Jaffa is an ancient port city believed to be one of the oldest in the world, famous for its association with the biblical story of the Prophet Jonah. Modern Jaffa has a heterogeneous population of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Old Jaffa has remained a compound containing houses, alleys, Jaffa port and a newly restored boardwalk by the sea.
Houses in the area were especially allocated for development of an artist colony. The ancient, winding alleyways have been renovated and given names of the zodiac signs. The central lane in Old Jaffa is called Netiv Hamazalot (‘the Zodiac path’) and this is where you will find the Casa Nova complex, which today includes galleries, theaters, houses of artisans, the Sea Mosque, and St. Peter’s Church. The hotel is located at the northern entrance to the port and is entered from Netiv Hamazalot.
The original building, erected in 1654 by representatives of the Franciscan Order, was a hostel for pilgrims upon landing in the Holy Land and before they made their ascent to Jerusalem. Before its recent construction what had remained were several half-hewn caves decorated with arched openings.
Today, the building is ornamented with reliefs partly embedded in its walls which represent different elements of the Catholic Church and the Vatican. The relief at the main entrance of the hotel symbolizes the final proprietorship of the kings of Spain, though throughout the structure one can see bullet holes testifying to its various conquests over centuries. The property is currently held by private owners who purchased it from the Spanish government.
Among the many legends about Casa Nova, one claims that the property, which was at one time a monastery, hosted Napoleon when he conquered the land of Israel in 1799. In that year, a plague struck the French army immediately after its occupation of Jaffa, and French soldiers were housed and treated in the building. They say Napoleon himself visited his soldiers there, accompanied by his staff at the convent, to demonstrate that the disease was not contagious.