Avdat or “Ovdat” is an archaeological site in Israel which houses the pretty remains of an ancient Nabatean city later inhabited by the Romans, the Byzantines and the Arabs. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005 as one of four Desert Cities of the Incense Route.
History of Avdat
Avdat was founded around the 3rd century BC, and quickly became one of the most importrant cities on the trading route known as the Incense Route which ran from the Mediterranean to south Arabia. Behind Petra, it was the second most important city on the route for around 800 years. The main commodities along this route were frankincense, myrrh and spices.
Avdat prospered under the Nabateans from 30 BC to 9 BC, during the reign of King Aretas IV, but needed to be rebuilt after it was destroyed by Arab tribes in the late 1st century BC. This was carried out under Nabatean King Rabbel. However, in 106 AD, during Rabbel’s reign, Avdat was captured by the Romans, who built a military camp and bath house on the site.
Avdat remained prosperous throughout the Byzantine period, but an earthquake in 630 AD seriously damaged the city. Only a few years later, the city was taken by Arab forces.
In addition to well-preserved fortifications, the ruins at Avdat include a caravanserai, homes, a Roman military camp, fourth century churches, a street and a bathhouse. Many of the ruins are Roman, but the Nabatean influence can still be seen, including the ruin of a temple.
The visitor centre is next to the petrol station on Route 40: there’s a relatively useful film on the history of the Incense Route which is shown regularly. From the visitor centre, you can walk or drive up a steep path to the ruins of the ancient city itself.
There’s plenty to explore and it is a remarkable site – it’s not normally too crowded, and if you go early or late you may well get the place (virtually) to yourself.
Getting to Avdat
Avdat is just off Route 40, about 50 minutes south of Be’er Sheva. Bus routes 64 and 65 run between Be’er Sheva and Mitzpe Ramon regularly (normally twice an hour but it’s worth checking before you set out): you can hop off at Avdat. Remember Friday afternoon and Saturday is respected as shabat, and no buses will run.
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