Haifa (Hebrew חֵיפָה Ḥefa, Ḥeyfa; Arabic حَيْفَا Ḥayfā (♫)) 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.
The city's sole official romanization Haifa and the common English pronunciation /ˈhaɪ.fə/ are based on the Arabic name Ḥayfā, whilst the unused Standard Hebrew name is Ḥefa, and the local Hebrew pronunciation is typically /χei.'fa/.
The name Haifa is derived from the Levantine Arabic word الحيفة al-Ḥayfah meaning 'nearby', derived from the Crusaders name for Haifa -- Cayphas (they also used the name Sycaminon which means Wild Strawberry). Under Roman rule it was known by Efa. During the Islamic period, Acre dominated the coastal area, and Haifa was a minor port. Haifa is first mentioned in written records around 3rd century CE, as a small 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 Temple 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.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Haifa had emerged as an industrial port city and growing population center. At that time Haifa district was home to approximately 20,000 inhabitants, comprised of 82% Muslim Arab, 14% Christian Arabs, and 4% Jewish residents. Jewish population increased steadily with immigration primarily from Europe, so that by 1945 the population had shifted to 38% Muslim, 13% Christian and 47% Jewish. Haifa is located in the northernmost reach of the Coastal Plain designated as Jewish territory in the 1947 UN Partition Plan dividing mandatory Palestine. As the major industrial and oil-refinary port in the British mandate of Palestine, Jewish forces deemed control of Haifa a critical objective in the ensuing 1948 Arab-Israeli War. It was captured on April 23rd, 1948 by a force of 5,000 Israeli soldiers led by the Carmeli Brigade whose attack was met by a defending force of 350-500. The campaign resulted in Israeli control over the area and the flight of about 60,000 Palestinian Arabs from Haifa District.
Today, Haifa is a thriving and diverse cultural and ethnic center, home to Jews, Arabs, Ahmedis, Bahá'í and Druze, and marked for its relatively high level of peaceful coexistence.
Noted by Jews for the Cave of Elijah and the historic Jewish town of Shikmona at the foot of Mount Carmel, Haifa is also cherished by the Muslim, Christian and Bahá'í faiths. The Bahá'í World Center (comprising the Shrine of the Báb, terraced gardens and administrative buildings on the Carmel's northern slope [see photo]) 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 a mosaic of relatively peaceful yet visibily segregated coexistence between Jews, Muslim and Christian Arabs, Ahmedis (Kababir), Druze, Bahá'ís, and others.
Noted also for being a favourite monastic spot for the Carmelites in the 12th century, with a 19th century rebuilt monastry Stella Maris at the Carmel's head, a popular tourist and pilgrim's attraction.
The city has seven football clubs - Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Haifa, Beitar Haifa, Akhva Haifa, Neve Yosef, Bnei Kababir and Neve Shaanan. Maccabi Haifa is one of the most successful football clubs today in Israel, with 9 championships, 5 cups and 2 Toto-cups (as for 2005). Both clubs have football schools in Haifa suburbs and other villages (including Arab and Druze villages) in the northern part of Israel. Haifa also has basketball, volleyball, tennis, and handball clubs.