The Dead Sea is an endorheic lake, which means there are several tributaries flowing into it but no outlet. Located more than 1,000 below sea level, it is the lowest and deepest saline lake in the world. It is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, causing anything objects in the water to be extremely buoyant. For thousands of years, people have come to the Dead Sea for many different reasons. Although the sea is called dead, it is renowned for its great health benefits, and for travelers interested in the history of Israel, it's an excellent addition to any itinerary, as the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the nearby Qumran caves.
Just north of the sea is the delta of the Jordan River and Jericho, which was once known for its flourishing plant life, but in recent times, this life has vanished. Because there are no macro life forms in the sea, it is considered dead—the salinity is too high for life plant and animal life to exist in these waters, though there are several opportunities to see plants and animals in the area around the sea. On a hiking trip in the nearby mountains, visitors can spot a host of flora and fauna in the area, including leopards, camels, jackals, hares, and foxes.
In 1980, a considerable amount of rain fell in the area, causing the salinity levels to drop substantially. Soon, the dark blue waters mysteriously turned red. This was caused by a high volume of halo bacteria, which is red in color, feeding on an influx of algae growing in the sea. Since then, the Dead Sea has returned to its normal saline levels, and the bacteria have not returned in such numbers to be noticed.
The history of the Dead Sea dates back over thousands of years, attracting many visitors from different walks of life, including King David, when he took refuge in Ein Gedi from Saul. Today, people flock to the saline waters of the Dead Sea for life. Take a swim and do not be surprised that your body is so much more buoyant than in regular water; you'll have no trouble floating. Health spas and hot springs dot the shores, and people often scrub themselves with the mineral rich sediment.
Ein Gedi is a popular destination for visitors. In the kibbutz area, visitors will find a world-renowned botanical garden, containing more than 900 species from all over the world. Not only is this town a popular attraction today, but it also holds historical value, being mentioned in several places in the Bible. About a mile inland of the West Bank are the Qumran caves, an archaeological site where several ancient scrolls were recovered.
These famous Dead Sea Scrolls are thought to be purposely hidden by a religious sect of Jews called Essenes when they thought them to be in danger. After the discovery of the scrolls in the first cave by De Vaux and his companion, G. Lankester Harding, in 1949, full-scale excavations began, leading to even bigger discoveries of human settlements and technologies. The Dead Sea Scrolls are of great religious and historical importance, as they're some of the only surviving copies of biblical documents dated prior to 100 BC.
People visiting the Dead Sea in Israel will find a veritable piece of history at their fingertips as well as a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a refreshing spa vacation. Whether you visit the Qumran caves or Ein Gedi or just float lightly in the viscous waters of the lowest sea in the world, you will certainly enjoy an experience like no other, filled with history and culture, as well as plenty of opportunities for relaxation.