Eilat and the Negev: Places to Explore

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Eilat

A legend says that after the Creation, the angels painted the earth and when they got tired, they spilled their paints: the blue became the waters of Eilat, and the other colors became its fish and coral. Whether or not this is true, add to this rainbow of colors Eilat's year-round warm weather, its superb natural surroundings of sculptural red-orange mountains, and its prime location on the sparkling Red Sea—whose coral reefs attract divers from all over the world—and you've got a first-rate resort.

Eilat, a city of about 50,000, is now Israel's prototypical "sun-and-fun" destination, with over 60 hotels to choose from, and its relaxed cadences depart from the usual Israeli bustle. But its strategic location as a crossroads between Asia and Africa has given it a long place in history. According to the Bible, the Children of Israel stopped here as they fled from Egypt into the Promised Land, and King Solomon kept his fleet in the area. Later, because of its position on a main trade and travel route, Eilat was conquered by every major power: the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottoman Turks, and, most recently, the British, whose isolated police station, called Umm Rash Rash (headquarters of their camel corps), was the first building in modern-day Eilat. When David Ben-Gurion visited in 1935, he envisioned an international port here, and in 1945 Shimon Peres, today president of Israel, led a camel trek to the area. "Shards of coral and beautiful large seashells are scattered on the shore," he reported. "A gulf with a natural port pleads for life."

The Israelis took the area in March 1949, the last action of the War of Independence. The modern town was founded in 1951 and developed as a port in 1956 after the Egyptian blockade of the Tiran Straits was lifted.

Most travelers are persuaded that Eilat's natural assets more than make up for its undistinguished architecture and overdevelopment. For wherever you are in Eilat, a glance eastward presents you with the dramatic sight of the granite mountain range of Edom, whose shades of red intensify toward evening, culminating in a crimson sunset blaze over the Red Sea. This incongruous name for a body of water that's brilliantly turquoise along the shore is the result of a 17th-century typographical error by an English printer: in setting the type for an English translation of a Latin version of the Bible, the printer left out an e and thus Reed Sea became Red Sea. The name was easily accepted because of the sea's red appearance at sunset.

Elsewhere in Eilat and the Negev

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