Ein Gedi is an oasis in the desert and a green Garden of Eden in the wilderness. Ein Gedi (Kid spring) is located on the western shore of the Dead Sea, and is the largest desert oasis in Israel (1,000 dunams – 250 acres). It is watered by four springs. It is situated on the shore of the Dead Sea – the lowest place on Earth – at the feet of majestic mountains and cliffs. One of the most exciting places in Israel, Ein Gedi combines a wild, natural setting with a primeval panorama, history and archaeology, tourist attractions, and spas. Its unique climate and atmosphere make it a place for a unique desert adventure.
Ein Gedi contains the historical and archaeological remains of its first inhabitants, who discovered the magic of the place more than 5,000 years ago it has also served as a landmark in the history of the Jewish people throughout history. David took refuge in Ein Gedi when he was pursued by King Saul, and rebels fled there from Jerusalem. Ein Gedi was prosperous in the Hellenistic and Roman period, its wealth based on its famous dates, vegetation, and the precious balsam (persimmon, Hebrew: afarsemmon) which was used to manufacture perfume (Hebrew: bosem). Temples and synagogues were established here to strengthen the Jewish stronghold in the area.
The Chalcolithic Temple
Ein Gedi was inhabited starting from the Chalcolithic period (5,000 years ago), and a temple from that period was excavated on the hill above ancient Ein Gedi, and in places along the streams around Ein Gedi.
Biblical periods (Iron age)
The site was known in the Biblical times as fertile, blessed by the spring it is named after. This area is where David hid from the pursuing King Saul (1 Samuel 23 29: “And David went up from thence, and dwelt in strong holds at Engedi”).
Ancient Ein Gedi is located on Tell Goren, a low hill (size of 2 dunam – 1/4 acre) on the north bank of Nahal Arugot. It was established as a small village in the 7th C BC, during the Judean Kingdom. A seal was found bearing the name “Uriyahu son of Azaryahu”, perhaps belonging to an official Judean clerk around the 6-7th C BC. The village thrived during the next 14 centuries, expanding into a small city which was located around and near the ancient site.
A small harbor was located in Ein Gedi, and wood and stones anchors were found here on the eastern side of the synagogue. At some times the water level reached and flooded the houses of Ein Gedi.
The Assyrians destroyed the village (still located on Tell Goren) in the 6th C, but it was repopulated after the exiles return during the Persian period. The village continued until the 4th C, then was deserted. The Hasmonean Kings, starting from Hyrcanus I (134-104BC) and especially Alexander Jannaeus (103-76), rebuilt the oasis, marking the rise of the new Ein Gedi. They added aqueducts and pools, initiated the balsam (persimmon) industry, planted trees on the hillsides, and relocated the new village to the north of Tell Goren.
The village of Ein Gedi reached its peak during the Roman/Byzantine period, and was a wealthy town, famous for its dates and rare perfume, which could only be grown in few sites on the Dead Sea shore. The new Ein Gedi relocated north-east from Tell Goren, to a ridge between Arugot and David streams, and expanded to 40 dunams (10 acres) – one of the largest villages. The village was densely built, with houses connected to each other. A 2nd C AD Roman bathhouse complex (40 x 5M) was excavated on the sea shore, north-east of the city.
Ein Gedi was damaged during the first and second revolts against the Romans (70, 132 AD), but survived after a short time. During the first revolt, the village was sacked by their fellow zealot Jews from Masada, who filled up their storerooms with the booty from the village.
A grand synagogue was excavated inside the ruins of the town. The present structure is dated to the 5th C and based on earlier structures starting from the beginning of the 3rd C. The synagogue was destroyed by fire in the middle of the 6th C, during the period of Justin II. Thus came an end of 1,000 years of civilization in the Ein Gedi oasis, and remained in ruins since then.
Ein Gedi has an international reputation as a health spa. Tourists from all over the world come there to take advantage of the hot springs, mineral waters, and mud baths, and to enjoy the desert climate, bathe in the healing waters of the Dead Sea, and breathe healthful bromide-filled air.
Ein Gedi is an ideal place to become familiar with the desert and its hidden wonders. Nature reserves such as Nakhal David and Nakhal Arugot have water flowing through them throughout the year. Rivers run through deep canyons surrounded by lush vegetation – a sharp contrast to the surrounding desert.
If you are lucky you will also be able to spot ibexes and other animals that come to the rivers to drink.
There are three hiking routes through Ein Gedi Nature Reserve:
- The circular route in Ein Gedi Oasis and Nachal David (David-David).
- The intermediate route up from Tel Goren and back via Ein Gedi Oasis and Nachal David.
- The challenging route up to the dry bed of Upper Nachal David, down by way of the Chalcolithic temple and returning via the Ein Gedi Oasis and Nachal David (Shvil Tsafit).
Dry river bed of Upper Nachal David
Ein Gedi Oasis
Kibbutz Ein Gedi, founded in 1953, is located on a nearby hilltop overlooking the area. The kibbutz has a botanical garden with plants and trees from all over the world. If you walk among the houses in the evening you can view the flowering cacti and baobab tress, as well as other unique plants. Visitors to the area can lodge in the attractive kibbutz guest house, in the nearby field school, or camp out on the shore of the Dead Sea.
There are other tourist attractions nearby such as Einot Tzukim and Ein Bokek. Other recommended activities in the area include jeep excursions and safaris through the desert, tours of Massada, and the Qumran caves.
Ein Gedi is located 50KM south east of Jerusalem, 16KM north of Masada.
If you travel down through the Jordan Valley, You may want to stop going south at Mifgash HaBika for refreshments, clean toilets and a view of the model of the Rift Valley and at Mifgash Tzipora’s going north.