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50th anniversary and opening to the tourism of healthy leisure

The Dead Sea can be regarded as the world´s most ancient and largest health resort. Natural Health SPA. Located at the lowest point on earth, has been a source of health, Wellness and rejuvenation for thousands of years. Its opening as tourist-thermal sustainable product, allows today to celebrate successfully, the fifty anniversary with dietary menus, festivals of mud and music, sporting activities and desert safari excursions. It is the new culture of the healthy leisure, an attractive proposal for the tourist of the new millennium.


The rock -pillar known as " Lot´s Wife "

King David, King Herodes, Jesus and John the Baptist were very closely linked with the Dead Sea and its surroundings.

The prophets knew about this place via the infamous cities of Sodoma and Gomorra. During the Egyptian conquest ,it is said that the Queen Cleopatra obtained exclusive rights to build cosmetic and pharmacy factories in the area. Later on, the Nabateans discovered the value of the bitumen extracted from the Dead Sea, needed by the Egyptians to embalm their mummies. Aristotle wrote about its notables waters.

In roman times, the Essenes settled Qumran in the northern shores of the Dead Sea, as a refuge place, and on the heights of Masada a small group of rebellious Jewish zealots, fighted against the might of the Roman Legions. The remoteness of the region attracted Greek orthodox monks sinze the Bizantine era. Their monasteries such as Saint George, in Wadi Kelt and Mar Saba in the desert of Judea are pilgrimage places.

The Bedouin tribes have continuously lived in the area, and more recently explorers and scientists have arrived to analyze the minerals and direct researchs into the unique climate.

Since 1960, people from all over the world, suffering from dermatological, arthritic and respiratory conditions, gather to benefit from the Dead Sea.


The Dead Sea

Located over the Syrian-African Fault at the feet of the Judean Desert, in the east of Jerusalem and beside of its industrial functions and thermal tourism, the Dead Sea acts as frontier between Israel and Jordan.
Regrettably, in the course of the centuries, the surface is becoming more and more smaller, though in recent decades the water-line has retreated due to over–explotation of the water by Israel and Jordan.
Nowadays it is 100 Km long and has 18 Km. in its wide part.
Geologic studies carried out in the last decades indicate that in the year 1967 surface of the Dead Sea would have been about 1440 Km². If we compare it with the 670 Km² that has nowadays, remains less than half.
These studies also indicate that in the period when the Kumran Scrolls were written the ( between 200 years b.C and 66 years a.C, ) the Dead Sea was 330 mtrs below sea level. Nowadays is to 417 mtrs. below sea level. In other words, the Dead Sea has lost 87 mtrs during 1950 years that is 4,5 centimeters per year.
In its maximum level, the depth had been then 390 mtrs. Today, the deepest part is only 300 mtrs. depth.

In addition to all the minerals that are in the area, the true treasure of the Dead Sea is its climate, which is the base of the Climate-therapy.
The average environmental temperature is 31°C, decreasing in winter up to 20-21° and rising in summer up to 45-46°C.

The statistics indicate that there is not more than 35 cloudy days a year, and among them only 16 with sprinkles that produce 50 annual mml of rain.
Due to the location in an relatively desert area, the environmental humidity is low (35%). I say relatively desert, because that part was very well-known in old times for its plantations of cane of sugar and khaki (persimonio).

In summer the temperature reach an average of 38°C, but 48ºC have already been measured. Nevertheless, due to the low environmental humidity, the heat that the body feels is more or less 40-42°.

The Dead Sea water reach a minimum temperature of 21°C during winter nights. There are times when is much more comfortable to be into the water than outside. The problem begins when leaving.. In summer season the temperature rises up to 40°C what makes it more comfortable... but at night.

I imagine that although the vacations in Europe are in July and August, due to the climatic conditions of the area, most of the foreign tourists arrive mainly between September and May, being during these months, the base of the hotel occupancy.


As I before commented that the true treasure of the Dead Sea is its climate, then the diamonds in that treasure are the solar rays (the base of the Helium-therapy), and its location 417 mtrs. Below sea level, is the crown!

Salt Crystallized salt

These two main factors help to create an unique micro-climate in the world. Its location makes that the solar rays in the Dead Sea area, are filtered through three natural layers: 400 meters of an extra atmosphere, a dense haze of Aerosols caused by evaporationand from the Dead Sea water and an ozone layer. These layers act as a filter reducing the solar radiation of UVA rays and more importat , the shorter and harmful UVB rays with a reduction of 10% and UVA 3,6% This phenomenon enables safer exposure with a minimun risk of sunburn damage and development of skin cancer when considering equivalent exposure times in similar weather conditions elsewhere.

But if the diamonds are the sun rays, and if the location is the crown, the air become the gold in the Dead Sea treasure and three are the factors that make the air so healthy:
The first one is due to the location (another time), 400 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea area has the world´s highest recorded barometric pressure measure. Consequently, the air has between the 6-8% higher oxygen saturation than in the air of thermal centers at the sea level.

The second factor is based on the evaporation of the Dead Sea: The evaporation process enriches the air, already saturated of oxygen, with particles of benign minerals such as the Magnesium and the Bromine that, among other things, they help to reduce the nervous tension.

The third factor is derived from the low percentage of environmental humidity. All that together give us an extraordinary quality of air: rich in benign minerals, dry, unpolluted and low in polen

saturated of oxygen and without allergens. Ideal for sufferes of respiratory disorders like asthma, chronic lung disease, cystic fibrosis, heart diseases and nervous tensions.

We already speak about treasures, crowns, diamonds and gold, so I am running out of the superlatives, exactly when I have to refer to the most important element in the thermal tourism: the water, which is the base of the Thalassotherapy.

As we all know, the Dead Sea is not a sea, but a terminal lake with no outlet for its waters except the evaporation and that is the main reason because the Dead Sea is so salted since the waters contain 10 times more salt than the Mediterranean Sea, and 12 times more than the average of all the oceans.

The great quantity of salt and minerals (32%), is what gives to the water, the necessary density that allows to “sit down” on her, it preserves the temperature, and it facilitates the fisio-therapeutic treatments.

Like the vast majority of the thermal centers, the Dead Sea also has springs of mineral thermal waters. These waters that are the essential ingredient of the Balneo-therapy, have temperatures ranging between 32ºC and 41ºC. Because they already circulate under a land rich in salt and minerals, they also have a high content of sulphur of hydrogen, which gives them a” very particular perfume." A scent of rotten eggs.... to which takes time to get accustomed.

The last part of the Dead Sea treasure is the black mud that is the base of the Pelo-therapy. The black mud is a signature element made up from of a homogeneous mixture of earth, Dead Sea minerals and organic elements from the shoreline, the black mud is recognized worldwide by its cosmetic, medicinal and relaxing properties.


Ein Guedi

On the contrary of what generally happens in thermal areas, in the case of the Dead Sea everything began with the industrialization. The beginning of the exploitation of the potassium in the thirties, was the “culprit” of the first tourist-thermal experiment in the area.

Maybe without knowing it, the company in charge of the potassium extraction offered one of the elements most important for the development of the tourist movement: the access. Building the first road, the company made the Dead Sea and its springs accessible to the public in general!

Although they were carried out 2 attempts (1934 / 1940) the tourist-thermal development only began in 1953, with a new communal establishment (kibutz) called Ein Guedi (spring of the goats).

The thermal sanatorium built by the colonists, was in fact an extended cabin of 4 rooms and without bathroom. Each room had 2 or 3 iron beds and the seats used as tables... Each convalescent (they arrived and they left on Sundays since the bus passed once a week), they received in the moment of arrival a hoe, so each one dug their own hole in the mud. And as if that weren´t enough, the cleanstuffs for rooms and bathrooms, were distributed to those “tourists” on arrival.
If that is not Self Service what is it?

Today, the thermalists no longer receive hoes at the moment they arrive and the whole rooms in the hotels have bathroom. Ein Guedi it is a flourishing town visited by thousands of people that travel through the Dead Sea Region, to who the inhabitants offer their services. It is necessary to mention the large and modern building that houses the Thermal Baths, especially the spa, the restaurant as well as a beach with all the facilities and modern services.


Since the launching of the first tourist-thermal product that took place in that " sanatorium " with 4 rooms and 10 beds, until the present, with 16 hotels of 4 and 5 stars class and more than 4,000 rooms, the current situation gives an idea of the tourist evolvement in the area.

Like most of the tourist centers, the Dead Sea also began with a single basic product. This product, with the passing of time, ramified and adapted to fashions and tendencies, trying to give the most appropriate answers to the growing tourist demands in general, and particularly, to the therapeutics.

Hotel Golden Tulip Magic Nirvana Club

Of course the development that took place between 1955 and 1975, has not been possible if the private initiative had not received financial and thecnical aid from the Government. Apart from the hard work of the Tourism Ministry and Treasury Department, this support mainly took form through assignments of lands, taxes reduction, and non recoverable funds.

This government support, was not only given to the hotel industry, but rather also to new colonists and managers, of other branches of tourist products. The second phase of the development of the area can be establihsed between the years 1975 and 1990. In this period was duplicated the number of registered hotels (from 5 to 9) and the rooms offert was almost triplicates (from 600 to 1650).

The key of this stage was the final recognition of the israelis and foreign medical entities, regarding the attributes and positive effects of the climate-therapy in the area.
That internal and international recognition, brought to the Dead Sea the capital so needed to be able to continue the development the tourist-thermal product that, already began to ramify.

In the nineties began to appear the results of the " pact " created between the private initiative and the municipality of the Dead Sea. This understanding show us that only working together, should be possible to get a sustainable tourist-thermal development and simultaneously to preserve the nature which is its base.

The plan that was conceived by the managers, municipality, tourism and environment ministries and was directed to get the following thing: to renovate and to strengthen the infrastructure, to determine a limits of beds, to look for the relative advantages of the area, and to take advantage of fashions and tendencies to enrich the tourist product, making it more tempting to the different segments.

Today, besides of 200 rooms in communal establishments, more than 4,300 are offered in 16 registered hotels of 4 or 5 stars (mostly of 5), of which almost the half pertaining to international hotel chains (Carlton, Golden Tulip, Plaza, Sheraton, Novotel and Hayat). Besides 8 modern clinics offering treatments for the skin, rheumatism, respiratory system and other problems, all based on the natural resources of the Dead Sea.


Healthy Leisure

The current rhythm of life (stress), the culture of the leisure and the cult to the body, both have given to the Dead Sea one of the relative advantages more used today. It is the tendency to pay attention to the health, the search of the relaxation and rest, what has brought the local tourism. In other words, the Spa that is by itself a topic for days of reading.

There is not hotel that doesn't have a Spa. There are from 300-400 mtrs² up to 2000-3000 mtrs², with 2, 3, 4, or 5 pools with different temperatures and waters, with 5,10,15 and up to 30 booths for treatments and massages, with jacuzzi, dry and humid saunas, with dietary menus, etc, etc. Treatments with water, with hot stones, with MUDS, with essential oils, with local cosmetics, with milk products, and even with fruits and vegetables...

In spite of the great success brought to the Dead Sea by the Spas, the biggest achievement is the diversification that has the local tourist product. Diversification that has activated the “great coming” of the so called “ daily tourists."

The present tourist product, is no longer based on the antiquated concept related with the cure of affections, but rather this a lot more bound to the current rhythm of life, in which the relaxation and rest (Spa) are supplemented with tourist branches more “swinging”.

Like in others, also in this sense, the close cooperation between the municipality and the private initiative, has been successful, obtaining magnificent results. With the cooperation of the municipality, numerous festivals and annual competitions have been created attracting thousands of visitors which don’t have to sleep in the area (festivals of mud, of song, of theater or art, and sporting activities of careers and gymnastics, cycling, parachuting, etc).

Campings has been created, attractions, spas and free of charge thermal pools, to facilitate the sunday walk to the whole family. Beside the safaris on foot, in out roads car, mounted in camels, horses or donkeys, another field that attracts daily tourists is the extreme sporting activities. In the last years these activities have develop to such an extent that already to jump from an airplane, to be thrown below in mountain, or to make twirls in an airplane ultra-light it is not any problem

This way, of the intense cooperation among the particular initiative, the municipality and the university, a sustainable tourist-thermal product has been created that is able to give answer to a great variety of likes and necessities, without cutting the branch of the tree on which all seated ones are…

Dr. Pedro A. Zúñiga, Professor Tourism & Hospitality, Univ.Hebrea of Jerusalem.
(Text of the Conference imparted in the International Forum of Thermal Tourism. Europa Latinoamérica America. Termatalia 2006)

Title page of the bookTHE 50 ANNIVERSARY

After 50 years of settlement here, our recent anniversary celebration took time out to remember the founding fathers of the Dead Sea communities, that handful of pioneers that put the foundations of what we have today.

Now we continue climb with the help of a helicopter and the Duby Tal´s camera, to a bird ´s eye view that provides a unique vantage point over the landscape of this fascinating region in which we live. Changing our habitual point of view exposes us anew to the stunning beauty that we do not see everyday.

The forces of the nature, so powerful and visible in our region and so impressive, serve as an additional reminder. The majesty of the Dead Sea landscapes also reminds us that it should not be taken for granted, and that we each have a personal responsibility to preserve it.

There are many reasons for the ongoing retreat of the Dead Sea, nearly all of them man made.Therefore, we who live on its shores bear most responsibility to do everything we can to restore its ancient glory.

Projects such as the Dead Sea Institute, founded last year and the multi-disciplinary conference, shine the spotlight of public awareness of the Dead Sea, in ways that for the first time enable practical debate on important issues such as renewing the flow of water and raising the water level.

With Thanks

Dov Litvinoff
Head of the Tamar Dead Sea Regional Council.

(Foreword of the book “UNREVEALED BEAUTY, SKYLINE–THE DEAD SEAD by Duby Tal, Photography and Moni Haramati, Piloting)

For scientific popularization. Specialist in medicine and balneology.
President of the Spanish association ‘The Friends of Thermal Baths’.


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