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Coordinates: 30°47′38″N 34°46′23″E / 30.794°N 34.773°E / 30.794; 34.773
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Aerial view of the acropolis
Avdat is located in Israel
Shown within Israel
Alternative nameOvdat
LocationSouthern District, Israel
Coordinates30°47′38″N 34°46′23″E / 30.794°N 34.773°E / 30.794; 34.773
Founded3rd century BCE
CulturesNabataean, Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic
Site notes
ConditionIn ruins
Official nameIncense Route - Desert Cities in the Negev (Haluza, Mamshit, Avdat and Shivta)
Criteriaiii, v
Designated2005 (29th session)
Reference no.1107
RegionEurope and North America

Avdat or Ovdat (Hebrew: עבדת), and Abdah or Abde (Arabic: عبدة), are the modern names of an archaeological site corresponding to the ancient Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine settlement of Oboda (tabula Peutingeriana; Stephanus Byzantinus) or Eboda (Ptolemaeus 5:16, 4)[1] in the Negev desert in southern Israel. It was inhabited with intermissions between the 3rd century BCE and the mid-7th century CE by Nabataeans, in their time becoming the most important city on the Incense Route after Petra, then by Roman army veterans, and Byzantines, surviving only for a few years into the Early Muslim period.[1][2][3] Avdat was a seasonal camping ground for Nabataean caravans travelling along the early Petra–Gaza road (Darb es-Sultan) in the 3rd – late 2nd century BCE. The city's original name[which?] was changed in honor of Nabataean King Obodas I, who, according to tradition, was revered as a deity and was buried there.[4][5]


Before the end of the 1st century BCE a temple platform (the acropolis) was created along the western edge of the plateau. Recent excavations have shown that the town continued to be inhabited by the Nabataeans continuously from this period until its destruction by earthquake in the early 7th century CE. Sometime towards the end of the 1st century BCE the Nabataeans began using a new route between the site of Moyat Awad in the Arabah valley and Avdat by way of Makhtesh Ramon. Nabataean or Roman Nabataean sites have been found and excavated at Moyat Awad (mistakenly identified as Moa of the 6th century CE Madeba Map), Qatzra, Har Masa, Mezad Nekarot, Sha'ar Ramon (Khan Saharonim), Mezad Ma'ale Mahmal and Grafon.

Avdat continued to prosper as a major station along the Petra-Gaza road after the Roman annexation of Nabataea in 106 CE. Avdat, like other towns in the central Negev highlands, adjusted to the cessation of international trade through the region in the early to mid 3rd century by adopting agriculture, and particularly the production of wine, as its means of subsistence. Numerous terraced farms and water channels were built throughout the region in order to collect enough run-off from winter rains to support agriculture in the hyper-arid zone of southern Palestine. At least five wine presses dated to the Byzantine period have been found at the site.

In the late 3rd or early 4th century (probably during the reign of Diocletian) the Roman army constructed an army camp measuring 100 x 100 m. on the northern side of the plateau. Elsewhere at the site, an inscription was found in the ruins of a tower describing the date (293/294 CE) and the fact that one of the builders hailed from Petra. Around this time a bath house was constructed on the plain below the site. The bath house was supplied with water by way of a well, tunneled 70 meters through bedrock. Sites along the Petra-Gaza road were apparently used by the Roman army in the 4th and 5th centuries when the road continued to function as an artery between Petra and the Nabataean Negev settlements. Pottery and coins from the late 3rd to the early 5th century have been found at Mezad Ma'ale Mahmal, Shar Ramon and Har Masa and Roman milestones line part of the road between Avdat and Shar Ramon. A fort with four corner towers was constructed on the ruins of early Nabataean structures north of Avdat at Horvat Ma'agora. Milestones have been found on along the Petra Gaza road north at Avdat between Avdat and Horvat Ma'agora and further up the road towards Halutza (Elusa).

The early town was heavily damaged by a major (probably local) earthquake, sometime in the early 5th century CE. In the ruins of this destruction a Nabataean inscription, in black ink on plaster, was found bearing a blessing of the Nabataean god, Dushara. The inscription was written by the plasterer, one Ben-Gadya. This is the latest Nabataean inscription ever found in Palestine.

A wall was built around the later town, including a large area of man-made caves, some of which were partially inhabited in the Byzantine period. Under Byzantine rule, in 5th and 6th century, a citadel and a monastery with two churches were built on the acropolis of Avdat. Saint Theodore's Church is the most interesting Byzantine relic in Avdat. Marble tombstones inserted in the floor are covered with Greek inscriptions. St. Theodore was a Greek martyr of the 4th century. The Monastery stands next to the church and nearby a lintel is carved with lions and it marks the entrance to the castle.

During an investigation of a 2 hectare residential sector, evidence of intensive activity in the Early Islamic period, ca. CE 650–900, was uncovered.[3]

Historical sites[edit]

Temple Precinct[edit]

Temple of Oboda[edit]

Temple of Oboda
Temple Layout

The building complex known as The Temple of Oboda sits on the acropolis of the city.[6] The temple was built as a dedication to the deified Nabataean king Obodas I. The temple stands adjacent to the east of two other buildings: a Christian chapel and a second temple known as the “western temple.” The temple dedicated to the cult of Obodas the King was built with a hard-limestone in the year 9 BCE during the reign of Obodas II. The temple is a tripartite structure: consisting of a porch, hall and adytum; its overall dimensions are 14 by 11 metres (46 ft × 36 ft). The building was divided into four rooms. The first and second rooms were unequal subdivisions of the adytum (debir), the first room is the eastern room which is the smaller of the two measuring at 3 by 4 metres (9.8 ft × 13.1 ft). The second room was the western room and the larger of the two rooms measuring 5 by 4 metres (16 ft × 13 ft). The third room was the hall (hekhal), an oblong shape measuring 8 metres (26 ft), which is now completely covered by a Talus. The fourth room is the porch (‘ulam) divided into two compartments one facing west measuring approximately 4 by 4 metres (13 ft × 13 ft) and the other facing east measuring approximately 4 by 4.5 metres (13 ft × 15 ft) were divided by a 60-centimetre (2 ft) wall.[7] A worshiper entered through the porch, which faces south, proceeded through the hall to the rooms of the adytum at the northern end. The worshiper then turned about face toward south to worship the images of the deities placed in niches in the wall. The western room contained two niches which may have contained the images of two Nabataean gods Allat and Dushura. The other room contained a larger single niche where it is believed the defied image of Obodas the King was worshiped. The temple was built to be his eternal resting place and the center of worship for his cult.[8]

Southern Basilica[edit]

Located on the southern flank of the upper city or the acropolis, it was dedicated to Saint Theodoros.[6]

Northern Basilica[edit]

Larger of the two relatively preserved Byzantine churches, the northern Basilica, is located along the outer northern flank of the Temple Precinct.[6]

Baptismal basins in the northern Basilica


The Byzantine era fortress lies to the north-west of the Temple Precinct, roughly covering an area of 2500 square meters.[6]

Byzantine Quarter[edit]

It lies to the south-east of the Avdat Acropolis.[6]


Avdat earthquake damage

Avdat was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in June 2005, but on 4 October 2009 the site suffered extensive damage when hundreds of artifacts were smashed and paint smeared on walls and an ancient wine press.[2] Two Bedouin men were later indicted for causing NIS 8.7 million worth ($2.3 million) of damage to the site. The men sought to avenge the demolition of a nearby relatives' home by Israeli authorities.[9]

Avdat was also the filming location of Jesus Christ Superstar.


  1. ^ a b "Avedat (Ovdat; Ar. "Abde")" in Encyclopaedia Judaica 2008, The Gale Group. Via Jewish Virtual Library, accessed 11 May 2024.
  2. ^ a b Yedioth Ahronoth (6 October 2009). "Avdat National Park vandalized". Retrieved on April 3, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Bucking, Scott; Fuks, Daniel; Dunseth, Zachary C.; Schwimer Lior; Erickson-Gini, Tali (2022). "The Avdat in Late Antiquity Project: uncovering the Early Islamic phases of a Byzantine town in the Negev Highlands". Antiquity. 96 (387): 754–761. doi:10.15184/aqy.2022.46. S2CID 248168993.
  4. ^ Nabataea: Early History. Retrieved on April 3, 2012.
  5. ^ Neuwirth, Angelika; Sinai, Nicolai; Marx, Michael (2010). The Qur'an in Context: Historical and Literary Investigations Into the Qur'anic Milieu. BRILL. p. 233. ISBN 978-90-04-17688-1.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Avdat". Madain Project. Archived from the original on 6 May 2022. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  7. ^ Negev, Avraham. The Architecture of Oboda: Final Report. Jerusalem, Israel: Institute of Archaeology, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1997. Print
  8. ^ The Temple of Obodas: Excavations at Oboda in July 1989 Avraham Negev Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 41, No. 1/3 (1991), pp. 62-80 Published by: Israel Exploration Society Article Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/27926214
  9. ^ Curiel, Ilana (April 11, 2009). "Indictment on Avdat vandalism cites Bedouin revenge". Ynet. Retrieved September 27, 2014.


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External links[edit]