• Issue: February 1962
  • Designer: F. Stern
  • Plate no.: 20
  • Method of printing: Photogravure


Eilat, at Israel's southernmost point, was placed on the map of history by the wisdom and ingenuity of King Solomon. The Scriptures record that "King Solomon made a navy of ships in Ezion-geber, which is beside Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom" (I Kings 9:26). In partnership with Hiram, king of the sea-faring Tyrians, Solomon maintained a fleet of ocean-going ships in the sheltered Red Sea gulf. Every third year Eilat awaited the return of Solomon's "Tarshish" fleet, richly laden with "gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks."

In ancient times many routes converged on the Red Sea port making it a welcome resting place for travelers and traders on the great Spice route out of Arabia. Tradition assigns one of these ancient routes to the Children of Israel coming from Kadesh Barnea "by way of the Red Sea to compass the land of Edom from Eloth and Etzion-geber."

The first foreign imperial guest of Eilat was no doubt the beautiful Queen of Sheba; whether she came by ship or caravan she surely must have rested at Eilat on her way to King Solomon's court in Jerusalem. Eilat of King Solomon's day not only hummed with the comings and goings of caravans and maritime traders, it was, too, the site of the first planned industrial town in Israel. Excavations conducted in 1939 revealed the foundry town of Etzion-geber. Here the copper, mined in the Timna valley, was smelted. The design of Etzion-geber was based on the most advanced engineering and. construction "know-how" of ancient times.

The industrial settlement, complete with foundries and workers' quarters, was situated at the open end of a closed valley where it was flayed by the angry winds blowing from the north - climatically the most uncomfortable spot on the gulf. An intricate system of airflues built into the walls of the town showed why Solomon's engineers chose this particular spot: they required the fierce northern winds for the heating of the giant smelting furnaces.

Solomon's foundry town was later destroyed by fire. After his death Eilat passed back and forth between the Israelites and the Edomites. During the reign of Jehosaphat, Solomon's grandson, Eilat was restored for a brief period as a trading and industrial center. Jehosaphat, in an attempt to enjoy the trade with Ophir, built a fleet of ships at Etzion-geber. His plan failed as the ships were wrecked in a storm off the coast.

Changing geopolitical forces have constantly determined the character of Eilat. The Romans regarded Eilat, or Aila as they called it, as the key to the Negev. The Roman Emperor Trajan, famed for his remarkable construction works, built the Imperial Road which linked Jerusalem to Eilat on the fringe of the Red Sea. In the economic warfare between the Byzantines and the Persians, Eilat played a strategic role. From the Red Sea port the Byzantines succeeded in controlling much of the rich trade with India and Africa.

The opening of new trade routes to India in the sixteenth century diverted sea traffic and commerce from the Red Sea port. Eilat became a deserted outpost of the Turkish-Ottoman Empire. In 1906 Mustapha Kemal, father of modern Turkey, spent a lonely period of exile in remote Eilat.

Side-stepped by the march of time for some 3,000 years Eilat returned to history when the separation of Mandatory Palestine and Transjordan in the 1920s necessitated the establishment of a police station in the area. A British garrison was maintained on the promontory at Um Rashrash until March 10, 1949, when the Israeli flag was hoisted over the deserted police post. This marked the rebirth of Eilat.

After the Sinai Campaign, which brought to an end the Egyptian blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba, Eilat made great strides in its economic and civic development.

If King Solomon were to awaken from the sleep of centuries he would rub his eyes in wonder: his "master plan" for the Red Sea port is being implemented today. King Solomon's Mines at Timna are again exploiting the rich "green gold" deposits of the Aravah valley. On the shores where Solomon's beautiful guest, the Queen of Sheba, once stayed, fashionable luxury hotels overlook the translucent expanse of the Red Sea waters with their exciting wealth of exotic corals, shells and rainbow-tinted fish. The deep-sea harbor at Eilat has been reconstructed. As in Solomon's time, Eilat again serves as Israel's gateway to the worlds of Asia and Africa.

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