by Yael Adar
The year was 1882.
High atop Carmel Mountain, 100 Romanian pioneers purchased a tract of land in a place known in Arabic as Zammarin. They were members of the Hovevei Zion movement and they dreamed of working and living off the land. However, they were inexperienced, conditions were hard and the soil was rocky. In addition, Malaria from the swamps at the foothills of the Carmel presented a serious problem. The place would soon be known as Zichron Ya’acov.
Today its center has been restored. It has a decidedly un-Israeli look and feel, which may explain why it is a popular tourist spot for Israelis and why relatively few tourists from abroad visit here (even most of the material at the local tourist office, is in Hebrew). Many tourists visit nearby Caeserea and are not aware that only minutes away lies a charming town where the country’s first winery was established.
The main street, Rehov Hameyasdim (also known as Wine’s Way), is lined with red-shingled buildings and gas type lighting that adorned streets in a previous century. Part of the street is even paved with cobblestones. An assortment of small shops, featuring the works of local artists, café’s and restaurants are located here. Looking at the street today, it is hard to imagine that in the past, it was inhabited by farmers . In fact, it was originally called Farmer’s Street.
There is plenty of history to be found in Zichron Ya’acov. This was one of the first settlements under the auspices of Baron Edmond de Rothschild (the other two were Rosh Pina and Rishon Le’Zion). The Baron was called the Well-Known Benefactor or Hanadiv Hayadua (as well as Father of the Settlement, or Avi Hayeshuv). In Hebrew, Zichron Ya’acov is often referred to simply as Zichron. Perhaps this is fitting, since the word comes from the same root as the word Zikaron, which means memory and the settlement (Moshava) is named after the Baron’s father, James Jacob de Rothschild. Nearby Binyamina is named after the Baron.
Many of the settlement’s original settlers left, due to the difficult conditions. In 1883 Baron de Rothschild took over the settlement at which time organized town and agricultural planning began. Different attempts were made to find the right agricultural crop. After a number of failures, viniculture met with more success. However, soon after establishing the winery in 1892 the grapevines succumbed to phylloxera, a type of parasite. American-grafted seedlings that were resistant to phylloxera were grown and the winery flourished. The huge wine cellars that were carved into the mountain a century ago are still in use today as part of the Carmel Mizrachi Winery, a large commercial winery.
As you walk down Rehov Hameyasdim be sure to take note of the signs on the vaious buildings. They provide information about Zichron Ya’acov’s past, in small doses. Whether you decide to attend an afternoon harp concert, visit one of the museums or simply want to stroll the settlement’s main street, Zichron Ya’acov is certainly worth a visit.
Zichron Ya’acov is located off Route # 652 between Route #70 and Route # 4 (the Tel Aviv Haifa road). It is half an hour from Haifa and 15 minutes from Caeserea.