Secrets of the Desert

minds will marvel at the impressive city of Avdat, built and inhabited by
the Nabateans. It is one of the few surviving documented areas (Petra being
the most elaborate and well-known) sources of Nabatean culture.

We do know that the Nabatean Empire
ran from today’s Yemen to Damascus and from Western Iraq to the Sinai desert.

The nation, which had immense wealth,
knew the importance of survival as a nation. To guard and continue their
culture, they maintained two precious and well-kept secrets among the 3000
Nabatean families: the water sources and storage cisterns in the desert and
the best plants to cultivate highly-lucrative perfumes.

Additionally, they are said to have
amassed great wealth from asphalt that was extracted from the Dead Sea and
sold to the Egyptians for mummification, sealing coffins, and the manufacture
of glue.

Community rules included a ban on
sowing seeds, drinking wine and erecting building or houses.

Avdat, named for King Oboda, is at
the crossroads between Petra and Eilat and due south of Damascus. From 4
BCE it was an important stop on the trade and spice routes.

It was during the reign of Oboda II
(30-9 BCE) that the Nabateans broke with tradition and began to farm. Additionally,
the famous fine pottery was produced at Avdat beginning in that period and
continued at least through 50 BC. The Romans later occupied Avdat around the
3rd century. Homes were built during this period when land was allocated
to individuals who served in the Roman army reserves. Later during the Byzantine
Period, the Nabateans converted to Christianity and continued to move away
from their nomadic lifestyle. They began to construct and dwell in permanent

Interestingly enough, the breakdown
of the Nabatean society began when the Nabateans broke their own rules against
erecting permanent housing, wine consumption and sowing seeds (society based
on agriculture).

Although the society has disappeared,
the impressive ruins at Avdat as well as the information about Nabatean
life are well worth a 1/2 day visit.

Text and
photos by M. Kaplan-Green.


the video located in the gift shop before going up into the ancient city.
Drive to the top and work your way down. The most energetic members of the
group can handle all of Avdat on foot, the not-so energetic ones may opt to
ride up and walk down, and everyone else can drive, park and then see the
city. Bring water; there are no concession stands in the ancient city itself.


Avdat National Park. Route 40 about 15 minutes south of Sde Boker.

Tel: 08-655-0954

Services: Gas station, cafeteria, clean bathrooms, gift shop.

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