Hwy. 90, 33km (21 miles) south of Qumran.
There is no modern town at Ein Gedi. The area is spread out along a 5-mile stretch of Highway 90 alongside the Dead Sea. It includes a Nature Reserve, an IYHA Association Youth Hostel, a public beach with lifeguards, showers, and Kibbutz Ein Gedi. Kibbutz Ein Gedi is the most beautiful place to stay in the area and contains a sprawling Resort Guest House and impressive botanical gardens.
This remote, canyon oasis near the Dead Sea has attracted small bands of people since prehistoric times. More than 5,000 years ago, an unknown Chalcolithic people built a sanctuary amid the waterfalls and springs here—a cache of their mysterious, elegantly wrought sacred vessels, copper wands, crowns, and scepters were discovered in the 1960s by Israeli archaeologists searching for hidden Dead Sea Scrolls (from 150 b.c.–a.d. 135) amid the crevasses of inaccessible cliffside caves. According to the Bible, it was to the isolated canyons of Ein Gedi that the young David fled from the paranoid King Saul around b.c. 1000; here David had the chance to kill his pursuer, but he would not lay a hand on his king, the anointed of God. The “Song of Songs” rhapsodizes over the exotic herbs and spices grown in Ein Gedi’s rarefied atmosphere and soil. From approximately the 6th century b.c. until the a.d. late 8th century. Ein Gedi was famous throughout the ancient world for priceless incense, lotions, and perfumes. Ein Gedi’s plants and formulas were carefully guarded by the Ein Gedi community until its demise in early Islamic times. Indeed, an inscription in the mosaic floor of the Byzantine-era synagogue discovered at Ein Gedi warns members of the community not to divulge the “secret of the town” to outsiders. After more than 1,000 years of complete desolation, the region was resettled in 1949 by a group of kibbutzniks who were amazed at how trees and plantings thrive at Ein Gedi. Kibbutz Ein Gedi is now lushly planted with 900 species of trees and shrubs from all over the world, and is the only internationally recognized botanical garden in which people live!
It’s a tradition for Israelis to make the ascent to the top of Masada at least once—this is the scene of one of the most heroic and tragic incidents in Jewish history. Few non-Jews outside Israel had heard of Masada until its story was dramatized in a book and a subsequent television miniseries in 1981. The story of a small garrison that defied the Roman army, as the historian Flavius Josephus recorded and perhaps embellished, is worth retelling.