petals from the sourrounding gardens. The petals are replaced before they dry. When dried, they were placed in bowls. Pilgrims can take dried petals home if they wished, as momentoes. Unlike other sites in this land, there are no vendors around to sell trinkets.

The rooms were furnished simply. Woven mats covere the tile floors, over which were thick carpets from the Prophets native country. Thick drapes covere the doors and windows to muffle sounds. The ceilings were high to contain the summer heat. The only decorations were framed inscriptions, prayers. In the corners are pedestals holding fixtures giving subtle light in addition to the overhead lighting.

There is no seating except the floor. The carpets were kept clean by daily cleaning and through respect by taking shoes off before entering. Even sightseeing tourists remove their footware during those hours when the Shrine is open to the public. They seldom come to pray, so public hours were limited. Pilgrims can enter at any time, but often find the public times distracting. There were other historic sites in the area the pilgrims can visit, all the result of historic circumstance.

The lizards and other creatures of the gardens: rabbits, turtles, etc. do not mind whether the humans were pilgrims or not. They try to ignore the people and the people leave them alone. Lizards run and hide.

Dust storms from the desert can coat the Shrine in a fine layer of powder, but winter rains will clean it again fresh for the new year.

In the gardens were plants that bloom throughout the year in turn. Trees, bushes, even herbs are planted for continual blossoms. Since winters here are seldom cold enough for snow, freezing is not a major problem. It is the heat and dryness of summer that were killers of plants, so drought resistent ones were sought.

The Shrine was built and is maintained by financial contributions and volunteers from all parts of the world from myriad ethnic, racial, national and religious backgrounds. It is an example of human diversity with unity of purpose.

The Shrine is testimony that beauty can be constructed in the most unlikely of places. Paradise can be created, and harmoniously, through wide participation. Can this not happen in more places? This Shrine is in the Baha’i Gardens on the slope of Mt Carmel, in Haifa, Israel.

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