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The City of Eilat


eilat

 City of Eilat Map (in Hebrew)

A resort town of 50,000 and bustling port, combining sea and desert, Eilat lies at Israel's southernmost tip. The sun always shines in Eilat (it rains about a half dozen days a year) and the average daytime temperatures rarely dip below 70°F (21°C), even in winter. During the summer, temperatures can soar well above 100°F and the water can feel almost like a Jacuzzi. Even in mid-winter, the average daytime water temperature stays above 68°F (20°C). Make sure to drink lots of water, keep your head covered and wear sun screen (your mother asked me to put this in).

Eilat is a great place for water skiing and swimming. The calm surface of the sea is also ideal for boating activities: sailboats, rowboats, kayaks and motor boats.

The main attraction of Eilat is diving in the Red Sea (actually an inlet from the sea known as the Gulf of Eilat or Aqaba), one of the world's most spectacular underwater preserves. You can see brightly colored coral and fish and may see everything from a venomous lionfish to a moray eel to a shark to a sea turtle to a manta ray.Even if you're not a diver, you can enjoy the magnificent coral  reef from the surface withfish a snorkel and scuba1 mask or on a glass-bottom boat ride   (though you usually don't see nearly as  much). If you want a really unique view (and don't mind spending the money), try an underwater safari in a submarine (yup, it's a real one) that holds 50 people and takes you 200 feet below the surface.  And, if you're really a landlubber, there's the Coral World Underwater Observatory that lets you enjoy the wonders of the Sea as if it were an aquarium. One of only four in the world, the observatory offers a kaleidoscopic view of the reef and sea life 15 feet below the surface. One of the newer Eilat attractions is Dolphin Reef, where you can swim and dive with dolphins.And there's plenty of activities outside the water, including rappelling on craggy cliffs of the desert mountains, hiking in the desert and mountain biking.

Less well-known is the fact that Eilat is one of the best places in the world for bird watching. Approximately one billion birds traverse the area between the Mediterranean coast and the Jordan mountains, making southern Israel the site of one of the greatest concentrations of migrating birds in the world. The migration from Europe to Africa takes place from September to November and the return flight begins in March and lasts through May. Eilat is the headquarters for the International Birdwatching Center.

If the searing heat hasn't sapped all your energy, Eilat is also known as a great place to party at night with lots of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. It's also a good place to shop because the city is a free trade zone with no VAT.


Into the Desert

mushroom

 

About 17 miles (27 km.) north of Eilat is the Timna Valley National Park. This desert area is another good place for hiking, jeep tours and camel rides. It is the site of ancient copper mines said to be run by King Solomon. The most striking site is "The Mushroom." Once you see it, you'll immediately understand how this sandstone rock formation got its name. Another impressive formation is Solomon's Pillars. Timna also has an artificial lake and has become a popular recreational area for Israelis.

Also in the area is the Hai Bar wildlife reserve. This 8,000-acre sanctuary is home to many rare and endangered desert animals. You can take a tour through the reserve, though it's unlikely you'll see too many of the animals during the hot part of the day unless you go to a special dark room where some of them can be viewed. Rest assured, however, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, gazelles, ostriches and many other species live in the park.

When Israel signed its peace treaty with Egypt, the desert where Moses led the Israelites for 40 years and received the Torah became Egyptian territory. Today, Sinai is largely off the main Israeli tourist route, though seaside resorts along the Gulf of Aqaba are booming. It is still possible to travel through the desert and make the strenuous hike up to the Byzantine monastery of Santa Katerina on Mt. Sinai. The Egyptian consulate in Eilat offers a "Sinai Only" pass to tour the immediate region. To go further south, beyond Sharm-el-Sheik, or to cross the Suez Canal into the main part of Egypt, you need an Egyptian visa.



History

The derivation of Eilat's name is unclear. It may come from the Hebrew word, ayil, which means "ram." These animals grazed here in the time of Abraham. In the Bible, the Israelites "passed by the way of the plain of Elath" and "encamped at Etzion Gaber" (Numbers 33:35 and Deut. 2:8-9). King David is believed to have established his southernmost defense line here. The area was developed by his son, Solomon, who built a navy that he used to bring back gold and spices from the land of Ophir (1 Kings, 9:26). The Queen of Sheba was also supposed to have passed through Eilat on the way to see the King in Jerusalem.

 

King Jehoshophat of Judah also built a navy in Eilat, but it was lost in a storm. During the reign of King Ahaz, Eilat fell to the King of Syria. From that point on, the city changed hands -- and names -- many times. The Egyptians called it Berenice and the Romans Aila. Eilat's importance gradually declined, particularly after the Ottoman Turks built a new port at nearby Aqaba. Up until 1949, Eilat was little more than a small Turkish police station called Um-Rashrash. The ancient site of Eilat with remains from the Nabatean, Roman, Byzantine, and medieval periods has been located north of present day Aqaba.

On March 13, 1949, Israeli forces occupied Eilat in the "Operation Uvdah" ("Established Fact"), in the last military move in the War of Independence. According to the United Nations partition plan, Eilat was to be the southernmost tip of the Jewish state. In December 1949, members of the Kibbutz ha-Me'uhad set up a temporary camp in Eilat. Since Israeli independence and the opening of the Straits of Tiran in the 1956 Sinai War, the town has gradually grown into the major resort it is today.

 


 

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