En Gedi Tourist Attractions
Situation and characteristicsThanks to the "Goats' Spring" (En-gedi) which is referred to in the Old Testament the kibbutz of En Gedi lies in an area of rich vegetation. The large En Gedi Nature Park with its flora and fauna and its historical remains ranks after Masada as the great tourist attraction on the west side of the Dead Sea.HistoryThe occupation of the site can be traced back to the Chalcolithic, the period of transition between the Stone and Metal Ages in the fourth millennium B.C. The remains of a temple above the Shulamite Spring date from this period. During an Egyptian campaign of conquest in Palestine the local inhabitants hid precious objects in a cave in the Nahal Mishmar valley (12km/7.5mi south of En Gedi), where excavation has brought to light, among other things, 240 heads from staffs of office and five ivory carvings, probably from the Chalcolithic temple.After the Israelite occupation of the Promised Land En-gedi is referred to as a town held by the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15,62). When David fled from the wrath of the aging Saul he sought refuge in the "holds at En-gedi". Then Saul set out with 3,000 men to capture David and his followers, leading to a dramatic confrontation. Saul lay down to sleep in a cave, while "David and his men remained in the sides of the cave". In spite of the urging of his followers David did no harm to Saul, the anointed of the Lord, but merely cut off the skirt of his robe. When Saul left the cave David showed him the piece he had cut off to demonstrate that he had no evil intentions towards him. Then Saul said: "Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil"; and he recognized David as his successor: "I know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand" (1 Samuel 24,2-23). The event is commemorated by the name of the river, Nahal David. En-gedi is referred to in the Song of Solomon (1,14) as a place of singular beauty: "My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in En-gedi".On Tel Goren, to the north of the kibbutz, excavations from 1961 onwards revealed five occupation levels extending from the seventh century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. - a period of some 1,200 years.The first settlement was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 582 B.C., four years after the fall of Jerusalem. It was rebuilt after the Israelites returned from the Babylonian Captivity, and this town enjoyed a period of prosperity in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. In the second and first centuries the site was occupied by a third settlement, the Hellenistic city of the Hasmoneans, which was destroyed in a Parthian raid during the conflict between the Hasmoneans and Herod. Herod built and fortified the fourth town on the site, which was destroyed in 68 during the Jewish War. The fifth and last settlement lay northeast of the tell, its site marked by the remains of a synagogue; it was abandoned in the fifth century for reasons unknown. During the Bar Kochba rising which was crushed by the Emperor Hadrian in 135 the numerous caves round En Gedi played an important part, as excavations by Yigael Yadin have shown. Finds in the valley of the Nahal Hever, 5km/3mi south of En Gedi, give evidence of the fate of the Jewish rebels who took refuge in this area. In the 150m/490ft deep Cave of Letters were found 15 letters written by Bar Kochba, a fragment from the Psalms, metal vessels, the keys of abandoned houses, human skulls, pieces of clothing and sandals. The Cave of Horrors opposite it is so called after the remains of the refugees who died here. The site remained unoccupied from the fifth century until 1949, when an Israeli military camp was established here, only 4km/2.5mi south of the frontier with Jordan. In 1953 this became an agricultural settlement.
The great attraction of En Gedi, is the Nature Park, with a flora which includes both water plants and desert plants; it is the home of ibexes, hyenas, leopards and many species of birds. The entrance to the park is on a road which branches off the lakeside road to the north of the palm plantation (parking lot; plans of park on sale). From here a waymarked path runs up the Nahal David valley into an area of increasingly luxuriant vegetation, in striking contrast to the surrounding desert country, and comes to a pool into which the stream falls over a cliff. From the waterfall a track (difficult at some points) climbs southward to the En Gedi Spring, near which the remains of an old watermill were found. Northwest of this are the remains of the Chalcolithic temple (fourth millennium B.C.), dedicated to the cult of the moon and of the spring. In the center of the building is the circular "Moon Stone". The two gates of the sacred precinct face towards the En Gedi Spring on one side and the Shulamite Spring on the other. From the Shulamite Spring a track continues north to the Dodim Cave, above the waterfall. From the Chalcolithic temple tracks run northwest to the Dry Canyon and west to a square Roman fort and a circular Israelite stronghold.
Address: 78 Yirmiyahu Street, Israel
Useful tips: Time required for walks: from the entrance to the waterfall and back, 1.25 hours; to the En Gedi Spring, the Chalcolithic temple and the Dodim Cave, 4 hours; to the temple and the Dry Canyon, 5 hours. Full information can be obtained from the park wardens and the field school (concerned with the study of the flora and fauna of the Judaean desert and the Dead Sea region), to the north of the entrance. For a trip of any length it is advisable to have a local guide, for the neighboring desert is hot and dry and holds dangers for the inexperienced.
Immediately north of the kibbutz of En Gedi, running from west to east, is the valley of the Nahal Arugot. North of this again, near the shores of the Dead Sea, are large recently planted palm- groves and, a little way inland, Tel Goren. Northeast of this, on the edge of the palm-groves, is the synagogue of the fifth settlement at En Gedi, with a mosaic pavement depicting several pairs of birds in the center and in the corners, together with the star of David and an inscription of which eighteen lines survive.