The Land of Israel despite its size offers visitors the opportunity to experience the desert, alongside forests, seas and lakes and mountains. The largest desert region in Israel in relative area size is the Negev Desert, located in the country’s south. The Negev is mostly desert, is actually part of the Judea Desert. The Judea Desert is the eastern part of the Judean and Jerusalem Mountains and lies to the west of the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley. It is very dry and arid, and ranges in height from 1000 meters above to 421 meters below sea level. Although there is very little rainfall, has high temperatures and a dry climate, the Judean Desert is renowned for its unique beauty that includes caves, cliffs, gulches, slopes and mountains.
The Judean Desert
Despite little rain in the Judean Desert region, there are streams that drain from the Judea and Jerusalem mountains. These streams have formed pretty crevices and canyons, and some reach springs in the Dead Sea Valley. These springs in turn support a rich variety of flora and fauna. Alongside various animal genera such as ibexes and rock hyraxes, in the past a number of leopards were known to live here, but the scientific community now considers the leopards to have become extinct in recent years. Alongside fauna, there is archeological proof of human settlements dating back to biblical times. The Judean Desert was mentioned by name in the Bible in the story of David, who fled from King Saul to live in the desert. Throughout history, the desert has served as a home for Jewish and Christian sects, and after the founding of the State of Israel and fulfillment of the Zionist vision, kibbutzim and settlements such as Ein Gedi, Arad and Ein Bokek were established here.
The desert has many streams and wadis, including Wadi Qelt, Kidron, Dragot and Arugot, which attract tourists from all over the world. Along picturesque desert hiking trails, there are a number of other points of interest for the tourist explorer to experience; the largest and most popular being Masada. Masada is an ancient fortress from the time of King Herod, which became the home of Jews who rebelled against the Romans, who in turn besieged Masada. When the siege ended, the Romans found that all 960 Jews who lived on the rock had committed suicide in order not to fall in the clutches of the Roman army and convert their religion. The site is open to visitors and in certain periods in the year offers live performances at its top. The location of Masada near the Dead Sea offers a unique mystic experience for visitors, especially at sunrise.
Other points of interest is the ancient synagogue in Ein Gedi from biblical times, which experts believe has existed for 400 years. An unique characteristic of the synagogue is its impressive mosaic floor, one of the oldest in Israel, with Hebrew inscriptions on it,. Another is the Mar Saba Monastery, a Greek Orthodox monastery that has been used for about 1,500 years, was built on a cliff over Wadi Kidron. Herodium is an archeological site that includes a palace, fortress walls and watch towers dating back from 22 BCE. Another site is Nabi Musa, which according to Muslim tradition is the burial site of Moses. If you decide to take an excursion to the Judean Desert, make sure to bring appropriate gear for desert conditions and announce your trip in advance – caution prevents unnecessary dangers.