Eilat is Israel's southernmostcity, a busy port and popular resort at the northern tip of the Red Sea, on the Gulf of Aqaba.
Home to 48,946 people, Eilat is part of the Southern Negev Desert, at the southern end of the Arava, adjacent to the Egyptianvillage of Taba to the south, the Jordanian port city ofAqaba to the east, and within sight of Saudi Arabia to the south-east, across the gulf.
Eilat's arid desert climate and low humidity are moderated by proximity to a warm sea. Temperatures often exceed 40 °C (104 °F) in summer, and 21 °C (70 °F) in winter, while water temperatures range between 20 and 26 °C (68 and 79 °F). Eilat averages 360 sunny days a year.
The city's beaches, coral reef, nightlife and desert landscapes make it a popular destination for domestic and international tourism.
Eilat (אילת, aka Elat) is the only Israeli city on the Red Sea. Located at the southernmost tip of the country, with its "window on the Red Sea", Eilat is first and foremost a resort town devoted to sun, fun, diving, partying and desert-based activities. Some 320 km (200 miles) from the tensions of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Eilat's climate-induced relaxed atmosphere has always provided a convenient year-round escape for Israelis, and during the mild winter months also attracts thousands of European sun-seekers. Red Sea water temperatures range only between 20°C (68°F) in the winter to 26.2°C (80°F) in the summer, providing warmth in the winter, and much appreciated chilliness in the summer's heat.
Eilat offers a wide range of accommodations, from hostels and luxury hotels to Bedouin hospitality. In recent years Eilat has been the target of millitants from Egypt and Gaza causing a reduced tourist inflow to the region. Attractions include:
- Birdwatching and ringing station: Eilat is located on the main migration route between Africa and Europe. International Birding & Research Center in Eilat.
- Camel tours.
- Coral Beach Nature Reserve, an underwater marine reserve of tropical marine flora and fauna.
- Coral World Underwater Observatory – Located at the southern tip of Coral Beach, the observatory has aquaria, a museum, simulation rides, and shark, turtle, and stingray tanks. The observatory is the biggest public aquarium in the Middle East.
- Dolphin Reef – A marine biology and research station where visitors can swim and interact with dolphins.
- Freefall parachuting.
- Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve, established in the 1960s to conserveendangered species, including Biblical animals, from this and similar regions. The reserve has a Visitors Center, care and treatment enclosures, and large open area where desert animals are acclimated before re-introduction into the wild. Hai-Bar efforts have successfully re-introduced the Asian Wild Ass, or Onager, into the Negev. The Hai-Bar Nature Reserve and animal re-introduction program were described in Bill Clark's book "High Hills and Wild Goats: Life Among the Animals of the Hai-Bar Wildlife Refuge". The book also describes life in Eilat and the surrounding area.
- IMAX, Three-dimensional graphics films
- Kings City, a biblical theme park located in the hotel area next to the Stella Maris Lagoon.
- Marina with some 250 yacht berths.
- Timna Valley Park – the oldest copper mines in the world. Egyptian temple of Hathor, King Solomon's Pillars sandstone formation, ancient pit mines and rock art.
- "What's Up" the Observatory in Eilat, a portable Astronomical Observatory with programs in the desert and on the promenade.
- Ice Mall ice skating rink and shopping mall.
Skin and Scuba diving, with equipment for hire on or near all major beaches. Scuba diving equipment rental and compressed airare available from diving clubs and schools all year round. Eilat is located in the Gulf of Aqaba, one of the most popular diving destinations in the world. The coral reefs along Eilat's coast remain relatively pristine and the area is recognized as one of the prime diving locations in the world. About 250,000 dives are performed annually in Eilat's 11 km (6.84 mi) coastline, and diving represents 10% of the tourism income of this area. In addition, given the proximity of many of these reefs to the shore, non-divers can encounter the Red Sea's reefs with relative ease. Water conditions for SCUBA divers are good all year round, with water temperatures around 21–25 °C (70–77 °F), with little or no currents and clear waters with an average of 20–30 metres (66–98 feet) visibility.
- Eilat City Museum
- Eilat Art Gallery
- Eilat Erotic Museum (Sex museum), first erotic museum in Israel and the Middle East
The origin of the name Eilat is not definitively known, but likely comes from the Hebrew root A–Y–L (Hebrew: א. י. ל.), which is also the root for the wordElah (Hebrew: אלה), meaning Pistacia tree. Like numerous other localities, Eilat is mentioned in the Bible both in singular (possibly construct state) and plural form (Eilot).
The original settlement was probably at the northern tip of the Gulf of Eilat. Archaeological excavations uncovered impressive prehistoric tombs dating to the 7th millennium BC at the western edge of Eilat, while nearby copper workings and mining operations at Timna Valley are the oldest on earth.Ancient Egyptian records also document the extensive and lucrative mining operations and trade across the Red Sea with Egypt starting as early as theFourth dynasty of Egypt. Eilat is mentioned in antiquity as a major trading partner with Elim, Thebes' Red Sea Port, as early as the Twelfth dynasty of Egypt. Trade between Elim and Eilat furnished frankincense and myrrh, brought up from Ethiopia and Punt; bitumen and natron, from the Dead Sea; finely woven linen, from Byblos; and copper amulets, from Timna; all mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. In antiquity Eilat bordered the states of Edom, Midian and the tribal territory of the Rephidim, the indigenous inhabitants of the Sinai Peninsula.
Eilat is first mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the Book of Exodus. The first six stations of the Exodus are in Egypt. The 7th is the crossing of the Red Sea and the 9th–13th are in and around Eilat, after the exodus from Egypt and crossing the Red Sea. Station 12 refers to a dozen campsites in and around Timna in Modern Israel near Eilat. When King David conquered Edom, which up to then had been a common border of Edom and Midian, he took over Eilat, the border city shared by them as well. The commercial port city and copper based industrial center were maintained by Egypt until reportedly rebuilt by Solomon at a location known as Ezion-Geber (I Kings 9:26). In 2 Kings 14:21–22 "All the people of Judah tookUzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in the room of his father Amaziah. He rebuilt Elath, and restored it to Judah, after his father's death." And again in 2 Kings 16:6: "At that time the king of Edom recovered Elath for Edom, and drove out the people of Judah and sent Edomites to live there, as they do to this day."
Roman and Muslim periods
During the Roman period a road was built to link the area with the Nabataean city of Petra (in modern-day Jordan).
An Islamic copper smelting and trading community of 250–400 residents flourished during the Umayyad Period (700–900 CE); its remains were found and excavated in 1989, at the northern edge of modern Eilat, between what is now the industrial zone and nearby Kibbutz Eilot.
In the writings of medieval Muslim scholars, such as Al-Waqidi, it is told thatMuhammad made a treaty with Eilat's (Ayla) population, Jews and Christians. In the treaty, Muhammad offered protection to the Jews and the Christians, preserving their self-rule over the city, in exchange for an annual tax. Another reference to the Eilat in Islamic texts is believed to appear in the Quran, sura 7:163–169. In these Ayats appears a story about "a town by the sea" where the Jewish residents were tested by God to check if they truly observe the Shabbat. Once they didn't, they were turned into apes. The Darb el Hajj or "Pilgrim's Road", from Africa through Egypt to Mecca, passed out of Sinai from the west at Umm Al-Rashrash, the modern Arabic name for Eilat, before skirting the sea and continuing south into Arabia. A British police post was established in this area in 1906.
After the establishment of the State of Israel
The area was designated as part of the Jewish state in the 1947 UN Partition Plan. The Arab village of Umm Al-Rashrash was taken without a fight on March 10, 1949, as part of Operation Uvda.
The Timna Copper Mines near Timna valley were opened, a port was constructed, the Eilat Ashkelon Pipelinelaid, and tourism began. Construction of the city and the Port of Eilat began shortly after the end of the war. The port became vital to the fledgling country's development.
After the 1948 Arab–Israeli War Arab countries maintained a state of hostility with Israel, blocking all land routes; Israel's access to and trade with the rest of the world was by air and sea alone. Further, Egypt denied passage through the Suez Canal to Israeli-registered ships or to any ship carrying cargo to or from Israeli ports. This made Eilat and its sea port crucial to Israel's communications, commerce and trade with Africa and Asia, and for oil imports. Without recourse to a port on the Red Sea Israel would have been unable to develop its diplomatic, cultural and trade ties beyond the Mediterranean basin and Europe. This happened in 1956 and again in 1967, when Egypt's closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping effectively blockaded the port of Eilat.
In 1956, this led to Israel's participation alongside Britain and France in the war against Egypt sparked by the Suez Crisis, while in 1967 90% of Israeli oil passed through the Straits of Tiran. Oil tankers that were due to pass through the straits were delayed. The straits' closure was cited by Israel as an additional casus belli leading to the outbreak of the Six-Day War. Following peace treaties signed with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, Eilat's borders with its neighbors were finally opened.
In 2007 the Eilat bakery bombing killed three civilian bakers. This was the first such attack to take place in Eilat proper, although other terror attacks had been carried out in the area.
In 2011, terrorists infiltrated Israel across the Sinai border to execute multiple attacks on Highway 12, including a civilian bus and private car a few miles north of Eilat, in what became known as the 2011 southern Israel cross-border attacks.
In order to prevent terrorist infiltration of Israel from the Sinai, Israel has built the Israel-Egypt barrier, a steel barrier equipped with cameras, radar and motion sensors along the country's southern border. The fence was completed in January 2013.
The town of Eilat is also defended by Lotar Eilat, a reservist special-forces unit trained in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue, which has taken part in many counter-terrorist missions in the region since its formation in 1974. The Lotar unit is composed solely of reservists, citizens who must be Eilat residents between the ages of 20 and 60, who are on call in case of a terrorist attack on the city. It is one of only three units authorized to free hostages.
Eilat has a hot desert climate with hot, dry summers and warm and almost rainless winters . Winters are usually between 11–23 °C (52–73 °F). Summers are usually between 26–40 °C (79–104 °F). There are relatively small coral reefs near Eilat; however, 50 years ago they were much larger: the corals have been dying as a result of water pollution.
|Daily highs (°C)||20.8||22.1||25.5||31.1||35.4||38.7||40.9||40.8||37.3||33||27.2||22.3|
|Nightly lows (°C)||9.6||10.6||13.6||17.8||21.5||24.2||25.9||26.2||24.5||21||15.5||11.2|
Source: Israel Meteorological Service
Eilat mean sea temperature
|22 °C (72 °F)||21 °C (70 °F)||21 °C (70 °F)||23 °C (73 °F)||25 °C (77 °F)||26 °C (79 °F)||28 °C (82 °F)||28 °C (82 °F)||28 °C (82 °F)||27 °C (81 °F)||25 °C (77 °F)||23 °C (73 °F)|
The geology and landscape are varied: igneous and metamorphic rocks, sandstone and limestone; mountains up to 892 metres (2,927 ft) above sea level; broad valleys such as the Arava, and seashore on the Gulf of Aqaba. With an annual average rainfall of 28 millimetres (1.1 in) and summer temperatures of 40 °C (104 °F) and higher, water resources and vegetation are limited. "The main elements that influenced the region's history were the copper resources and other minerals, the ancient international roads that crossed the area, and its geopolitical and strategic position. These resulted in a settlement density that defies the environmental conditions."
In the 1970s tourism became increasingly important to the city's economy as other industries shut down or were drastically reduced. Today tourism is the city's major source of income, although Eilat became a free trade zone in 1985.
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