As you stand among the ruins of the Negev Highland city of Avdat, the echoes of the bells tinkling on the bridles of the camels that passed this way in their caravans of hundreds, bringing the riches of the East – frankincense and myrrh – to market via the Mediterranean. Avdat was founded by Nabatean traders, the masters of those caravans as a way station on this Incense Route. Long before, the Israelites had wandered near here through the Wilderness of Zin.
At the visitor centre a short film will introduces you to the mysteries of this site. Then you’ll visit a luxurious ancient bathhouse with a dressing room, two steam rooms, a furnace and a 210-foot-deep well. At the top of the city, you’ll discover a third-century guard tower with a Greek inscription, and a Nabatean shrine to their god Oboda (after whom Avdat was named). This temple eventually became a church, whose pillars frame a magnificent Negev desertscape.
Considering the surrounding desert, you’ll be amazed to find a wine-press here, revealing agricultural skills that tamed their harsh surroundings ¬– by harvesting every precious drop of water into a complex system of channels and cisterns. From the top of the hill, you can see the Ben Ari Farm research station, where today’s Negev farmers have studied ways to emulate these ancient achievements.
Avdat’s homes once covered not only the visitor path you now walk, but the entire slope below, now part of the 518-acre Avdat National Park. Once you’ve experienced Avdat, you’ll know why its ancient cultural, social and economic impact on the region has placed it, together with its Negev sister-cities of Mamshit and Shivta, on UNESCO’s prestigious list of World Heritage Sites.