Israel Restores Ancient City

The government of Israel has just completed a $2 million restoration of the ancient Nabatean city of Avdat, The Jewish Press reports.

Avdat is in the Negev Desert and was one of the westernmost points on an extensive incense trade network the Nabateans built stretching as far as the southern Saudi peninsula that flourished from the 3rd century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D. Incense was important in rituals for many civilizations, especially for Roman funerals. The trade network began to wither when Romans converted to Christianity and stopped needing incense to cover up the stink of their cremations.

The extensive ruins include houses and an acropolis with a Nabatean temple. Avdat later became part of the Roman and then Byzantine Empire. Remains of a Roman military camp and a Byzantine church can be seen there. The church has a floor made up of marble tombstones with still legible epitaphs. Like in the more famous Nabatean city of Petra, a sophisticated irrigation system allowed for agriculture and even vineyards in the harsh desert region. The residents even had enough water to make themselves a bathhouse.

The city was destroyed by an earthquake in the 5th century and was rebuilt. Another earthquake in the 7th century finished it off.

The site, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, suffered vandalism in 2009. The vandals pulled down columns, smashed stones and wrote graffiti over parts of the site. They were never caught. Now Avdat has been completely restored and the local archaeologists boast that it’s better than it was before.

Avdat hit the news last year when it was discussed in historian Tom Holland’s book “In the Shadow of the Sword,” in which he suggests that Muhammad was from Avdat and not Mecca. He also calls into question much of the Muslim tradition for its own origins. The book was criticized by scholars and Holland even received death threats, presumably not from scholars.

The site is in Avdat National Park, so a visit to the ruins can also include hiking and wildlife photography. Check out the gallery for some images of this amazing site. If it looks a familiar, that’s because it was the site for the filming of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

[Photo courtesy Urij]


Adventure travel with a purpose in Israel’s Negev Desert

Travel can be such an incredible, life altering, experience, both for us, and the people that we interact with on our journeys. But seldom is that more clearly defined than in the case of an upcoming special trip from an organization called Bustan, which works closely with indigenous Bedouin tribes of the Negev Desert, a rocky, arid region located in southern Israel.

Starting in March, Bustan is launching a five-month long project in the Negev that will be a unique and intensive mix of education, cultural immersion, and desert adventure. Over the course of the time spent there, those joining the expedition will get the opportunity to live with the Bedouin people, while learning about their way of life and picking up practical skills on how to live simply and sustainably with the desert. They’ll also gain extensive knowledge of the history of the Middle East, while also sharpening their Arabic language skills and discovering the unique landscapes of the Negev Desert.

But this journey also has a larger purpose as well. Participants will be living in the village of Qasar A Sir, which remains without many basic amenities that most of us take for granted, such as running water, electricity, or a sewer system. While there, travelers will be a part of Bustan’s permaculture and sustainability program, which will help to create a more permanent community for the Bedouin people. They’ll learn eco-building techniques, help create water harvesting systems, basic waste management facilities, organic gardens, and more permanent structures, all under the supervision of a team of educators who specialize in desert culture.

The cost for joining the trip has still not been posted on the Bustan website, but you’ll find a lot more information about this opportunity by clicking here. This is one of those unique opportunities where you know before you go that you’ll be a part of something that can truly impact the lives of those living in the place you visit.

[Photo courtesy Free Israel Photos via WikiMedia]