There are some places one never forgets. The Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, an oasis in the Dead Sea Valley, in the Judean Desert is one of them. Fed by mountain streams Ein Gedi is an oasis of green, in a barren sand sea.
Most people visit Ein Gedi as a quickie side trip when visiting Masada, the Qumran Caves and the Dead Sea.
Masada is a mesa in the Judean Desert where Herod the Great built a fortified palace around 35 A.D.. After the Roman destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., a group of Sicarii made their way to Masada, en route killing hundreds of villagers. In retaliation the Roman Legion laid siege to Masada. When the Romans finally entered the fortress they discovered that site had been set on fire and the Sicarii had committed mass suicide. Only two women and five children were left alive.
Dead Sea: the lowest place in the world 1385 feet below sea level
Ein Gedi (Spring of the Kid) refers to the ibexes that can be seen against a background of waterfalls, flowers and breathtaking geology.
There are nine different hiking trails which range from half an hour to a full day. For most boomers, who do not have mobility issues, the one-hour circular walk is a perfect constitutional.
Leaving the ticket office, you enter the wadi – a dry desert stream. As you walk along the wadi you reach the David Spring and Waterfall. From there it’s uphill to Shulamit’s Spring, Dodim’s Cave and finally the Ein Gedi Spring. While well maintained, be prepared for some climbing.
In it’s heyday, Ein Gedi was particularly known for its production of Afarsimon/balsamon a balsam plant (although the exact subspecies is not known). It is believed that the plant was brought to Israel from Yemen by the Queen of Sheba. The Greek geographer Strabo noted that people would cut the bark, collect the sap which was used to heal headaches and weak eyesight. It was also used to anoint new Israelite kings and a chi-chi perfume for the rich. Legend has it the perfume was worth it’s weight in gold.
History has it that after the fall of Jerusalem 70 A.D. the locals tried to destroy the orchards to prevent the Romans from taking them. But they failed. During Titus’s army triumphal march on its return to Rome they brought the fabled balsam plant with them as a spoil of war.
Ein Gedi’s balsamon plantations were given to Cleopatra by Mark Anthony as a token of love.
The closely guarded secret perfume recipe has been lost in mists of time. Despite some recent attempts to revive the balsam plant, which has been locally extinct for the last 1500 years.
In 1988 archaeologists found balsam oil in a 2000 year old ceramic jug in a nearby Kumran cave.The oil was still fluid and had maintained its chemical composition – although not its fragrance. Research on the oil indicated that it came from an extinct species. But like all things academic there are many opinions if this is true. Despite this, there are some intrepid horticulturalists in the Ein Gedi region who are trying to rediscover and market the fabled plant.
The plant and animal life are a major attraction. There have even been reports of the elusive, nearly extinct Arabian leopard at Ein Gedi.