Each of the thousands of tombstones huddled on the rocky slopes south of Safed’s Old City tells a bit of the history of this town and its inhabitants for hundreds of years.
The cemetery can be easily seen from the Old City’s Artists Quarter and other vantage points, but to walk its narrow paths and climb its steps is to truly experience it.
The inscriptions reveal the presence of sages and mystics, among them the most prominent being the Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria. Victims of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries earthquakes that struck Safed are here, and more recent residents are far from forgotten; one special section is devoted to those who gave their lives in the besieged town during the War of Independence and in subsequent struggles.
As the population of Safed became more varied over the centuries, differing customs gave the cemetery a Sephardic and an Ashkenazi section. The tombs of the sixteenth-century Kabbalists, many traditionally painted sky-blue, have areas for men and women to pray, light candles and give charity. Beside the Ari, they include Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, author of the Sabbath hymn Lecha Dodi, and Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch.