- Eilat (Hebrew: אילת) should not be confused with the nearby kibbutz of Eilot (Hebrew: אילות).
Eilat is Israel's southernmost city, a busy port as well as a popular tourist destination, located at the northern tip of the Red Sea, on the Gulf of Eilat. Home to 55,000 people, the city is part of the Southern Negev Desert, at the southern end of the Arava. The city is adjacent to the Egyptian village of Taba, to the south, and the Jordanian port city of Aqaba, to the east.
Eilat's semi-arid desert climate is moderated by proximity to a warm sea. Temperatures often exceed 40 °C in summer, and 18 °C in winter, while water temperatures range between 20 and 26 °C. The city's beaches, nightlife and desert landscapes make it a popular destination for domestic and international tourism.
Archaeology and history in the region
Despite harsh conditions, the region supported large populations as far back as 8,000 BCE. Beginning in 1861 ancient sites have been recorded throughout the region, but to date only around 7% of the area has undergone a detailed archaeological survey with around 1500 ancient sites recorded in a area. In contrast to the gaps found in settlement periods in the neighbouring Negev Highlands and Sinai, these sites show continuous settlement for the past 10,000 years.
The geology and landscape are varied: igneous and metamorphic rocks, sandstone and limestone; mountains up to above sea level; broad valleys such as the Arava, and seashore on the Gulf of Aquaba. With an annual average rainfall of and summer temperatures of 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.
Location and name
Eilat is named after the Biblical Elath
, believed to correspond with modern-day Aqaba
The original settlement was probably at the northern tip of the Sea of Reeds
, now on the border with Jordan
, while the later commercial port city and a copper based economic center are believed to correspond with modern Aqaba
Archaeological excavations uncovered impressive prehistoric tombs dating to the 7th millennium BCE 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.
Eilat is mentioned several times in the Bible, first as one of the stations
of the Children of Israel
after The Exodus
from Egypt. King David
, and took over Eilat as well. In Kings 2
14:21-22: "And all the people of Judah
took Azariah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in the room of his father Amaziah
. He built Elath
, and restored it to Judah, after that the king slept among his fathers." And again in Kings 2 16:6: "At that time Rezin king of Aram
to Aram, and drove the Jews from Elath
; and the Edomites
came to Elath
, and dwelt there, unto this day".
During the Roman period a road was built to link the area with the Nabataean city of Petra (modern-day Jordan). The remains of a large copper smelting and trading community which flourished during the Ummayad Period (700-900 CE) were also found between what is now Eilat's industrial zone and nearby Kibbutz Eilot.
The Darb el Hajj or "Pilgrim's Road", from Africa through Egypt to Mecca, passed out of Sinai from the west at Eilat before skirting the sea and continuing south into Arabia.
Formation of the State of Israel
The area of Eilat was designated as part of the Jewish state in the 1947 UN Partition Plan
. During the War of Independence
an old Ottoman
police station, called Umm Rashrash
in Arabic, was taken without a fight on March 10, 1949 as part of Operation Ovda
, in which both the Negev
and Golani Brigades
participated. (Only one of Umm Rashrash
's mud-brick buildings remains standing, in its own park.) Having forgotten to bring an Israeli flag with them, the Negev Brigade
soldiers improvised and raised the "Ink Flag
" in order to claim for Israel the area upon which Eilat would be constructed.
Begun as a military outpost, Eilat quickly grew as the area's resources were surveyed and developed. The Timna
Copper Mines were opened and a port constructed, the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline
laid, and tourists began visiting. The Port of Eilat
became vital to the fledgling country's development.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War all Arab nations maintained a state of hostility with Israel, blocking all land routes; Israel's access to and trade with the rest of the world was maintained 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.
Such a situation took place 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 lead to Israel's participation in the Sinai Campaign along with England and France, and in 1967 was cited by Israel as an additional casus belli leading to the outbreak of the Six-Day War.
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.
Despite the rise in world terrorism Eilat has been relatively safe, averaging 2-3 incidents per decade for the past 30 years. The last attack, the Eilat bakery bombing, took place in a residential neighborhood of Eilat in January 2007.
Following peace treaties signed with Egypt in 1979
and Jordan in 1994
, Eilat's borders with its neighbors were finally opened. In 2007, over 200 Sudanese refugees from Egypt
who arrived in Israel illegally on foot were given work and allowed to stay in Eilat, despite the fact that Sudan
is technically still at war with Israel. Eilat's population includes a large number of foreign workers, estimated at over 10,000, working as caregivers, hotel workers and in the construction trades.
Eilat became a free trade zone in 1985.
Eilat is connected to the rest of Israel, and internationally by air, road, sea, and bus. Eilat Airport is located in the city centre, and used largely for domestic flights (domestic code: ETH, international code: LLET). International flights to the city often use Ovda International Airport some northwest of the city.
Eilat has two main roads connecting it with the center of Israel. Egged, the national bus company, provides regular service to points north on an almost hourly basis during daylight hours. There are also two border crossings: the Taba Border Crossing to Taba, Egypt and Wadi Araba Crossing to Aqaba, Jordan; named by Israel as Yitzhak Rabin Border Crossing. Although there is currently no rail network to the city, the Port of Eilat and Eilat Marina allow travel by sea. A train station linking Eilat with Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv is in the making.
Eilat's economy is based around leisure and tourism.
Tourism and Attractions
Eilat offers a wide range of accommodations - from hostels to luxury hotels - as well as many unique attractions and recreational options within a 50 kilometer (31 mile) radius.
- Bedouin hospitality.
- Birdwatching and ringing station: Eilat is located on the main migration route between Africa and Europe.
- Camel tours.
- Coral Beach Nature Reserve, an underwater marine reserve of tropical marine flora and fauna.
- Coral World Underwater Observatory - allows visitors to view marine life in its own habitat. The park, located at the southern tip of Coral Beach, has aquariums, a museum, simulation rides, and shark, turtle and stingray tanks.
- Diving: Skin and SCUBA diving, with equipment for hire on or near all major beaches. Scuba diving equipment rental and compressed air are available from a number of diving clubs and schools open all year round.
- Dolphin Reef, offering visitors an opportunity to swim and interact with dolphins, is also a marine biology and research station.
- Freefall parachuting.
- Hai-Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve, established in the 1960s to conserve endangered 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.
- IMAX theatre.
- 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, ancient pit mines and rock art.
- "What's Up" the Observatory in Eilat, a portable Astronomical Observatory with programs in the desert as well as on the promenade.
- Antibes-Juan-les-Pins, France
- Arica, Chile
- Durban, South Africa
- Smolyan, Bulgaria
- Kamen, Germany
- Kampen, Netherlands
- Toronto, Canada
- Los Angeles, United States
- Ushuaia, Argentina
- Sopron, Hungary
Eilat has streets named after Durban, Kamen, Kampen and Los Angeles as well as a Canada Park. Several Maple trees also grow in various parts of the city.