I have seen the Red Sea turn red. At sunset, I stood on a beach near Eilat and watched the mountains of Jordan reflect in the Gulf of Aqaba. There was only one colour in the water, and it was red.

The Red Sea is a narrow arm of sea reaching out from the Indian Ocean to separate Africa from Asian Arabia. It starts at the Gulf of Aden in the south and ends in the north by splitting into two gulfs, Suez and Aqaba. The countries bordering the sea are Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, North Yemen, Saudi Arabia - and touching upon it are Israel and Jordan.

Today, the sea is one of the world's busiest waterways. Much trade between Europe and Asia pass through it to avoid going all the way around Africa. It has never been a safe sea to navigate, however. While nature does its best to intimidate with treacherous coral reefs, strong winds and irregular currents, pirates have also been known to haunt the narrow waters. Therefore it was not heavily used until the modern age with the appearance of the Suez canal and the disappearance of the pirates.

The shallow strait of Bab el-Mandeb between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden keep the deep water on both sides separated and creates special conditions for the entire Red Sea. Salinity in the sea is unusually high due to a rapid rate of evaporation and no rivers feeding it freshwater.

The Red Sea of today is most likely not the Red Sea that Moses and his people crossed, fleeing Egypt. More probably they crossed a marshland called the reed sea - but what is a missing letter among friends. Scholars seem to find it important, and think the Israelites crossed a marshy land east of the Nile Delta instead.

There is also confusion about the origin of the name. It has been called red at least since the ancient Greeks, and they refuse to tell us why they did it. The most common explanation seems to be that the sea contains a type of plankton that form a reddish-brown scum on the surface in the summer.

Of course, for those of us who have seen the sun set over the Red Sea, there can be no doubt about the origin of the name.

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