Living it up at the Dead Sea
LAST UPDATED: 09/04/2012 11:12
Spoil yourself with a trip to the lowest point on Earth, an archeological gold mine in the middle of the desert.
Dead Sea Photo: www.goisrael.com
The Dead Sea area is a multiple tourist destination. The medicinal qualities of the Dead Sea have converted the area into a center of health tourism. It is a region of great historical interest as well, and the many high-quality hotels have made the area a major resort.
From a historical perspective, the Dead Sea has a long history because of its strategic location and its medicinal qualities. The Dead Sea is the location of the biblical Sodom and Gomorra which, because of its wanton lifestyle, was described as something of a living hell. Herod the Great built a mighty palace fortress complex atop the mountain of Masada. Today, the area to the east is dry land because the sea is slowly drying up. In those times, Masada was opposite a ford that led directly to Moab, which today is Jordan.
During the time of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, the area was part of Egypt courtesy of Mark Anthony. Cleopatra obtained the rights to build cosmetic and pharmaceutical factories in the area. Later on, the Nabateans discovered the value of bitumen extracted from the Dead Sea, which was needed by the Egyptians for embalming their mummies.
The area also served as a place of refuge. In Roman times, the Essenes settled in Qumran on the Dead Sea's northern shore, and on the heights of Masada a small group of rebellious Jewish zealots positioned themselves in the fortress palace of Masada and held out against the might of the Roman legion.
The remoteness of the region attracted Greek Orthodox monks. Byzantine-era monasteries such as Saint George in Wadi Kelt and Mar Saba in the Judean Desert are places of pilgrimage to this day.
As one can see, it is a region with vast historical potential, and tourists visit there in ever-increasing numbers. Most go to see the historical sites and the natural wonders of Ein Gedi, with its world-famous botanical park and the unique geological formations of the area’s torrid streams. These come to life with a vengeance in winter as evidenced by the eroded stream beds.
History and nature
The Dead Sea region has been associated with many historical periods. As such, it is an archeological gold mine in many ways.
In addition to the places of outstanding historical interest, the natural and scenic attractions are outstanding, especially in winter when the weather is cool and pleasant.
The sea itself is a natural wonder, a lake that lies in the deepest part of the Great Syrian-African rift at the lowest point on the face of the Earth, 400 m (~1,320 feet) below sea level. It is flanked by the Judean Mountains on the west and the Moab mountains on the east. In such a location, there are places of great natural beauty and uniqueness.
Here are some examples.
Ein Gedi: This oasis is now the site of the flourishing Kibbutz Ein Gedi. In ancient times, it was there that King Saul pursued King David and where King Solomon composed the “Song of Songs.”
One of the natural -- well, man-made -- wonders is the kibbutz’s botanical gardens, the cactus park and the zoological gardens.
Near the kibbutz there are two nature reserves -- the Nahal David Reserve and the Nahal Arugot Reserve. Both are excellent for hiking and for sighting ibexes and rock rabbits.
Both streams have clear flowing water year round. The Nahal David Reserve has a magnificent waterfall, while the Arugot Reserve has waterfalls and natural shallow pools, which are excellent for bathing.
Sodom Mountain: This is a geological ridge of pure salt in the southern part of the Dead Sea. It is believed that the salt pillar there that resembles a human form is the remains of Lot’s wife. According to the Bible, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt when she disobeyed divine orders not to look back at the burning cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Arabic, the Dead Sea is called “Lot’s Sea.”
The Flour Cave: The Flour Cave in Nahal Pratzim is an intriguing 30-meter long underground passage created by water erosion. The name “Flour Cave” comes from the soft white flour-like dust in the passage. It is situated a short drive from Ein Bokek.
Metzuke Dragot: In English, it means “Dragot cliffs.” It is a settlement nestled inside some of the region’s deepest craters, offering a magnificent desert observation point. The people living there specialize in desert tourism, which includes such activities as scaling desert mountains, snappling, rappelling, guided jeep tours and mountain biking.