Sunday, February 5, 2012


In the Negev Highlands, at the edge of the Avdat plateau and above the Nahal Tzin basin, is the ancient city of AvdatThe desert climate and only 80 mm rain a year were no barrier, in every stream valley and on every mountain slope they developed traditional agriculture, based on the collection of surface runoff in hidden cisterns.

Avdat National Park covers 2,100 dunams, with its principal attraction the city of Avdat, located on the Incense Route.

The city of Avdat was founded in the 3rd century BCE.  It was station number 62 along the Incense Route.

The name is from the Nabatean king Oboda (30-9 BCE), who was buried there. It was destroyed by marauding Arab tribes in the second half of the first century CE. Later, the last Nabatean king, Rabbel (70-106 CE), rebuilt Avdat. In 106 CE the Roman Empire took over the region, and Avdat continued to flourish until the seventh-century Arab conquest.  It became part of the road and defense system of the Roman Empire, developing residential quarters and public buildings. 
Avdat reached the height of its development during the Byzantine period (4-7th centuries CE), with the construction of churches and numerous other buildings and the expansion of agriculture.  At its peek in the Byzantine period, the population was about 3000.  Viticulture became an important part of the city’s agriculture from the 4th century CE.  Cisterns were hewn, and many of the caves on the slope reused, mainly as workshops to process and store agricultural produce.  The city was finally abandoned after an earthquake around 630 CE.

The Nabateans who inhabited Avdat were an ancient people of Arab origin.  They were originally nomadic tent-dwellers and later moved to permanent settlements.  Their livelihood was based on commerce in the incense and spices they purchased in southern Arabia and the Far East, which they transported by camel caravans to Gaza on the shores of the Meditterannean for export.  In addition they also marketed asphalt from the Dead Sea to the Egyptians for mummification and later to the Romans.

The Nabatean kingdom, whose capital was Petra, included northern Arabia, Moab, the Hauran, the Negev and Sinai.  In 106 CE the annexation of the Nabatean kingdom to the Roman Provincia Arabia did no harm to their economic development and their cities continued to flourish.

During the Byzantine period settlement in the Negev reached its peak – roads were developed and fortresses constructed, churches were built and agricultural areas created.  The Nabateans gradually adopted Christianity, and inscriptions in Greek replaced the use of Nabatean script.  The major plague that struck the Negev of the 6th century CE, the Persian conquest in 614-628 and the Arab takeover of the Negev in 636 brought about a decline in the security and economic situation of the Negev and the cities were abandoned.

On the side of the hill remains of the first Nabatean settlement of Avdat can be seen.  These are stones laid in the shape of tents, which were probably used to secure their tents, and many ceramic shards.

Roman Remains

The Burial Cave

This is a burial cave dug into the rock, dating from the 3rd century CE.  The inner room contains more than 20 burial niches.  At the front of the cave was an entry structure, and on the lintel are reliefs depicting the sun, the moon and an altar.  Excavators used to believe the cave was the burial place of King Oboda.  However, later 3 Greek inscriptions with women’s names were found, raising the possibility that those buried here were priestesses of Aphrodite.

The Southern Villa

This is a lone villa on the southern end of the Avdat ridge.  Its many rooms were built around a square courtyard, at the centre of which is a cistern.

The Roman Tower

This structure is from the 3rd century CE and is notable for its special architecture.  Above the entrance and inscription in Greek reads:  “With good fortune Zeus Obada, help Irenius who built this tower with good augers in the year 188 with the help of the architect Wailos of Petra and Avtichos”.

Years were counted from the establishment of Provincia Arabia in 106 CE, and therefore the tower’s construction was in 294 CE.  It was apparently a lookout tower.

The Army Camp

This was uncovered in excavations in 1977 and 1999.  It is 100 x 100 metres and contained 8 long multi-chambered structures that could accommodate a few hundred soldiers.  At the centre of each side was a gate, and guard towers protruded along the walls.

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