Gedi Spring Oasis
In the immediate vicinity of the Judean Desert, between the shores of the Dead Sea and the slopes of the mountains, there is a strip of land only a few hundred meters wide. Due to the springs and the abundance of streams running from the mountains, this narrow ribbon abounds with vegetation and various exotic animals. This is a real oasis, known from biblical times under the name of En-Gedi. Half a century ago, in order to get here, I had to go several days through the hot desert. Now it’s enough to get into the car and just cross Israel from west to east. The Gedi Nature Reserve was founded in Israel in 1972 in order to preserve the unique landscape and wildlife of the eponymous oasis. Its area is about 14.5 km2. In the valleys of the David and Arugot rivers, more than a thousand species of plants grow. Among them there are papyrus, unabi tree, acacia, Sodom apple tree, saxaul, tamarisk, oleander. The northern area of damana passes through the reserve. In addition, a mountain goat, chamois, leopard, wild boar, wolf, red and Afghan fox, striped hyena, agama lizard, snakes, including poisonous efa and Palestinian viper, live here. Of the feathered birds, the most noticeable tristrams are the long-tailed starling, the tubular raven, the Arabian graybird and the white-headed Kamenka. A griffon vulture, Egyptian vulture, hawk eagle and shahin nest on the rocks. In the summer of 2005, due to the careless behavior of tourists in Gedi, two fires occurred that destroyed the thickets of dry reeds and bushes. But the vegetation in these places is recovering quickly, and, according to the forecasts of employees, after a few months the place burnt out from the fire will look like before. To meet with the prehistoric nature, I drove along a modern highway connecting Jerusalem with Elat. Along it stretched beaches and banana plantations, campsites and hotels, factories for the production of cosmetics from Dead Sea minerals and kibbutzim. Little has remained of ancient times: Wadi Qumran caves, where in the middle of the 20th century ancient manuscripts were found, Masada fortress and the en-Gedi oasis located between them, which, in fact, was the purpose of my trip. According to legend, here, in the cave behind the waterfall, the future ruler of Israel, young David, was hiding from King Saul. In a camouflage of exotic plants, in the bosom of the 600-meter Judean mountains, entwined with ribbons of water jets, En-Gedi is a real paradise on Earth. Where does so much moisture come from in this arid region? The fact is that it often rains over the ridges, some water just flows down the surface, and the rest – seeps into the ground, reaches the aquifers and comes into the light in the form of springs. There are four of them: David, Arugot, Al-Shulamit and the Gedi spring, which gave the name to the whole oasis. Since biblical times and even earlier, as far as one can judge from archaeological excavations, the oasis has been constantly populated. But apart from legends from previous eras, only the foundation of the synagogue with mosaic patterns on the floor and inscriptions in Hebrew and Aramaic, presumably from the 3rd-6th centuries, remained for the corner, for it is impossible to say exactly when the Bedouins replaced the Jews in these places. The revival of Gedi began in 1948 after the formation of the state of Israel. Initially, a military-youth settlement arose on this site, which in 1956 grew into an agricultural commune – the kibbutz, which flourishes to this day. Its inhabitants grow mangoes, dates and bananas. They were one of the first in Israel to provide travel and medical services by building a hotel and medical building on the Dead Sea. In 1972, the Gedi Oasis was declared a specially protected natural area. This was the only way to save this corner and, accordingly, regulate the flow of tourists. The Gedi Nature Reserve is small in area and includes two gorges – David and Arugot, with streams of the same name flowing along them. Water and the sun are the two main causes of the riot of local flora. In the valleys of streams, botanists have described about a thousand species of plants. Moreover, some of them are mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. For example, a balsam tree, from which in ancient times incense was prepared for incense and rubbing. True, today’s trees did not stand here for centuries, but were grown from seeds collected north – in the Jordan River Valley, and planted in N-Gedi in 1962. Unabi is a tree with a rich history. Its branches are covered with sharp thorns, and ostensibly, it was from them, and not from the blackthorn, that a crown was put on the head of Christ.