Sunday, February 5, 2012

Byzantine Remains

The bathhouse

This structure dates from the 4th century CE and is amazingly well preserved.  It contains a dressing room, cold room, tepid room, 2 hot rooms and furnaces.  The presence of a bathhouse in this area attests to the inhabitants’ high standard of living.  The water came from a nearby well nearly 70 m deep.  At the top of the well is a pool from which a water channel led in the direction of the bath house.

The Byzantine Quarter

This Byzantine residential quarter was first established during the Roman period.  It consists of a central street with dwellings on both sides.  The street had a system of channels and cisterns for collecting rainwater.  The quarter was destroyed in the earthquake of 630.

The Wine Press

The grapes were brought here from the vineyards and placed in storage cells built around the treading floor.  An underground channel led from the treading floor to a round vat for juice collection.  The juice was then transferred to vessels and stored in caves, where it fermented into wine.  5 wine presses have been found in Avdat, attesting to a flourishing wine-making industry during the Byzantine period.

The City Fortress

The fortress is 43 x 63 m and was built during the Byzantine period.  It served as a gathering place and refuge for the inhabitants in time of danger.  At the centre is a large cistern, fed by water channels that collected surface runoff.  On the north side is a prayer chapel.

The Nabatean Temples & Church Plaza

A number of inscriptions were found on the acropolis, attesting to the presence of a temple or number of temples here.  The earliest inscriptions are Nabatean, from the 1st century BCE.  The latest inscription is in Greek, from the 3rd century CE.  2 churches were built in this area during the Byzantine period, the Church of St. Theodoros to the south and the cathedral to the north.

Byzantine churches were usually rectangular, on an east-west axis.  They had 3 areas, the Atrium, which was open to everyone, the Basilica, where worship took place and was open only to Christians, and in between the Nartex, which was a  passageway between the 2.  There were always openings in the wall of the Basilica, so non-Christians could watch the service.

The Southern Church

This church had 2 rows of columns (like a basilica) and was part of a monastery.  A number of tombs were found in the floor of the church, covered with marble slabs and bearing inscriptions from 541-618 CE.  The earliest inscription mentioned the tomb of the martyr St Thoedoros.

The Northern Church

The city’s cathedral and 2 earlier churches.  The walls of this church contain many Nabatean building stones that were re-used. The pedestal of the altar is inscribed with the names Elijah and John, and a small marble box for relics of saints was found.

This is a large cruciform baptistery, where adults were immersed.  It shows that the Nabateans converted to Christianity.  Next to it is a small baptistery for babies.

Lookout Platform

At the northwestern end of Avdat is a lookout platform, situated on the ruins of a Nabatean temple.  The platform affords a spectacular view of the slopes of the city, the bathhouse, the ancient agricultural areas, the cisterns and the Negev highlands.

The Caves

Hundreds of dwellings were built on the western slopes of Avdat, in front of and behind many rock-hewn caves.  The caves were for the storage of agricultural produce and sometimes as dwellings in the hot summers.

The Reconstructed Byzantine House

This house and the large cave in its back portion show an example of a dwelling in the city of caves.  The entrance leads to a courtyard surrounded by rooms.  One room apparently served as a toilet.  The cave has 2 storage rooms dug into the rock, where wheat was stored, fruit was dried and wine produced.  A cross is carved into the ceiling and the heads of bulls and a cluster of grapes are carved in the upper corners.

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