If you ever travel to the city of Eilat, on the shores of the Red Sea, the southernmost point in Israel, where you can gaze on the shores of the Sinai peninsula, Jordan, and on bright days even Saudi Arabia, be sure to visit Timna park as well.
The area is famous for its’ beautiful beaches, wildlife, and breathtaking scenery of the Red mountains, a color they got not by accident but due to the high concentration of copper oxide in the sandstone.
This high copper concentration and location made this place the oldest copper mine in the world.
If there was only one place I had to visit on our recent family vacation in Eilat, this site, rich in beautiful geological formations and even an ancient Egyptian temple to the fertility goddess Hathor, was it.
On the first morning of our vacation in Eilat, we decided to wake up as early as possible and get ready to visit the site, located about 25 km north of Eilat, within about half an hour’s drive.
Although we went during the spring, a season that should usually be mild, we were “fortunate” enough to experience the first heatwave just as we left home. Temperatures climbed from one-digit numbers to 30 plus degrees within a week, with Eilat heating up to 40 degrees, leaving us with only one reasonable day to go out, with the temperature around 33 degrees Celcius.
The park is open from 8:00 AM to 16:00 PM. So we decided to get there as early as possible and stay until we’ll get our cue to go when the heat feels like we are burning in hellfire. However, as often happens when you travel with three little kids, by the time we woke up, got ready, ate, and all the rest, it was already late and we arrived there by 10:00 AM.
We left the older kids with their grandparents who came along to chill at the hotel water park and headed on our way with our two-year toddler.
Timna Park is one of the largest parks in Israel, located in the Arava desert.
It has beautiful geological rock formations and archaeological sites. I find it to be one of the most amazing and beautiful sites in Israel. If you visit Eilat, be sure to put it in your itinerary. You can visit the park on your way to or back from Eilat to save on driving, spending the mornings or afternoon, or free your whole day for it, the options are endless. If you are a savvy adventurer you can hike the park which I highly recommend, or explore it by bicycle or car, and even choose from a variety of camping options offered on-site. You can check their website for more info and activities.
While the weather in the morning was nice and bearable with a pleasant breeze in the shade, we knew it won’t keep for long and decided to head to the place we wanted to see the most, “Solomons’ Pillars” and a temple to the Egyptian goddess Hathor. The temple is located just next to the pillars, which probably have nothing to do with the ancient Judean King. The name was dubbed due to an earlier archaeological assumption made by archaeologist Nelson Glick back in the 1940s dating the main activity at the copper mines in the site to the tenth century B.C.E, also known as the ruling days of the biblical King Solomon. At least according to the Bible.
The Copper Mines
Later expeditions, led by various teams revealed that the reality was quite different…
Timna Valley is famous for its’ copper mines. Being the world’s oldest copper mine active from the middle of the fifth millennium B.C.E up until the middle ages. Archaeological research conducted on the site from the late 50s and up until recently revealed that the mines were highly active during the Late Bronze and Iron Ages, from the 14th to the 10th century B.C.E, in part during the Egyptian era as indicated by various Egyptian finds in the site and later during its’ heyday from 1150 to 1000 B.C.E by possibly the Midianites and other desert tribes and maybe even the Israelites/Judeans.
While the existence of King Solomon and his united monarchy and its’ scale is a hot and highly debatable topic in biblical archaeology, the name connecting the mines to the legendary King stuck and served well for the PR of the site, which turned out for the best, since it attracted investors and researchers to the site and allowed the creation of a beautiful park for travelers to visit.
One must wonder, who were the people working in the mines? The first assumption was that these were slaves, enslaved by the Egyptians since everyone knows that Egyptians love enslaving and spanking people ??.
However, today, after extensive research it’s more likely that the plants were operated by the local desert people under the Egyptians’ rule, using their own experience and technologies, developed throughout the millennia. These were highly skilled workers that came from the Negev, Sinai, Canaan, and the area ‘such as geologists, mining engineers, smiths, and other professionals. The copper nodules extracted at the Timna mines were then distributed to Egypt and other centers by land and marine trade, making it an important trade commodity for the area.
While it started getting hotter, we decided not to waste any more time and headed to the nearby sanctuary. There are two pagan sanctuaries in Israel that are my favorites and they are both located at each end of the country. One dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Hathor, here, in the southernmost point of the country and Pan sanctuary in Banias, way up north, on the slopes of Mt. Hermon.
As excavation has revealed, a sanctuary was built here by the Egyptians during the 13th century B.C.E. undergoing several stages later on. It was an open courtyard with niches cut into the rock where presumably the statue of the deity was housed. The connection of the shrine to the goddess Hathor is attested by many finds, including a piece of her head, fragments of statuettes, rock art, architectural elements, attributes of the goddess, and many other typical Egyptian findings such as seals, scarabs, cartouches of pharaohs such as Seti I, Ramses II and Ramses V, dated to ca. 1280 – 1145 B.C.E.
Hathor was one of the major goddesses in the ancient Egyptian pantheon, often depicted with a sun disc and cow’s horns or as a woman with locks and cow’s ears. She is very diverse, considered as the patronage of miners, goddess of fertility, sexuality, and the feminine version of the sun gods such as Horus and Ra. There is so much I can write about her and frankly, my knowledge of Egyptian mythology is limited, so I’ll save writing about her in detail for a later post when I’ll research her more in-depth.
Rumor says she likes beer and dancing, so be sure to make her happy when you come by. 😉
As it seems though, Hathor wasn’t the only goddess worshipped in this sanctuary and it served as a local shrine as well. According to mainstream opinion, and what you’ll find in the site brochure, it seems that later, the temple changed and a different deity or deities, were worshipped at the shrine, represented by stone stelae called Masseboth which you can see today. These cult bearers were presumably the Midianites, a local desert group, which also left us with a golden snake scepter that was found in this shrine. However, some scholars, such as Uzi Avner, who excavated the site later on and many other sites in the Aravah desert, suggest that this was a combined sanctuary. According to his research, the sanctuary started as a local place of worship, joined by the cult of Hathor with the Egyptian conquest, and as the Egyptian rule came to an end so too was Hathors’ worship. He thinks that her cult was only secondary to the local cults, those of the Midianites and the other desert tribes. Whomever it belonged to, it is still a beautiful and magical cult site worth visiting.
Above the sanctuary, on the cliff, you will find Egyptian rock engravings depicting Pharaoh Ramesses III handing offerings to Hathor. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time left to visit and gaze at the art before the hot sun began to scorch our pale vampiric skin. That was our cue to leave and we decided to cut it short and head back to the car.
But we couldn’t leave this amazing site just yet and decided to drive around, marveling at the beautiful naturally created red sandstone rock formations, shaped by the winds and elements of nature, as if the gods and goddesses themselves shaped them into beautiful monuments of stone.
Apparently, if you wish to visit the site in the afternoon, after closing hours without opening up a camp on-site, you can arrive just before closure, enter before 4 PM and stay for a nice sunset view and a milder climate. We hoped to make it back for this in the afternoon, but unfortunately, other plans and vacation laziness took hold and we decided that Timna requires a trip of its’ own, hopefully in the Autumn.
Egyptian Jewelry Collection – The Clockwork Artifice
If you happened to glimpse at my Etsy shop, you’ll probably notice my affection for Egyptian-style jewelry. For quite some time now I’ve been looking for the perfect spot to have a photoshoot with my Egyptian collection. What can be more appropriate for such a photo session than a beautiful mountain copper quarry with an Egyptian shrine to the goddess Hathor?
And so, a couple of weeks before the trip I pulled myself together and set to crafting some new jewelry designs which you can now find in my shop. I sewed myself a bolero from a unique fabric I acquired at a shop in the Old City in Jerusalem, whose owner is a traveling merchant who brings unique fabrics from Syria, Morroco and India. Some of his customers even include the pope. The fabric I got is originally from Damascus, with a unique design that reminded me of the Egyptian lotus, a perfect fit for an Egyptian style set.
I really loved the combination of the dark blue with the gold on the red sandstone background, it really has a magical feel to it. Equipped with these wicked press on nails by a very talented artist from Canada, *lbnailartist, I really felt like a demon wandering the desert.
I really recommend checking out her shop and if you find something you like feel free to use my coupon code: Viktoria15 for a 15% discount on the press on nail sets in her shop.
Speaking of demons and deserts, according to Jewish and Middle Eastern lore, the desert is the place where demons dwell, on the outskirts of the civilization, in the barren lands. This is a super interesting topic, which I’ll definitely be writing about in the future, so make sure to subscribe to my newsletter, to be notified when it’s out.
For now, though, this demon decided it’s time for her to move on and explore some new areas and adventures, but she’ll definitely be returning to this magical place once more.