Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Dead Sea - Virtual Israel Tour

The Dead Sea (Yam Hamelakh -- "The Salt Sea") is the lowest place on earth, roughly 1,300 feet (400 meters) below sea level. It is 34 miles (55 km.) long and varies between 11 miles (18 km.) and 2 miles (3 km.) in width. The Sea is 1,400 feet (430 m.) deep. This unique sea is fed by the Jordan River. There is no outflow; and the exceptionally high rate of evaporation (high temperatures, low humidity) produces large quantities of raw chemicals. These are extracted and exported throughout the world for use in medicine, agriculture and industry.

The Dead Sea is actually shrinking. The southern end is now fed by a canal maintained by the Dead Sea Works, a company that converts the Sea's raw materials, particularly phosphates, into commercial products.

Visitors can float effortlessly on the waters of the Dead Sea due to its concentration of minerals, which is the highest in the world. The air is extremely dry, and temperatures are high throughout the year (max. 86° [30° C]) during winter, and 104° [40° C]) during summer) making the Dead Sea a destination for visitors 365 days a year.

Floating is a novelty that makes visiting the Dead Sea a kick, but most visitors come for the therapeutic value of the mud and salt water. People with skin disorders such as psoriasis and ailments such as arthritis have found relief from treatments using the Sea's natural resources. Oh, and if you have an open cut or sore, be forewarned, the salt water stings.

Archaeological ruins are scattered in the area. Many historical fugitives, such as David, Jesus, Jewish zealots and Christian monks, found peace and refuge around the Dead Sea. The area is best known, however, for being the site of the biblical towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. South of the Sea, on the way to Eilat, is a rock salt formation that tourists are told is Lot's wife. According to the Torah, Lot's wife ignored G-d's admonition not to look back at the cities he was destroying as they left and was turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26).

Incidentally, all the fun near the Dead Sea is not confined to the mud and water!

Ein Gedi

The name En-gedi is composed of two Hebrew words: ein means spring and gdi means goat-kid. En Gedi thus means "Kid spring."

Ein Gedi nature reserve was declared in 1971 and is one of the most important reserves in Israel. The park is situated on the eastern border of the Judean Desert, on the Dead Sea coast, and covers an area of 14000 dunams. The elevation of the land ranges from the level of the Dead Sea at 423 meters (1,388 ft) below sea level to the plateau of the Judean Desert at 200 meters above sea level. Ein Gedi nature reserve includes two spring-fed streams with flowing water year-round: Nahal David and Nahal Arugot. Two other springs, the Shulamit and Ein Gedi springs, also flow in the reserve. Together, the springs generate approximately three million cubic meters of water per year. Much of the water is used for agriculture or is bottled for consumption. The reserve is a sanctuary for many types of plant, bird and animal species. The vegetation includes plants and trees from the tropical, desert, Mediterranean, and steppian regions, such as Sodom apple, acacia, jujube, and poplar. The many species of resident birds are supplemented by over 200 additional species during the migration periods in the spring and fall. Mammal species include the ibex and the hyrax. In the summer of 2005, nearly two-thirds of the oasis burned to the ground after a visitor dropped a lit cigarette.

The Ein Gedi national park features several archaeological sites including the Chalcolithic Temple of Ein Gedi and a first century CE village. The park was declared in 2002 and covers an area of 8 dunams.

The Bible records that 3,000 years ago David hid from King Saul at Ein Gedi. When David surprised the King and spared his life after finding him unarmed, Saul said David would succeed him on the throne.

Located on the Dead Sea's western shore, Ein Gedi ("spring of the goat") is a desert oasis with waterfalls, pools of water and two large streams. It is a hiker's paradise with beautiful foliage, exotic birds and a range of wildlife, including rabbits, deer, ibex and leopards (don't worry, you're not likely to run into any).

Ein Gedi served as a water source during biblical times (Joshua 15:62, I Samuel 24:1-2). The spring begins to flow 656 feet above the Dead Sea. About a half-hour's hike will take you to a waterfall and pool. Another trail leads to Shulamit Spring, the top of the falls and the Dodim Cave. Further along are the ruins of a Chalcolithic sanctuary believed to be from the year 4,000 B.C.E. From atop the trail it is possible to get a spectacular view of the Dead Sea, the mountains of Moab and Kibbutz Ein Gedi.

Before the king arrives at his couch,
My perfume hovered fragrantly
My love will lie between my breasts.
Like a sack of myrrh,
A cluster of blossoms,
Picked from the vineyards of Ein Gedi.

--From the Song of Songs--

The oasis is known for its thriving date palms, which are the principal crop of nearby Kibbutz Ein Gedi. The Kibbutz also owns a spa further south where you can take a hot mineral bath and coat yourself in Dead Sea mud. A camp site is also situated near the Dead Sea beach.
The Qumran Caves.

Just north of Ein Gedi (about 40 minutes south of Jerusalem) is one of Israel's most important archaeological sites, the Qumran National Park. It is in the caves of this ancient settlement that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. Evidence has been found of people inhabiting the caves as early as the 8th-7th centuries B.C.E. The Romans stormed the area and occupied it for 20 years. In 132-135 C.E., Bar-Kokhba's fighters lived in the ruins. The community, referred to as the "Dead Sea Sect," to which the Dead Sea Scrolls apparently belonged lived in Qumran around 130 B.C.E. to 70 C.E.

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