The Dead Sea, is known as the lowest place on Earth and saltiest lake on Earth with a salt concentration that fluctuates around 31.5% and shores that are located 429 meters below sea level. The dead sea’s salty waters have many health benefits and have been soothing joint aches and skin ailments for millennia, in addition to being a destination to relax and have fun in astoundingly beautiful surroundings. The Dead Sea isn’t mentioned in the Bible, but must have been a central point in the Biblical landscape as a natural barrier and landmark. Today the mineral filled lake is a well known tourist destination with well developed facilities for visitors of all kinds in the district of Ein Bokek. Kibbutz Ein Gedi has a more limited capacity, but offers an unparalleled Nature Reserve and hiking possibilities. Between the two destinations sits Masada, a historical landmark,which is surrounded by great trails.
Highlights of the Dead Sea Valley Region
There are numerous historical sites to be visited in this special geological region. These include:
Masada (pronounced Metzada) is an ancient fortification overlooking the Dead Sea on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert. You many have heard of this fortress as the location of a mass suicide by 900 Sicarii rebels, as recorded by Josephus Flavius. The rebels, who had fled to Masada after the fall of Jerusalem, preferred death rather than surrendering to the Roman forces.
Herod the Great enjoyed a prolific 40 year guiding spree and the remains of many of the Herodian structures still stand today. Here at Masada, he created an architectural feat with elaborate bathhouses and buildings for himself and his family to provide protection in case of a revolt. He designed detailed buildings to store large amounts of supplies and water management systems that rendered a siege virtually ineffective. Among what remains today are signs of an ancient palace as well as bathhouses with raised floors that resemble modern-day saunas. Ancient cisterns can be viewed, as well as the ancient synagogue on the north side of the mountaintop. Remains of the roman siege ramp are also on the site.
While the monuments stand as a testament to ancient ingenuity, now classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, your journey to this mountaintop will leave you with an indelible imprint of the beauty found in a Judean desert.
There are several options to reach the summit, but the most popular way for those in good physical condition is to hike up the snake path on the east side of the mountain. About a mile long, the path winds along the edifice proving an ever more breathtaking view of the landscape unfolding around you and takes about 45 minutes to an hour to reach the summit.
A second, and shorter hike goes up the Roman ramp, located on the west side of Masada and takes about 20 minutes to walk to the summit. To access this path, one must arrive to Masada from the West (via Arad), taking road 31 from Dimona.
Of course, the most common way to access Masada is to take the cable car situated at the main visitor center and museum on the bottom of the eastern side of the mountain. One way and round trip cable car tickets are purchased here and the ride takes a few minutes.
If you are lucky enough to crest the mountain before sunrise, you will be treated to the dawn of a new day as the sun peaks over the opposing hills and emblazons the Dead Sea below with hues of red and orange, highlighting the natural beauty of the surrounding desert from a vantage point that is second to none.
Jericho is the lowest city on earth in addition to being the longest continuously inhabited city on earth, and excavations have revealed continuous settlement there for more than 11000 years. In addition Jericho’s history through those many centuries has been rich and many times turbulent, up until recent time. Jericho is probably best known as the first city the Israelites conquered after 40 years in the desert upon leaving Egypt, when its walls fell as a result of the Israelite siege. Jericho was at the crossroads of trade between Jordan, the harbours at the coast and the north, in addition to it having a very rich farmland bringing forth best quality produce, all elements contributing it being a central place in ancient times.
Jericho is situated 825 feet below sea level and is located on the west side of the Jordan River, approximately 25 minutes east of Jerusalem. It is very near the area where the Israelites crossed the Jordan, and it is here where one encounters their first destination, the rich oasis of Jericho, also known as the oldest city in the world. The main road detours the city and passes the entrance to the Jordan border crossing closest to Jerusalem, known as the Allenby Bridge after the British General Edmund Allenby. General Allenby, on December 11, 1917, was the first Christian to come into the holy city of Jerusalem after 400 years of Ottoman rule, when he led the British to their defeat of the Turks.
The archaeological excavations of ancient Jericho (known as Tel Jericho) have revealed 23 layers of ancient settlements and among other things features the oldest known stairs in the world. The excavations can be seen on the hill north-west of present day Jericho and is truly the highlight of a visit to Jericho.
During its long 10,000 years, Jericho has seen much. If the city’s ancient stones could talk, they would fill several libraries with their stories. Empires have come and gone, but still the ancient city of Jericho thrives as an oasis in a dry and arid region and is a popular destination not only for tourists but for local Palestinians who travel to the area to visit the local Dead Sea beaches and many restaurants and hotels.
In many ways, Jericho is the very symbol of man’s transition from a wandering, nomadic society that relied solely on hunting and gathering to a settled existence made possible by the discovery of agriculture. In other words, the building of ancient Jericho’s walls in roughly 8,000 BC marks the change from a wild existence to civilization. That this symbol still exists as a living city is nothing short of astonishing.
Many interesting sites await the visit in the Jericho area including the Greek Orthodox monastery of Dir Hijleh, Wadi Qelt, the St. Georges Monastary, Hisham’s Palace and teh ancient city of Jericho with its spectacular archaeological excavations. The new baptismal site at Qasr Al Yehud is well worth a visit. The Old Testament site of Tell es-Sultan is just beyond the city.
Jericho is known as the “City of Palms” and is located just a few minutes from the Dead Sea, the lowest place on Earth. Other nearby places to visit include Qumran and Ein Fashka Nature Reserve.
The archaeological excavations of ancient Jericho have been taking place since the late 1800s. They have revealed 23 layers of ancient settlements, ancient pottery, and other artifacts which have enabled us experts gain understanding into how people lived thousands of years ago in Jericho. Jericho features many impressive sites, including the oldest known stairs in the world. The excavations can be seen on the hill north-west of present day Jericho and is truly the highlight of a visit to Jericho.
Qumran is the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls displayed at the Shrine of the Book were found in 1947 by a shepherd boy. The caves of the finds are visible from the archaeological site which is open to visitors. The nature of the historical settlement at the site is greatly disputed among archaeologists and the suggestions range from the more traditional perception of an Essene settlement to a Hasmonean fortress. What is agreed upon is that the site was abandoned at the time of the fall of the Second Temple in year 70 and hasn’t been occupied since.
The archaeological excavations at Qumran is a highlight for the visitor with an interest in history. The more than two millennia old settlement unearthed there contains remnants of ritual baths necessary for a Jewish life style, communal living facilities like dining rooms, common work areas, artefacts of glass and roman coins. The excavations are very well kept and of high quality, and guided tours are given. There is an interesting movie on site and for those seeking more adventure, the park offers excellent hiking trails up to the caves.
King David hid from Saul in the springs of Ein Gedi, and this oasis with its long history is also mentioned in Song of Songs. Today the springs of Ein Gedi are still watering the desert, and the unique flora and fauna in the area are depending on its riches. Now a kibbutz and a modern spa has replaced the ancient Jewish settlement which produced high quality balsam during Roman times, and its main export article is now bottled water. The spa is a popular stop for tourists and locals seeking treatment for skin ailments and rheumatism, or simply wanting to enjoy the unique water of the Dead Sea.
Qasr El Yahud
This Jordan River baptismal site is considered to be the most likely spot where Jesusas baptised by John the Baptist.(Matthew, 3: 13-17). Remains of several churches dating as far back as the 5th Century can be seen at the site, further emphasizing the sites significance at the actual site where Jesus was baptized and then started his ministry. Its Arabic name, Qasr al-Yehud, is possibly a remnant of an even older tradition than the pre-Christian, Jewish use of the place as a baptismal site. The site, which is situated along a very narrow portion of the Jordan River is believed to be where the Israelites crossed when they entered the land of Canaan. The on site excavations depict beautiful mosaics. Visitors seeking to be baptized must take the ancient marble steps into the Jordan River for a very unusual baptismal experience.
Qasr Al Yahud is situated within the Palestinian Territories within Area C, which is currently under the administration of Israeli authorities, yet both Israelis and Palestinians can freely visit this site. All planning has been done in cooperation with the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, the National Parks Authority and the Jordanian authorities on the other side of the river.