5 must-see sites at the Dead Sea & Judean Desert
After you’ve ticked off the mandatory “floating in the Dead Sea” and “treating your skin with the black mud enriched with Dead Sea minerals” routine, it’s now time to review your checklist of to-do things and must-visit places surrounding the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert. If you have a deep-rooted passion for historical sites or dig new hiking trails to challenge the adventurous streak in you, there’s more to the region other than its famed spas and sandy coastline. Let us give you a handy reckoner about the sites you can explore and look at the region in a new light.
After frolicking in the mud and soaking in the Dead Sea minerals, a short drive will take you to Khirbet Qumran situated on the western coast of the Dead Sea. It is just 1km away from the seashore and bounded by the ravines on the west and north and Wadi Qumran on the south. The site gained prominence in 1947 when Mohammed al-Theeb, a Bedouin shepherd, chanced upon the Dead Sea Scrolls, a cache of papyrus documents and parchment dating back to the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. Subsequently, 972 texts written in Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, and Nabataean were unearthed in 11 caves, including the oldest surviving copy of the Old Testament, which includes the Book of Esther. The parchments contain writings and offer glimpses of the life of the Essene community in the time of Christ. The Scrolls shed light on the roots of Christianity on the Dead Sea shore and the history of Palestine and Judaism. You can visit the Qumran Visitors Center to see the tower, kitchen, the refectory and cisterns, the ruins of an aqueduct that fed the pools during ritual ablutions, scriptorium, pottery workshop, and more. Adventure freaks can explore the place and its surrounding landscape and take part in rappelling, and canyoning.
This is an ancient rugged stone fortress overlooking the Dead Sea in Israel. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the well-preserved ruins stand testimony to the courage of the people residing in the ancient city in the face of Roman adversity in 73 AD. It is situated on a tall and rocky mesa on the edge of the Judean Desert between Sodom and Ein Gedi on cliffs made of dolomite, marl strata, and chalk. King Herod the Great, King of Judaea, constructed the “hanging” Masada palace complex with three terraces, the camps, attack ramp, and fortifications in the classic Roman architectural style. The site was rediscovered by scholars in 1828; more structures were found when further excavations were carried out in the 1980s and 1990s, including a synagogue built during the reign of Herod, papyrus and other sections of scrolls from the time of the Revolt, and a Byzantine monastic cave and church with stone mosaics and colourful pottery adorning the floors and walls.
Ein Gedi Nature Reserve
After you finish soaking in the ambience and the goodness of the Dead Sea minerals, you can go hiking at the Ein Gedi Natural Reserve. The site is famed for its natural habitat, botanical gardens, varied landscapes, and hiking spots. The place offers nature enthusiasts a choice of nine different hiking trails; it has options for first-time hikers right up to experienced wildlife experts. You can select a trail that can be covered in 30 minutes or pick a slightly more arduous one that takes an entire day. You can visit Dodim’s Cave and Shulamit’s Spring and end your journey at the Ein Gedi Spring. Several water pools dotting the trails enable you to cool off and catch your breath. The place houses the largest herds of Ibex in Israel.
After a generous dose of sun and sand and immersing yourself in Dead Sea minerals, you can head to Mount Sodom, a rock-salt mountain, to add a dash of adventure to your holiday. There are several mountain-biking and hiking trails to let you explore the moon-like landscape. The less adventurous can hire bikes or jeeps to tour the place. Mount Sodom is situated to the west of the Dead Sea’s Southern Basin at 190m below sea level. The Malch’am Cave beneath Mount Sodom is the single longest natural salt cave, not only in Israel but also in the world; the 5500m long cave is lined with magnificent salt stalactites.
You can wrap up your holiday with a visit to Israel’s first planned city. The place is surrounded by the Dead Sea (east), the Judean Desert (north) and the Eastern Negev (south), and is famous for its ridges, wadis and moon-like craters and adds to the timeless appeal of the place. The Tel Arad National Park is the most visited tourist attraction of the place as it boasts of the remains of a Canaanite fortified settlement dating back to the Bronze era, as well as a fortress of the Judean kings. There are 19 new marked hiking trails and opportunities for rappelling, bike and jeep tours, and desert hikes. You can visit the Moav Observatory overlooking the mountains of the biblical Moab, the Judean Desert, and the Dead Sea.