The story of Timna Valley is a tale of exploration, conquest,
international trade, powerful kings, vast empires, and Biblical legends
suddenly come to life. It is the story of the birth of the Bronze Age around
the fourth millennium BCE, which propelled the world to a new level of
production, artistry, and sophistication.
To really understand the mystique and significance of Timna Valley National Park, we must dig deeper than the current restoration project that attracts more than 250,000 visitors each year; beyond a key expedition in 1933 that proclaimed the existence of King Solomon's Mines; even beyond the message contained in an ancient strip of papyrus that detailed mining expeditions from the land of the pharaohs to this area in 14th century BCE.
Crossroads for Miners throughout the Ages
As the oldest center of copper production in the ancient world - and the most extensive example of early mining in existence, Timna Valley hosted miners as early as the 5th millennium BCE.
At the end of the 14th century BCE, as the Egyptian Empire grew and word of the copper-rich area spread, the Egyptians established a trade route leading directly through the Timna Valley. Bringing with them much more sophisticated mining wisdom, the Egyptians used metal chisels and hoes and excavated very regular, tubular shafts, with footholds in the walls for moving as far down as 30 meters to reach the copper.
It was also at this time that the Midianites from the northwestern Arabian Peninsula joined Egypt in tapping the rich copper mines. Long after Egyptian control of the area declined in the 12th century BCE, the advanced Midianite culture remained. It left its mark indelibly upon the land not only through such relics as the Temple of Hathor and thousands of ceremonial items, but also through its connection to the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. In fact, the Bible recounts the tale of Jethro, the high priest of Midian at the time, and his fateful trip through Timna and meeting with his future son-in-law, Moses - a key stepping stone in creating what would become the Children of Israel.
These Children of Israel, along with Nabateans and Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula, were among those who mined the Timna Valley until the area's metals became scarce.
The Dawn of A New Era for Timna
It is against this spectacular, historically rich backdrop, that in 1959, Timna Valley was catapulted from historical legend to present-day wonderland. Professor Beno Rothenberg, director of the Institute for Archeo-Metalurgical Studies at University College, London, led the Arabah Expedition that year. He eventually uncovered 10,000 mines and smelting camps representing every previous mining period, as well as rock drawings, King Solomon's Pillars, shrines, temples, jewelry, and other artifacts never before found anywhere in the world.
This sleepy section of desert just 18 miles north of the Red Sea resort town of Eilat became the site of Israel's finest national park, and an important centerpiece in the Negev, helping to fulfill David Ben-Gurion's dream of drawing people to the region.
And, in fact, it is the site's colorful and pivotal history - crossroads for cultural, technological, historical, and Biblical milestones - that envelops today's visitor. It is all part of an impressive, long-term program led by Prof. Rothenberg, spearheaded by JNF, and that has been financed by a substantial contribution from American Jewish philanthropist, Avrum Chudnow z”l.
Phase three of the project has just been completed, and Chudnow family members recently attended a dedication ceremony at the park. When all four planned phases are complete, visitors will be swept into the ancient Timna world and experience, first-hand, life at the mining site over the ages.
Today's Timna Experience
Pass through the front gates to the newly built chronosphere and you are immersed in a fascinating 360-degree multimedia experience called the Mines of Time. The presentation introduces you, though dramatic audio, visual reality, computer simulation, and state-of-the-art animation, to the ancient Egyptian and Midianite cultures dating from the time of the Exodus - a prelude to what you'll encounter further on in the park.
Visitors have a chance to draw some of their own conclusions to these questions on the next leg of their journey through time, as they enter and explore a detailed artificial mining system, complete with life-like miners - eventually to be replaced with live actors - and equipment.
Some 20 different walking trails snake throughout the valley, letting you further explore some of the most famous attractions, such as the Temple of Hathor and King Solomon's Pillars - natural sandstone pillars once thought to be smelting furnaces.
History Made Fun
Timna Park has become not only a site of great historical significance, but a premier recreational destination for Israelis and tourists alike. Families with children can paddleboat the park's man-made lake, drink tea in a lakeside Bedouin tent, or take advantage of overnight camping facilities. Dozens more activities make Timna Park a true vacationer's dream: from browsing the gift shop to camel and bicycle rides, archery, a rock-climbing wall, and a handicraft workshop where kids can make replicas of ancient coins, re-enact a quest, fill bottles with colored sand, make pottery, paint and draw animals, weave in ancient Nabatean style, or watch a demonstration of copper production.
All in a day's work? Hardly. To really experience all Timna Valley has to offer, visitors need more than a day. The park has been expanded to include a visitor's center, additional multimedia exhibitions, a museum featuring some of the area's most unusual artifacts, a cultic practices exhibit housed under a replica of a huge Midianite tented shrine, and a 50-meter exploration of a recently excavated mine from the Chalcolithic period (fifth to fourth millennia BCE). This captivating tour will culminate in an impressive network of New Kingdom mines. And to move people around easily from the various exhibit and excavation areas, a passenger train designed to resemble a convoy of Egyptian chariots is being planned to rumble through the park.
In line with numerous other activities and projects undertaken over the years to make Israel safer, more livable, and preserve its natural resources, JNF has played a major role in the park's planning and development. Historically, culturally, and archeologically, the Timna Valley is one of Israel's and the world's treasures, and worthy of the millions of dollars JNF has invested to date - much of that having been contributed by Milwaukee philanthropist and longtime JNF supporter, Avrum Chudnow z”l whose vision, perseverance and generosity created the first three phases of Park Timna.
At a cost of $4 million, Jewish National Fund has now completed the third phase of Park Timna - an interactive experience about how copper products are produced, where it was discovered and Timna’s connection to King Solomon. Phase III was funded by a $2 million matching grant from Milwaukee philanthropist Avrum Chudnow z”l, as well as additional gifts that total $2 million. As the first place in the world where copper was discovered, Timna holds a special place in the history of southern Israel.
And so, the millennia-old story of Timna Valley and its many riches continues. Thanks to JNF and its many supporters, we can all be included in its continued development.