Post 266: Ein Avdat National Park – Hike at En Avdat in the Negev, Alpaka Farm, Ramon Crater, Sde Bokr David Ben Gurion’s Home, future places to Explore Shita, and Avdat and UNESCO’s desert cities along the spice-route to Petra from the Negev UNESCO world heritage site – Includes: Incense route from the Arava to Avdat, Haluza, Mamshit, Shivta Preservation of Avda Monks and monasteries – great source New Greek inscriptions from Shivta, Nitzana, Mamshit – Nabatean/Roman/Byzantine cities Ma’ale Akrabbim, Hazeva – Nabatean stations Lentil Barley Soup

An Introduction: The Negev encompasses- 60 % of Israel’s land mass and about 9 % of the population, including many Bedouin tribes, who “live” in reserves. The plan today was to visit Ein Avdat National Park . We hiked in a wadi, part of the park. However the sunny photos in En Avdat are not of our hike-I am including a soup recipe. A long trip requires provisions.

This was an extraordinary day; Many places in the Negev are for a future sunny trip. Hashem did not grace us with sun there today. The day had many wonderful moments.The ruins of the spice route are luminous. Those are also for another trip but are included here just s a sample of the stretches of the Negev.

The NBNefesh bus is leaving from Binyanei HaUman, a few minutes after 8:00 AM with only a few passengers. One stop in Beit Shemesh for the fill up and we are on our way taking the circuitous road to route 6 South over-reaching the showers. The road’s side gullies are dry and there are another  2 hours before reaching the Negev. Nechama and I are raking our brains a bit with Arabic.

We meet several soldiers at a pit-stop, who enjoy practicing their English on us (to my regret). The group are stationed in Rehovot. They also are traveling together with their commanding officer, a smiling Ethiopian girl. She points this out to us with a big wave.

There is always a risk in the winter of showers and flash floods in the eastern and southern wadis.

Due to flooding, our group is stopped at a road-block at the entrance to Ein Avdat National Park. Our guide Noa explains that we are not the only ones to be disappointed and turned away from Ein Avdat National Park.

Clusters of families  were huddled together. They had travelled from the surrounding areas, even from Tel Aviv to “catch a flood”. Check out the following map and U-tube which captures the flood on camera.

Map gives you an idea where Sde Boker is located I am including many additional sites in the Negev.

 Following are some of the features:

The Alpaca farm
The farm is located north of Mitzpe Ramon and houses many different animals such as alpacas, llamas, camels and horses. The farm offers a variety of activities such as hand-feeding, horse-back riding and more.
Makhtesh Ramon – Ramon Crater
The crater is located next to the city of Mitzpe Ramon. The visitors’ center offers a spectacular view of the crater, as well as tourist information, videos and an audio-visual show. Click here for more information about the Ramon Crater. In an earlier post I described an unusual astronomy talk.
Avdat National Park described in this post:Unfortunately our visit does not include this because of the rain.
Visit the remains of an ancient city which served as a camping ground for Nabataean caravans traveling along the early Petra – Gaza road. Open all year round. Allow an hour or two for n full tour of the site.
Neve Midbar Spa: This sounds magnificent:
The spa spans 8,000 square meters and offers three mineral pools, sauna facilities and many relaxing massage treatments.
David Ben Gurion’s desert home: Will visit today.
David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, was an avid supporter of settlement in the Negev Desert. His desert home in Kibbutz Sde Boker is now a museum commemorating his life and contribution to the development of the Negev. Click here for more information about David Ben Gurion.
The region offers house-back riding, camel riding, alpaca riding and feeding, jeep and dune buggy tours, spas and beautiful hiking trails.

Exploring the Area


Shivta is an impressive site, but it’s in the middle of nowhere, hard to get to, and has no facilities. If you have a car or plan to go on a tour, this can be a very worthwhile, atmospheric excursion — there’s a good chance you’ll have this ruined city all to yourself; otherwise spend your time at the other ruined Nabatean cities of Avdat or Mamshit.

Shivta is about 50km (31 miles) southwest of Beersheva, in the military zone about 8 km (5 miles) off the Nizzana road. It’s important not to get lost in the military zone, so here are explicit directions: From the highway, the Shivta road is two lanes and paved for the first 2.5km (1 1/2 miles). It then narrows, and after another kilometer you pass a road, on the left, to the military installation. After passing this road, it’s another 5km (3 miles) over a rough, curvy one-lane road to Shivta. There are few signs. Officially Shivta is a national park, but there is no office or telephone at this deserted location. Admission, if anyone is around to collect it, is NIS 12 ($3/£1.50) for adults and half-price for children 17 and under.
The Nabateans, a desert merchant people whose capital was the legendary city of Petra, in Jordan, established Shivta in the 1st century B.C., but Shivta (or Subeita) reached its high point during the time of Justinian the Great (6th c. A.D.), when Byzantine wealth and caravan trade were at their height. In addition to commercial wealth, Shivta’s ingenious citizens built an elaborate irrigation and water-collection system that allowed them to farm the barren soil. Israelis are studying Nabatean irrigation techniques to this day.

Eventually trade routes slowly changed, and though Shivta survived as an Arab outpost for many centuries, by the 1100s it was a ghost town.

The ruins of Shivta remained in fairly good condition throughout the centuries because they were too far away from newer building sites to make pillage economical. As a result, the city, which dates from the 500s, is still somewhat intact. Restoration work began in 1958. Buildings restored include three churches, a mosque, a caravansary, two water-collection pools, and houses. Signs identify and discuss the principal buildings.

Sde Boker & Avdat

About 50km (31 miles) due south of Beersheva, surrounded by sand and parched mountains, you suddenly come to a farm settlement — the famous Ben-Gurion kibbutz, Sde Boker. The settlement began in May 1952, at the prime minister’s instigation, when the country was first encouraging settlers to populate the Negev. Ben-Gurion became a member of this kibbutz in 1953; he lived and worked here until his death in 1973, at the age of 87. He and his wife, Paula, are buried here, and his fascinating personal papers, photos, and eclectic collection of books on history, philosophy, and religion may be seen in the Paula and David Ben-Gurion Hut (tel. 08/655-0320 or 655-8444; The hut remains as it was when Ben-Gurion lived in it. Visiting hours are Sunday through Thursday from 8:30am to 3:30pm, on Friday, Saturday, holidays, and holiday eves from 8:30am to 2pm. Admission is NIS 12 ($3/£1.50).

Over the years Sde Boker began to thrive, as did several other young settlements in the Negev. A campus of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has been established at Sde Boker. A modern library, housing the Ben-Gurion Institute and Archives (tel. 08/655-5057) and containing 750,000 documents associated with Israel’s first chief of state, is located here. The institute also contains a Research Center for Solar Energy and a Museum of Desert Sculpture, a collection of art created from natural objects and materials found in the desert. The institute also serves as a center for the study of desert areas. It’s open daily from 9am to 5pm; you must phone ahead for tours, which are given by appointment for NIS 10 ($2.50/£1.25).

The graves of David and Paula Ben-Gurion are 3km (2 miles) southwest of the Ben-Gurion House, to the right of the Gate of Sde Boker College. The site, chosen by Ben-Gurion, overlooks the dramatic Zin Valley, with the greenery of the Ein Avdat spring in the distance to the right.

Avdat Archaeological Park, 20km (12 miles) south of the Paula and David Ben-Gurion Hut on Rte. 40 (tel. 08/655-0954), was a major city built by the Nabateans in the 2nd century B.C. as a caravan post on a spice and trading route that ran from the Red Sea to the Nabatean capital at Petra, then to Avdat, Beersheva, and onward to Gaza on the Mediterranean coast. The city reached its peak of importance during Roman and Byzantine times and went into decline after the Roman conquest in the 7th century A.D.

Situated on a cliff 600m (1,969 ft.) above sea level, and with many partially restored structures, Avdat offers dramatic vistas across the desert; along with the ruined Nabatean city of Mamshit, it was used for location shots in the film Jesus Christ Superstar. The western half of Avdat’s acropolis contains the ruins of two Byzantine churches; the eastern section is dominated by the city’s fortress. Beyond the acropolis are a large Byzantine-era wine press and an olive press, evidence of the Nabateans’ amazing ability to irrigate and farm the desolate Negev 1,500 years ago. Admission to the Avdat Archaeological Park is NIS 20 ($5/£2.50) for adults and half-price for those 17 and under. It is open from 8am to 5pm (until 4pm in winter). There is a small visitor center (tel. 08/658-6391) at the entrance offering snacks, very good pamphlets with explanatory maps, and a brief video. Beside the ruins of Avdat, the Hebrew University has operated an experimental farm for the past 40 years in which Nabatean agricultural techniques, as uncovered by archaeologists, are being explored and redeveloped.

Mamshit National Park

The ruins of Nabatean cities carry a certain aura of mystery and grandeur about them. This third ruined Nabatean city, 6km (4 miles) southeast of Dimona, is probably a few centuries older than Avdat and was built on a slightly more important trade route. It was a town of large caravansaries, warehouses, and accounting offices; by Roman times, the town sported large public bathhouses, villas with wall murals, and houses of pleasure. The two large, well-preserved Byzantine-era churches may have been converted to mosques after the Muslim conquest in A.D. 635, judging from Koranic verses inscribed on the walls of their ruins. However, the city seems to have been permanently abandoned not long after that time, and the inscriptions may have been made after the city was no longer inhabited. The ruins are set above Machtesh Ha-Gadol, one of the Negev’s dramatic erosion craters. Mamshit National Park (tel. 08/655-6478) is open daily 8am to 5pm; until 4pm in winter. Admission is NIS 20 ($5/£2.50).

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Ein Avdat National Park is located in a beautiful canyon in the Negev desert. The Ein Avdat Spring flows down in a waterfall towards an 8-meter deep pool of water. The oasis created by the springs attracts ibex and other animals.

The oasis at Ein Avdat is created by a number of springs which begin at the southern, or upper, section of the national park. The water creates a number of pools which descend in waterfalls to the lower section of the canyon. The source of the springs is not definitively known, but is generally thought to be rain water which seeps into the ground.

The canyon is actually part of Nahal Zin, which is the longest wadi or dry riverbed in the Negev desert. Nahal Zin begins inMachtesh Ramon and travels 120 kilometers north, although at Ein Avdat the Nahal actually heads east. Nahal Zin andEin Avdat were created by flowing water which eroded the rock and carved canyons.

The first spring is called Ein Ma’arif. This spring creates pools and small waterfalls, finally reaching the main waterfall which is 15 meters high. The waterfall leads into an 8 meter pool of water which is separated into two parts by a man-made dam. This spring is called the Ein Avdat Spring, from which the nature reserve gets its name. The northernmost spring in the park is known as Ein Mor, called for the spice Myrrh (in Hebrew, mor). The name of the spring is fitting, as the park is located near the ancient Nabatean city Avdat on the incense route.

The water is slightly salty, and the trees growing in the area are Euphrates poplar treesatriplexes(commonly known as saltbush), and other salt-loving trees. Also common to the area are Bulbul, rock pigeons, eagles, vultures, hawks, bustards, frogs, crabs, and ibexes.

At the northern, or upper section, of the nature reserve, there are caves which were used b Byzantine monks from Avdat from the 6th century until the Muslim conquest of the area. The monks sculpted shelves, benches, stairs, and water systems from the rock. The caves were also decorated with crosses and prayers were engraved in the rock of the caves.

The Hike which we did nottake but we were on an alternate:

The hike itself is easy, but it requires mobility to climb the steps and ladders. The hike begins at the northern section, which is located neat Ben Gurion’s grave in Sde Boker. Follow the path in an easy walk to the waterfall and pool with the dam.

Next to the dam are steps which lead upwards towards the southern part of the nature reserve. These steps were initially carved by Israeli youth in the 1950s. Follow the steps to the oasis above, bursting with trees and additional pools of water.

From here, additional steps and two ladders lead past the Byzantine Monks’ caves to the upper observatory at the southern end of the park.


Tip: The complete hike requires one hour. However, the route is not circular, and can only be done in one direction. If you have two cars, a car can be left at the end of the trail. Alternatively, you could walk to the pools with the dams, return to your car at the lower end, and then drive to the observatory at the upper end. If you can manage it, I advise the hike, which is not difficult and lots of fun!

Tip: No swimming is allowed in the pools, as they are reserved for the animals in the park.

Tip: The park is open from 8:00-16:00 in the winter months, and from 8:00-17:00 in the summer months.

Tip: There is an entrance fee, which includes entrance into the upper and lower sections of the park. There is also a combined ticket which includes entrance to the city of Avdat.


flowering Negev plant

Tip: Ein Avdat is located off of route 40, just south of Kibbutz Sde Boker. for the film that Yehuda Lev took on the NBNefesh Trip this past Monday, 8th Day of Chanukah

Negev native, shiny, bright drinking in the rain water


Notice the water droplets. Our group arrived as the rain was stopping

Serve and Learn:

Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva ( invites foreign students to study and do volunteer service in Israel. The program includes an intensive Hebrew language course and exposes students to Israeli culture, history and society. Students may also choose among several trips, including a visit to a kibbutz or an archaeological dig. Students must volunteer 15-20 hours a week doing such things as tutoring Russian and Ethiopian immigrants and orphaned Israeli children; helping Bedouins transition from their desert village to modern Israel; helping ex-prisoners reenter society; or working on environmental projects. Cost is $10,500 per semester, excluding airfare, food, and certain other expenses. Financial aid and scholarships are available. – See more at:

Ben Gurion's library
Ben  Gurion’s library (a portion)

Ben Gurion was well versed in Tanach. His officers also knew that he admired “lived”  with three leaders, Moses, Lincoln and Gandhi.

It is telling that in a few days will be the tenth of Tevet. The Tenth of Tevet (Hebrew: עשרה בטבת‎, Asarah BeTevet), the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, is a fast day in Judaism. It is one of the minor fasts observed from before dawn to nightfall. The fasting commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia—an event that began on that date and ultimately culminated in the destruction of Solomon’s Temple (the First Temple) and the conquest of the Kingdom of Judah (today southern Israel).

Our group viewed a film (made up of half cartoon half actors) introducting the viewer to Ben Gurion’s rise to power. Other key players and the cabinet:

David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, Eliezer Kaplan, Minister of Finance, Behor Shalom Shitrit, Minister of Police and Minorities, Yitzhak Greenbaum, Minister of the Interior

Ze’ev Sharef, Cabinet Secretary,

Felix Rosenblueth, Minister of Justice

Moshe Shapira, Minister of Immigration and Health

Yitzhak Meir Levin, Minister of Social Welfare

Yehuda Maimon (Fishman), Minister of Religious Affairs and War Casualties

Peretz Bernstein, Minister of Trade, Industry and Supplies.

Mordechai Bentov, Minister of Labor and Construction

Aharon Zisling, Minister of Agriculture

David Remez, Minister of Transport

Moshe Shertok (Sharett), Foreign Minister -They did not all agree with Ben Gurion that Jerusalem had to be held and the siege broken at all costs.


We saw a film/ cartoon meant for school groups before entering the house.

Ben-Gurion’s Hut

One cannot walk away from a visit to Ben Gurion’s home without strong impressions of the country’s “Founding Father”. He was ruthless in his goal of a single army to defend the state (i.e. the Alelena Affair). Opposing the left, he was not agreeable to the borders in the Partition Plan – UNGA Resolution 181, once Israel was attacked in 1948. On November 29, 1947 the UN General Assembly to adopt the partition plan, by a vote of 33 to 13, recommending the establishment of two states – Arab and Jewish – in the area and Jerusalem as an international enclave. We know what happened after that. Once the state was announced Ben Gurion was the prime mover in establishing institutions and furthering the ones already in existence.

In 1955, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion challenged his people to develop the Negev and make it flourish. “Israel’s capacity for science and research will be tested in the Negev … and this effort will determine the fate of the State of Israel and the standing of our people in the history of mankind,” he declared.

Members of The Negev Funding Coalition — a consortium of Jewish Federations, foundations and other funders committed to developing arts, culture, education, health care, science and technology initiatives in the region — recently met in Delaware to discuss their progress in fulfilling Ben-Gurion’s vision for making the Negev a vital and vibrant place to live and work.

The conference, which was sponsored by Jewish Federations of North America, featured a keynote presentation by Rear Admiral (Ret.) Hezi Meshita, the deputy director of the Southern Relocation Administration for the Israel Ministry of Defense. Meshita termed this “the decade of the Negev” and expressed excitement at the impact of four proposed development projects.

The CyberSpark booth at the Cyber Tech conference in Tel Aviv

Chief among them is the construction of a new $650 million training facility located 20 miles outside of Beer-Sheva. Beginning in late 2014, 10,000 soldiers will be moved to the new base from their current quarters in Tel Aviv. The program will centralize combat support training that is currently conducted at multiple sites throughout Israel.

Three more “mega bases” are expected to be built in the Negev by 2020 — part of a strategic plan to vacate the land and buildings that the Israel Defense Forces currently occupies in high-end Tel Aviv and central Israel in order to bring jobs and investments to Israel’s south. As part of this initiative, the Israeli air force base at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport has already relocated to Netavim.

According to Meshita, these major military projects should bring one million new residents to the Negev. A new national cyber security research and development center called CyberSpark will open soon at Beer-Sheva’s Advanced Technology Park (ATP) in cooperation with BGU, adjacent to the University’s Marcus Family Campus. Lockheed Martin and IBM announced that they would invest in CyberSpark facilities, joining fellow cyber-security leaders Deutsche Telekom, EMC, RSA and many startups in the field.

The 16-building park is the only one of its kind in the world that includes Fortune 500 companies, cyber-incubators, academic researchers and educational facilities as well as national government and security agencies. The complex will also include a high school geared toward science and technology.BGU is the site of another project funded by the coalition.

The University’s Clean Technology Initiative strives to maximize the development of renewable materials and energy resources by providing fellowships to BGU graduate students interested in studying this new field and by supporting a new business plan competition for clean tech development, which targets Negev-based startups as well as BGU students.

“We have already received more than 25 entries — all environment Researchally and ecologically sound projects that will help drive development in the Negev,” says Doron Krakow, AABGU’s executive vice president.

Sam Katz, co-chair of the Philadelphia-Netivot Partnership Committee and AABGU supporter, is excited by the growth of arts and cultural initiatives throughout southern Israel and is particularly proud of one project that he helped to spearhead in Netivot.

Remember, the ancient cities in the Negev were not uncovered before the founding of the state. Background: The ancient city of  Avdat (Oboda) was initially a station on the Incense Route in the Negev highlands. It was developed to a city by the Nabateans starting in the 3rd C BC. During the Roman period the city was part of the defense and transportation systems of the Empire, and flourished during the Byzantine period with the construction of Churches, structures, workshops and vast agriculture farming. The city was finally abandoned in the 7th C following an earthquake. It became a National park and World Heritage site, a recommended site on the road to the south.

Location and aerial map: The site is located in the middle of the Negev desert highland, between Beer Sheba and the Ramon Crator. The ruins of the ancient city are located on the edge of a high plateau, east side of highway #40.

If you travel south to Eilat via Mizpeh-Ramon, Avdat is a great place to stop – even for just one hour. There is an easy access road from the visitor’s center up to the ruins, which leads to the parking place near the Roman Tower.


  Point on the yellow points to navigate to the selected point.







  • The Incense / Spice route


   The Incense & Spice route connected the east (Yemen and Oman), through Arabia, via the Nabatean capital city Petra, to the port city of Gaza on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. This road, with a total length of 2,400 km, passed through harsh desert areas. It  was used by the Nabateans to export the incense and spices from southern Arabia and the Far east to the Classic world of Greece and Rome.

Caravans of camels carrying the merchandise along the Incense route



The Biblical map below shows its path, with Avdat (Oboda) in the center of the Negev desert. The city started in the 3rd C BC as a fortified station (number 62) along this route, and protected the valuable cargo from robbers.  It also supplied water, food and shelter to the caravans.


Map of the Incense/Spice route – during the Nabatean and Roman/Byzantine  periods  (based on Bible Mapper 3.0)


  • The Nabateans


The Nabateans originated from Arabia, where they have been nomadic tent dwellers. The name “Nabat” may have originated from the word meaning “of-Arab”, a name which is known since the 10th C BC.   Their language was Aramaic and many of their words were Arabic. The Nabatean script is similar to the Moab script. Although they have not left any books, the research of their history is based on the inscriptions on tombs, and on Greek and Roman historians, such as Diodorus Siculus (half of 1st C BC) and Josephus Flavius (half of 1st C AD). The Nabateans excelled in ceramics, mastered in collecting the desert water, and were skilled merchants.


The Nabateans prospered from the operation of the Incense and Spice route, and established stations and cities along the route. This commercial enterprise started around the 5th or 4th C BC, and made these merchants rich. Their new capital city in Edom, called Petra, based on the Greek word for Rock. In the Bible it is also named ‘rock’ (Sela in Hebrew). Judges 1 36: “And the coast of the Amorites was from the going up to Akrabbim, from the rock, and upward”, Isaiah 16 1:”Send ye the lamb to the ruler of the land from Sela to the wilderness, unto the mount of the daughter of Zion.” Petra was the center of a vast Kingdom: the kingdom included the Negev and Sinai, Northern Arabia, Moab and Hauran (Houran).   The Nabateans mastered the utilization of the scarce rainfall in the desert area, by collecting the surface runoff into hidden cisterns, and then used it for their water supply and the development of desert agriculture.


The Nabateans arrived to the Negev during the Persian period (about the 4th C BC). Prof A. Negev, the excavator of Avdat and other Nabatean sites, defines 3 periods in the history of the Nabateans in the Negev:

  • Early Nabatean period (4th-1st C BC) – the nomad period during the Persian and Hellenistic periods
  • Middle Nabatean period (25BC to 50/70AD) – the trade empire – during the Early Roman period
  • Late Nabatean period (70/80 to 150AD) – the urban agriculture period – during the Early Roman period


  • Alexander the Great (332 BC) and successors – Hellenistic period


 When Alexander the Great arrived to the area (332BC), the Nabateans suffered from his Army. The Greeks set siege on Gaza, their important outlet to the Sea,  and conquered it after 2 months. The entire population was killed or sold to slavery, and replaced by new residents. The Greeks also fought against their allies, the Nabateans, and attacked Lachish.  This was a major setback to the Nabateans.

   After Alexander’s death, the Greeks continued to hit the Nabateans. Learning about the riches of Petra, the Greek general Antigonus sent his forces in 311 to capture and loot their capital city Petra.  Although the Nabateans managed to retrieve the stolen treasures after one night, they learned their lesson – the Incense route must be protected.


  • Establishment of Avdat (3rd C BC)


In order to support & protect the Incense route, the Nabateans established stations and fortresses along the road. One of these stations, located in the Negev highland, is Avdat. It was established in the 3rd C BC, and was later named after their king Avdat/Obodas.


  • Hasmonean-Nabatean battles (2nd -1st C BC)


During the Hasmonean dynasty, the early Jewish Kings worked together with the Nabateans. This changed when in  about 100 BC the Hasmonean King Alexander Jannaeus conquered the port city of Gaza, the final station of the Incense route. Gaza was under Nabatean control since the Persian period, and the loss of the city was a major defeat for the Nabateans, causing their cities along the route to decline. On the other hand, the possession of Gaza made the Hasmoneans richer and was one of the important sources of income for the Jewish Kingdom.


   King  Obodas (Avdat) I ruled the Nabatean Kingdom from 96-85 BC. He defeated Alexander Jannaeus in a battle northwest of Philadelphia (modern day Amman) in 95BC. This Nabatean victory gave the city its name.


  Later, King Obodas III (ruled 30-9BC) developed the city and was buried there. His silver coin is illustrated here, with his bust on the left side with the word “Avdat” to his right. His queen is seen on the reverse side on the right coin, with the mint date and also an inscription of a blessing by the Nabatean God Dushara.


Nabatean coin of Obodas III (30-9BC) – Drawing by Rina

Left Obverse: bust of Obodas III, “Avdat” 

Right Reverse: draped queen  “Year — Barcat Dushara”


    The Hasmonean Kingdom controlled Gaza until the Roman conquest by Pompey the Great forty years later (63BC).


  • Early Roman period (1st C AD)


   Only during the time of Herod the Great (37-4BC) the Mediterranean ports were reopened and the Incense route revived, bringing Avdat a new era of prosperity.   The city continued to prosper and develop under the reign of the Nabatean King Areta (Khartat) IV (9-40AD).  This period is the Nabatean’s golden age, with fifty years of prosperity. The acropolis of Avdat, the pottery workshop, the army camp, and other remains of structures date to this period. At this time there were few residential houses in the city, and the majority lived in tents in the area outside the city walls.

    Avdat was damaged by attacks of Arab tribes (the Thamuds and other Arabian tribes) during the middle of the 1st C AD. An evidence of fire was found in most of the excavated areas. The city was later reconstructed and further developed by King Rabbel II (70-106AD) who managed to deal with the invasion of the tribes and the economic changes following the decline of the Incense route.

   The Incense route started to decline at the end of the 1st C AD, since it was replaced by other routes through the Roman empire. The Nabateans gradually  switched to the development of desert agriculture and providing support to the Roman army and travelers along the desert roads. This successful transition – from the operation of the route to desert agriculture – revived the wealth of the Kingdom. According to some archaeologists, the desert farming was brought in only during the Byzantine period.


  • Roman Annexation (106AD)


    In 106AD the Romans annexed the Nabatean Kingdom.  It became part of the defense and road systems of the Roman empire, and appears on the Peutinger map (based on a 4th C Roman military road map) as “Oboda”  (marked by a red square) as a station on the road from Jerusalem to Eilat.  Note that the orientation of the Roman map is north on the right side. The Incense route is not shown on the map. 

   The Roman annexation brought a substantial religious change – from the Nabatean Semite religion to the paganism of the Roman world.

Peutinger Roman Military Map:   Oboda/Avdat (in red)  is a station along the road from Jerusalem to Eilat



  • Byzantine period (4th – 7th C AD)


The Nabateans converted to Christianity and their temples were replaced by two Churches and a monastery. A large residential quarter was built, as well as other installations and structures. The city continued to develop, but reached a tragic end following a massive earthquake in around 630BC. This led to the abandonment of the city.


  • Rediscovery (19th C)


The Arabic name of the ruins was Eboda, which preserved the ancient name.  Palmer and Drake were the first researchers who correctly identified the location of Avdat (1870). The first archaeological detailed survey was conducted by Musil (1902), and the first excavations were by Colt (1937), Avi-Yonah (1958), and A. Negev (1959-1960). These were followed by excavations by A. Negev and R. Cohen (1975-1977), P. Fabian (1993-1994, 1999) and T. Erikson-Gini (1999-2000). Recent restorations are conducted (2010-2011) after the site was vandalized.

The site became a UNESCO World heritage site in 2005, and was listed together with the Incense route from Avdat to Moa in the Arava (65KM long).



City Plan:


The city is located on a high (alt 620m) plateau, about 160m above above the valley to the west (where the ancient road passed, and the modern road and visitor center are located).


A plan of the ancient city is seen in the diagram below, highlighting the major sights. The pink areas are dated to the Nabatean and Roman periods, while other areas date to the Byzantine period.

  You can click on most of the titles in order to jump to the relevant section.







(a) General View


The western edge of the city is seen from the visitor’s center. The ruins of the city are located on a plateau high above the course of the road.


Click on the photos to view in higher resolution…


A panoramic view, as seen from the Roman tower towards the city, in seen in the following picture. If you press on it, a panoramic viewer will pop up. Using this flash-based panoramic viewer,  you can move around and zoom in and out, optionally click on hotspots and view the site in full screen mode.   Note that it may take minutes to upload.


  To open the viewer, simply click on the photo below.



(b) South hillside


The access road ascends from the visitor center up to the Roman tower, along the southern side of the city. The red square on the plan of the city shows the position of the southern hillside. The city was once protected by a wall, and the road passes along its path.



  Along the hillside are traces of the wall and other ruins, such as the house seen in the photo below.




Another view of the south-west hillside is below:



The south western side of the city – the acropolis – is better seen after climbing up the road. A lookout platform is located at the edge of the higher side, where the ruins of a Nabatean temple are in the process of reconstruction.



(c) Southern Villa


On the south side of the Avdat ridge are ruins of a Roman villa. This is how it looks from its north side:



The villa has several rooms which were built around a square courtyard. At the center of the courtyard is a cistern.



The roof was supported by arches, of which a pair were reconstructed in one of the rooms:



Another view of the arches:



From this side is a great view of the vast desert area around Avdat. This is the view towards the south:



Also seen, on the south-west side, are agriculture farming areas which are reconstruction of the ancient irrigation and cultivation methods. During  the Roman and Byzantine periods these farms supplied the city with fresh products, and were also one of the sources of the city’s income, since the Nabateans used to grow crops  and sell it to the Army.



Another view of the villa, this one from the exterior:



(d) Roman Tower



      After completing the tour of the the southern villa, you continue to drive up the access road and reach to the parking area on the south-east side of the city. This is where the walking tour of the city begins.

   A lookout tower, dated to the Roman period, is the first interest point inside the city. Its location on the plan of the city is indicated by a red square on the right.

   The tower is built along the city wall. It was constructed in 294 AD according to the inscription above its entrance.

    A view of the tower from its west side can be seen in the picture below.




The entrance to the tower is from this side:



Another view of the tower, this one from the south-east side, is in the picture below. The roof of the tower affords great views of the area.



Standing on the roof of the tower, there is a great view of the Avdat acropolis and the southern hillside. (If you want to see the panorama again using the flash view, press here. Note that it loads  slowly…)


The far structure, seen among the ruins, is an agriculture installation used for wine production. It is dated to the Byzantine period, and was one of the five winepress installations found in Avdat.



(e) Byzantine Quarter



  Beyond the city wall and the Roman tower is a vast area of ruins, which is still undergoing archaeological excavations and preservation. This residential quarter is dated to the Byzantine period. Its location is indicated on the map as a red square.

The quarter was first  established during the Roman period, and was destroyed in an earthquake around 630AD.

   A view of one of the structures is shown below.



Another section of the dwelling houses:



Arches were used in order to support the roof and the second level of the house:



The Byzantine quarter consists of a main street in the direction of south-east to north-west, directed towards the fortress which is seen in the background. The dwelling structures are built on both sides of the street.



The street has a system of water channels, such as this one shown below, which lead the rain water from the roofs to collecting cisterns as seen on the lower-left side. These cisterns were the main source of water supply for the residents.



Along the main road are residential dwellings in various stages of reconstruction.  The structures were leveled in the 7th C by an earthquake and remained in ruins since then, following the decline of the Incense route and the Arab conquest.



A closer view of one of the structures. The two level building uses arches to support the upper floor.



A set of sculptures, with a shepherd and his goats,  highlight the ancient nature of the busy street.





 Another view of the shepherd and his goat, drinking from the water cistern, is in the next picture. During the Roman and Byzantine period the Nabatean residents became suppliers to the Army, and turned the areas around the city from a desert into green areas of farming and grazing lands.


(f) City Fortress



   The city fortress, located at the edge of the main street, was built also in the Byzantine period. Its purpose was to protect the residents in time of attacks. Its location on the city plan is indicated as a red square.

   The fortress is 63m long by 43m wide. The south-eastern tower, another good observation point, is shown in the following picture. An entrance to the fortress is on its right side.



Inside the fortress is a wide open court, with a large cistern located in its center. The water channel in the picture below feeds rainwater into the cistern. On the north side of the court is a prayer chapel (but is not seen here).



A closer view of the water reservoir is in the photo below. It is now dry, but a pair of pigeons (seen flowing away) use its shade to nest.



The entrance of the water into the underground water reservoir is shown in greater detail the next photograph. Water in this dry land, with only 80mm of annual rainfall, is precious. The surface and roof rain runoff was the only solution for this city, since there were no available springs in the vicinity to bring the water into the city.



(g) Nabatean Temples


Beyond the fortress is another wide open area of the Nabatean temples and churches plaza.  This area is indicated as a red square on the map.

 In this area there were one or more Nabatean temples, which were later replaced by Churches.


 A western view of the paved area is seen in the photo below.



On the north side of the area is a gate house:



A closer view of the gate house:



The gate opens to the north area outside of the city.



Another section of the walled area, as seen in the northwest view:



(h) Southern Church



  The southern church was part of a Byzantine monastery of St. Theodoros. It is located on the south-west side of the city, as indicated on the city plan with a red square.

   According to the inscriptions found on the floor of the church, it dates to the 6th and 7th C AD. 


   An illustration of the church is shown below, based on the model that was on display at the site:


  • Atrium


   The Atrium, the open court before the church, is located on its west side and sizes 15 x 14m. It is paved and consists of four rows of columns. The columns, made of hard limestone, were based on the original Nabatean temples built by King Areta (Khartat) IV (9-40AD).



A large cistern is located under the floor of the courtyard.



A southern view of the court yard. It probably had a second floor.



The courtyard is surrounded  by rooms on its three side. The next picture shows one of the rooms on the south side of the courtyard.



  • Entrance to the Church


On the eastern wall are the three entrances to the church, seen here behind the eastern row of columns.



The entrance from the atrium is seen also from the inner side of the church.



  • The Church


The church is a three-aisled pillared basilica with three apses. The apses are located on its eastern side (as all ancient churches). The central apse, where the main altar stands, is seen in the middle of the following picture.



The main altar is located on a low raised platform.



The following picture shows a closer view of the main altar, with a table in the center of the apse.



A view from the main altar towards the west:



Another view of the nave – the central approach to the main altar.



  • Inscriptions


A number of tomb inscriptions (epitaphs)  were found in the floor of the church. The marble slabs bear Greek inscriptions dating from 541 to 618AD. One of these tombs is seen on the south-eastern corner.



A closer view of the inscription on the south-eastern corner:



Another epitaph is located on the north-east corner, on the floor behind the fallen column.



A closer view of the inscription:



Yet another epitaph is seen in the next picture:



  • North Apse


A limestone chancel screen stands on the path towards the northern apse.



Behind it is the northern apse.



  • Stones


In other rooms and locations, there are some notable stone objects, such as the water vessel below:



Another interesting carved limestone:



Outside of the church, embedded in the stone, seems like a footprint. What does it mean?



Another footprint is drawn on a rock painting:



(i) Lookout Platform



On the western edge of the acropolis is a lookout platform, which is situated on the ruins of a Nabatean temple. It affords remarkable views of the area west of the city. The location of this spot is indicated as a red square on the map.

  A western view of the lookout platform is shown in the picture below. There are current (year 2011) restoration works on the site.




From the platform are great views of structures below, such as this structure on the south-west corner.



Another view of the south side is shown in the next picture.



Another base of a structure is seen on the northern hillside.



(j) Baptistery



    On the north side of the lookout platform is a large Byzantine baptistery, which was part of the adjacent Northern Church complex. Its location is indicated as a  red square on the map.

  In the  larger pool, which is in the shape of a cross (see photo below), adults were immersed in the water during the process of conversion to Christianity. On its left side is a smaller pool for babies.




A closer view of the adult (right) and the babies (lower left) baptisteries is seen next.

Note that a similar  cruciform baptismal design is found in the south and north churches in Shivta and the Eastern church ofMamshit.




(k) Repairs


In October 2009 two Bedouin youths smashed and toppled columns and caused severe damages to the site. A team of archaeologists and workers are working for months to repair the damages, and continue to restore and preserve the antiquities. The photo shows a repair to the wall of the Northern Church.



The next photograph shows repairs in the area of the southern church.



(l) Eastern Side


  The eastern side of the city has a number of additional sights which can be reached by foot.

    One of them is a reconstructed army camp, which is marked as as a red square (its location is actually farther to the east). Near it is a structure which was a Nabatean pottery workshop.


   Additional structures are located around the city area, such as the structures seen in the photograph below.




An impressive army camp was excavated, located 300m north east of the city. The camp’s size  is 100m square. It contains 8 long, multi-chambered structures.  About 2,000 soldiers would have been stationed here, which is a large force – the size of one legion. The scholars debate if this was a Nabatean camp or a Roman camp. Near the camp are ruins of a large house, which may have served as the camp’s brothel.

The camp was in use until the middle of the 1st C AD, and abandoned following the decline of the Incense route, probably since the Nabateans could not afford any longer to finance the large number of soldiers.



Ancient camel pens are located on the eastern side of the city. A cluster of metal sculptures demonstrate a typical camel and donkey convoy coming from Petra.  Note that a typical convoy was made up to a maximum of 25 camels.



(m) West side – Reconstructed Byzantine house, City of Caves



On the western hillside, just below the lookout platform, is an area termed “the city of caves”. The location of the area open to the public is illustrated as a red square in the city map on the right. It is accessed from a parking place, which can be reached halfway down back to the visitor center.

   One of the dwellings in this area, with a large cave in its back portion, was excavated and reconstructed. Its southern side is shown in the following photograph. 



The house is dated to the Byzantine period. The owner of the house may have been a wealthy wine merchant.



The entrance to the house leads into a courtyard surrounded by a number of rooms. One of them served as a toilet.



A view of the rooms in the house:



Inside the room, a reconstruction of the winery in operation. Wine production was one of the main  sources of income in the Negev area. The desert climate, with extremely cool nights during winter with plenty of  sunshine during spring and summer created an excellent quality dry wine which was in much demand during the Roman and Byzantine periods.



A large cave is located in the back of the house. The cave has two rooms, and was used for storage of wheat, dry fruit and as a winery.



The interior of one of the rooms:



Another room:



The next picture shows a view of the other entrance to the cave, and additional structures around the house.



The city wall passes just below the house and extends to the north. The picture below shows the northern hillside where the city wall continued.



(n) Visitor center


To the west of the ruins of the city is the visitor center. The office sells entrance tickets, presents an audiovisual presentation and offers information. Several stones and vessels are on display. Nearby, 100m to the north, is a well preserved Byzantine period bathhouse.



An adjacent coffee show and petrol station is a convenient place to stop and refuel.  We highly recommend to have a one or two hour stops at this site on the way to Eilat or back.



Etymology (behind the name):


  • Avdat, Ovdat – named after the Nabatean king Obodas. King Obodas I ruled from 90-87 BC, and defeated Alexander Jannaeus in a battle near Golan. This Nabatean victory gave the city its name. Later, Obodas III (ruled 30-9BC) developed the city and was buried there.

With high speed trains this entire area will open up to tourists.

Lentil Barley Soup

Lentil Barley Soup

Based on a recipe by J. Raymond

Thick enough to be called a stew, this hearty soup is easy to prepare and cooks in a single pot. Add more water or stock if you wish to have a thinner soup.

* 1 cup black lentils, rinsed
* 2 stalks celery, sliced
* 1/2 cup hulled or pearled barley
* 1/2 tsp oregano
* 6 cups water or vegetable stock
* 1/2 tsp ground cumin
* 1 onion, chopped
* 1/4 tsp black pepper
* 2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
* 1/8-1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
* 2 carrots, sliced
* 1/2 tsp salt (optional)
* 2-4 cups fresh spinach (optional)

Place all ingredients except salt into a large pot and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils and barley are tender, about 1 hour. Add salt to taste and spinach, if desired. Cook briefly until spinach is wilted but still bright green.


Pearl barley is the variety most commonly sold in supermarkets. Natural food stores offer hulled barley, which is slightly less refined and cooks in about the same amount of time.

This soup can also be prepared in a crockpot. If you start with boiling water it will cook in 1 to 2 hours; with cold water, 5 to 6 hours

To cook in a pressure cooker, put all ingredients except salt and spinach into cooker and bring it to high pressure. Cook at high pressure for 12 minutes; then bring pressure down with a quick-release method. Lentils should be cooked, but barley may not be completely tender. Cook until barley reaches the desired state of tenderness, about 15 minutes, adding water if a thinner consistency is needed. Then add salt and spinach, if desired. Cook briefly until spinach is wilted but still bright green.

Servings: 6

Nutrition info per serving: 78 calories, 4 g protein, 16 g carbohydrate, 0.2 g fat, 159 mg sodium

Adapted from



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