Timna Park

Timna Park. Photo: Shutterstock

Timna Park, in the heart of the southern Arava in southern Israel, offers a historical and geological experience amid a primordial landscape. Hiking, walking and biking for all the family.

  • How to get there

    The park is accessed from the Arava Highway (Route no. 90), at the entrance to Kibbutz Elifaz (twenty minutes north of Eilat). Yatir Forest can be approached from a number of different directions.
  • Parking

    Parking is available at all sites in the park.
  • Opening hours

    For detailed information, click here to the Park Timna site.
  • Special holiday attractions and festivals

    Sukkot: The date-palm festival, which celebrates the end of the date harvest in the Eilot region – Creative activities and fun in the desert with plenty of dates to eat.
    Hanukkah: An archeological dig – A unique and unforgettable experience for all the family.
    Passover: The Exodus from Egypt – A Pharaoic experience amid ancient enchanted landscapes which is fun for the whole family.
  • Geographic location-

    Arava and Eilat highlands,Southern Arava
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Park-

    Solomon’s Pillars, the Mushroom, the Arches, rock pictures, lake compound.
  • Facilities-

    Marked path, Archeological or Historic site, Active Recreation, Restroom.
  • Other sites in the area-

    The Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve.
  • Special attractions-

    The lake compound at Timna Park has a souvenir shop and a restaurant called King Solomon’s Khan.
  • Educational activities-

    The park offers a range of activities for schoolchildren with the emphasis on a variety of enrichment programs that offer unforgettable learning experiences. Study includes specialized topics along fascinating tour routes such as the Geology Trail and the Copper Trail, together with a Star Trek tour (a nighttime excursion) and adventure sports such as rappelling and cycle expeditions.
  • Adaptation for people with limited mobility-

    Parking: There is a reserved disabled-accessible parking lot both at the entrance to the park and at the lake compound.
    Sites in the park: As the park is sandy, many of the sites are inaccessible to wheelchairs. However, most of the sites can be observed from vantage points in the parking lot.
    Public toilets: Disabled-accessible toilet facilities are available at the entrance to the park and at the lake restaurant. There are drinking fountains in the lake compound.
    Other facilities: The souvenir shop and the park restaurant are fully accessible to people with disabilities.

Projects and Partners Worldwide

Eilat Bird-Watching Park was rehabilitated and developed thanks to a contribution from friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, including Germany and the USA.

Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

About the Park

Timna Park, which is situated some twenty-five kilometers to the north of Eilat, combines archeological sites, unique geology and some splendid views right in the middle of the Red Valley on the edge of the Arava, which is within the jurisdiction of the Eilot Regional Council.

The park’s landscape is the result of tectonic activity that took place tens of millions of years ago when the Great Rift Valley between Syria and Africa was in the process of formation, and it provides visitors with a remarkable geological window through which magnificent rock formations can be seen: some are made of sharp angular granite rock, while others have the rounded contours of the red and white sandstone cliffs for which Timna Valley is famous. All this is set against a breathtaking natural backdrop of acacia trees, desert vegetation and the steep cliffs, on which flocks of gazelle and ibex roam.

Timna Park is home to the world’s earliest copper-mining site, which includes thousands of mineshafts and the remains of smelting furnaces dating back to ancient Egyptian imperial times. Copper was the first metal used for the manufacture of tools, weapons, household utensils, religious artifacts and other prestigious items, and the Timna site provides evidence of the development of its mining and production at various stages throughout history.

Copper mining at Timna began over 6,000 years ago, towards the end of the fifth century BCE. Excavation of this site revealed the world’s oldest mine, which is estimated to date back to the period when mankind first learned how to extract copper, triggering a technological revolution that led to the use of metal on a daily basis.

The sites in Timna Park have been excavated and uncovered over the past fifty years by the Arava Delegation under the leadership of Dr. Beno Rothenberg. The park was established in 1981 by KKL-JNF and the regional council, working in conjunction with the Ministry of Tourism. Since the mid-1990s, the park has been managed jointly by KKL-JNF and the Economic Company, and their vision is shared by Israel’s Nature and Parks and Authority and its Antiquities Authority. The various projects in the park were developed with the help of KKL-JNF’s Friends in the USA.

Ancient Egypt, gods and copper

Our visit to the site begins at the rounded building that houses the multimedia presentation entitled The Mines of Time, which tells the story of copper mining from the ancient Egyptian period until the modern era. The presentation, which makes use of a revolving stage and is screened in a circular hall surrounded with screens, portrays the ancient kingdom of Egypt, the Egyptian gods and the copper extraction methods used at the time. With the help of seven video projectors and a panoramic presentation some eighty square meters in size, Pharaohs, kings and miners all come alive. Sophisticated technology, a sound system and a wealth of special effects all enhance this remarkable experience, which invites audience participation in the storytelling, the riddles and the mysteries of this region in antiquity: Where did the copper snake come from? Who were the gods of ancient Egypt? What was the copper cult?

Copper production and the red mushroom

Tours of Timna Park depart from the presentation hall and continue to the Arches Cave and the mineshafts, before continuing on to the Egyptian Miner’s Cave, the viewing platform and the ancient mine tunnels that visitors can crawl through. Turquoise stalagmites protrude from the sandy floor and fenced-off pits conceal long tunnels deep in the ground where copper was once extracted and hauled to the surface. The route continues past the giant mushroom-shaped rock formation created by the erosion of the red sandstone as winds and water separated the rock from the cliff of which it was once a part. The lower section of the rock has crumbled away, leaving a dome perched upon a stalk.

Reconstructing the copper-production process

In a specially constructed area within the compound overlooking the Mushroom, a smaller man-sized replica of this rock formation has been created. Apart from its decorative qualities, this artifact is intended to help blind and partially-sighted guests get an idea of what the real thing is like by running their hands over the rock to experience the feel of the sandstone and quartz.

The ancient copper-production process is re-enacted for the benefit of visitors with the help of a soot-streaked stone furnace and a large bellows. A partially-surfaced dirt road leads from one site to the next, and visitors pass by Slaves Hill where the miners walled themselves in for protection against local thieves and desert brigands. Further on, we reach the adventure site where we can lounge in a tent with a cup of tea or coffee before sliding down the flying fox or rappelling from a height of eighteen meters, all under the supervision of professional instructors. From here, we continue on to Solomon’s Pillars, whose vast height dwarfs us, and the Nehushtan Lake.

An oasis with pedal boats

Timna Lake, which extends over an area of around fourteen dunam (approx 3.5 acres), is an artificially created body of water that lends the site the aspect of an oasis and provides drinking water for the animals that live in the park. Scattered around the lake perimeter are tourist facilities, sites that offer activities for all the family and a desert caravanserai hand-constructed from wooden beams and natural stone. Timna Park includes six trails for off-road vehicles; two are suitable for the whole family, while the other four are for experienced users only.

Visitors who prefer more gentle pastimes can explore the lake by pedal boat or fill a bottle with colored sand. The caravanserai beside the lake serves light meals such as baked pita bread with lebane (sour cream cheese), tea and coffee. Guests can rest on wooden pallets, mattresses or mats as they observe the activity on the lake.
The site offers well-equipped sleeping and camping facilities including large overnight tents, mats, mattresses, hot showers, toilets and perimeter lighting.

The lake compound has recently undergone renovation: sunshades have been replaced, palm trees have been planted, oasis vegetation has been added and a network of trails has been created. A new entrance lobby is now being planned, with a new building, an installation, a cafeteria and a gift shop.

The tabernacle reconstruction

Near the lake visitors can visit a reconstruction of the Biblical tabernacle that allows them to appreciate the colors, dimensions and form of this sacred structure built by the Israelites in the Sinai desert. The reconstructed tabernacle contains an altar, a copper laver, a shewbread table and a candelabrum, and the guided tour re-enacts the Biblical story of the Israelites in the desert.

Inscription in the early western alphabet

An inscription found in Timna Park is the source of heated debate among archeologists, some of whom believe it to be authentic, while others regard it as a forgery. If this is indeed an authentic ancient inscription, then it is a remarkable find. It was discovered at a spot tens of thousands of people had walked by over the years without anyone’s ever having noticed it, until Josef Otto, a German who documents ancient inscriptions from the the early civilized world visited Timna in 2011. While taking photographs with his companions, he accidentally dropped the lens cover of his camera, and when he bent down to pick it up, he discovered an inscription carved into the rock.

The inscription consists of two elliptical frames reminiscent of the cartouches that contain the names of royal personages in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Each frame of the Timna inscription encloses symbols that appear to be an imitation of Egyptian hieroglyphics and some researchers have concluded that this represents an exceptional local variant of proto-Sinaitic script, which is the oldest alphabetic script known. A similar script was first identified at the turquoise mines and the Egyptian temple at Serabit el-Khadim in Sinai. The proto-Sinaitic script was a sophisticated development based upon thirty signs and used only to write the Canaanite language, instead of the hundreds of hieroglyphs used in Egyptian writing. These signs formed the basis for the development of ancient Semitic alphabets such as those used to write Phoenician, Aramaic and Hebrew.

The seafaring Phoenicians communicated this method of writing to the Greeks, who spread it throughout the western world. The Timna inscription includes one sign that does not belong to the known form of this alphabet, and which would appear to have been borrowed from Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Dr. Stefan Wimmer of Munich University’s Institute of Egyptology believes that the writer of the Timna inscription used these signs to indicate a name and a title in an ancient Semitic language and that the elliptical frame contains a title or pen name that can be translated as “the writer of the tablet…,” i.e., as indicating the name of a scribe whose profession it was to write on tablets. However, no similar examples of such a title have been found. Dr. Wimmer has deciphered the name of the writer of the inscription as ‘-z r-m-m. This petroglyph can be regarded as an expression of the cultural influence of Egypt and its hieroglyphic writing on the local Semitic population. The inscription is estimated to date back to the period of Egyptian activity at Timna from the end of the 14th century until the middle of the 12th century BCE, i.e., several centuries after the activities in Sinai. Those researchers who believe the inscription to be authentic regard it as a unique discovery in the history of the development of the alphabet in Canaan.

As soon as the discovery was made known, controversy broke out among experts in the field. Archeologists Dr. Yuval Yekutieli and Dr. Yuval Goren, who is an expert on rock patinas, contend that the inscription must a forgery, as the park has been investigated on countless occasions in the past, and it is inconceivable that the writing would not have been noticed. Dr. Goren has also described the patina as too fresh for the age the inscription would have to be if it were authentic. Until the issue is decided, visitors to the park have an opportunity to examine the controversial petroglyph for themselves.

A tour at sunset

At the start of the 21st century, Timna Park was wired for electric lighting at a cost of one million dollars, and thus became the desert’s City of Lights. In July and August, after sunset, moonlight walks are held in the park. With nightfall, rock formations such as the Mushroom and the enormous Sphinx, the rock pictures and the Copper Lake all assume the aspect of legend and the star-strewn desert skies with the full moon riding brilliantly through them add natural illumination from above. Once the daytime heat lifts, the desert awakes and comes to life. The towering cliffs that rear up around as a result of volcanic activity create an impressive panorama studded with sun-flayed acacia trees and herds of gazelles and ibex.

As we reach Solomon’s Pillars, darkness is already descending, and some of the mighty cliffs are streaked with white and yellow light. Symbols and figures from ancient Egypt are projected on to the darkened rocks beside them. This remarkable style of illumination, which is known as Gobo, is produced by a form of stencil attached to the front of the floodlight, which projects the shapes on to the darkened hills. In this way, we can view the gigantic forms of camel and donkey caravans, a wall picture of the goddess Hathor, a hunting scene and reproductions of the wall pictures discovered at the Timna site. The originals, which are carved in a small concealed crevice near Solomon’s Pillars, portray chariots, animals and figures from the ancient Egyptian world. The Lake in Wadi Nehushtan is also floodlit with beams that color the water with yellow tints, while the surrounding cliffs are illuminated with figures from the ancient world.

New cycle trails

Work is underway in Timna Park to prepare the infrastructure for over twenty kilometers of cycle trails. These routes have been developed by advanced technological means, and they include wooden trails and trails paved with local stone in order to overcome topographical obstacles. The paths are signposted and they all pass through impressive sites in the park. Bicycles will be available for hire. The work has been carried out in conjunction with KKL-JNF – which has also provided the funding – with the help of experts Yoav Bahat and Rami Gold. Both men have extensive experience in the construction of routes and have taught courses on cycle-trail building at the Wingate Institute.

The family route: This circular trail is some four kilometers in length. It begins near the lake and continues towards Solomon’s Pillars; it is suitable for a relaxed family outing.

The single trail: This challenging 14-kilometer circular route begins near the lake, passes by Solomon’s Pillars and continues towards the Mushroom, winding its way through the valleys and canyons of Timna Park as it goes.