Dead Sea Adds Modern Comforts to Rich History

DEAD SEA--Until recently, this area was living up to its name.

The name still describes a dead body of water--with a mineral content so high (a 30% concentration of potash, magnesium and bromine as well as salt) that plants, fish and birds do not survive without human assistance.

In the stark, empty desert that surrounds this end of the Jordan River, air hardly moves. In summer, the heat is oppressive, pushing Fahrenheit thermometers into three-digit readings. It hardly ever rains.

And, the Dead Sea area has a checkered past.

The Bible locates the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah here, and the nearby salt-flat bluffs seem to testify to the story of Lot's wife, who was turned to salt when she chose to watch the evil cities being destroyed.

Cleopatra came for its beauty benefits, and modern archaeologists recently uncovered an ancient cosmetics factory in the area.

The Dead Sea is located at the lowest spot on earth--1,300 feet below sea level--which provides an atmosphere that filters the sun's rays and permits nearly risk-free sunbathing.

Swimmers find that they cannot sink in the Dead Sea, but neither can they move very well to do laps or frolic in the water; they don't dare risk diving because hitting the water would be painful.

Modern Israel is building on the area's millennia-old reputation of healing ailing people to develop a most unusual resort area. Tourists today can take advantage of the benefits of the area's water and altitude, history and desert beauty, and then refresh themselves in air-conditioned comfort at a range of hotels.

At the southern end of the saline, land-locked lake, these include the new Hyatt Regency, Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza and the Radisson Moriah, which has updated its facilities. Howard Johnson announced its intention to build a property at the northern end.

Among nearby attractions are the oasis of Ein Gedi, with its waterfalls and the ibex and wild goats cited in Scripture that still live there.

The Ein Gedi Spa, operated by the nearby kibbutz of the same name, has direct access to the Dead Sea and, under one roof, offers several therapeutic sulfur pools, showers, lockers, a kosher cafeteria and a gift shop. Accommodations are available at the kibbutz, which overlooks the oasis.

Israel Ministry of Tourism Information Center, Phone: (888) 77-ISRAEL

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