Avdat was an ancient Nabataean city along the Incense Route (station number 62). And at Avdat National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can see the remains of that city.
- Ein Avdat and Avdat National Parks are located within a ten-minute drive from each other (near Sde Boker) in the Negev desert. Ein Avdat National Park offers a desert canyon hike along the Zin stream. At Avdat National Park, you walk through the remains of a Nabatean city. And due to the closeness, combining them can make a lovely half-day trip.
- Shivta, Mamshit, Avdat, and Haluza are spread on the incense route. And since they were able to build prosperous cities in the desert, they are all part of the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Table of Contents
Avdat National Park is located only several kilometers from Ein Avdat National Park, situated near Midreshet Ben-Gurion, also known as Midreshet Sde Boker. Avdat is placed close to road #40 (several km South of Ein Avdat). And the entrance to this park is through a small complex. You will find a gas station, McDonald’s, Aroma, and Avdat Museum in this complex.
Interactive map of the area:
- Hotels, hostels, and appartments in this area:
Note: you can click on the image of the map to enlarge it.
As you can see from the map’s scale (50 meters in the bottom left corner), Avdat is not a big site. The coffee shops, the gas station, and Avdat’s small museum are next to road #40. And then you drive up the mountain to the top parking.
How to Get from Ein Avdat to Avdat?
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is a five-minute drive along road #40 south if you have a car.
If you do not have a car, then getting around is problematic. I have checked public transport directions at Moovit, and though there is a bus stop near Avdat, there is no stop near Ein Avdat. According to Google Maps, the distance between Ein Avdat’s back entrance (as I marked it on the map at the beginning of this article) to Avdat’s entry is slightly more than 4 km. Though it is not too far away, since you will be hiking in these national parks, this will add to the total difficulty. Moreover, a 40-minute hike along the road is not fun and is a waste of time. The best option would be to hitch with somebody you meet at Ein Avdat.
If you are determined to hike, there should be a trail leading from Ein Avdat’s back entrance to Avdat. The path goes along the Tsin stream. And I would suggest asking National Parks personnel for further information before hiking there (mainly due to the possibility of floods).
When to Visit?
Avdat National Park is located in the Negev desert. Therefore I would not recommend visiting in the Summer (temperatures can reach above 40 C). Spring is the best season for a visit. And, of course, take plenty of water, hats, and wear sunscreen.
Moreover, do not visit the desert after the rains. Floods in the Negev desert can be dangerous, and unfortunately, there were cases in Israel when people died in desert floods.
Sunday – Thursday and Saturday: 8:00 – 17:00 (16:00 in winter).
Friday: 8:00 – 16:00 (15:00 in winter).
On holidays eves usually 8:00 – 13:00.
Note: since the pandemic, Israel Nature and Parks Authority has started to limit the number of people in each park. Thus, reservations are recommended through the official site (you can find the link below).
Adult – 28 NIS, child – 14 NIS, and student – 24 NIS. Free for National Parks annual subscribers.
If you visit several National Parks, then consider purchasing a combo ticket. You can find additional info at National Parks And Nature Reserves.
Also, during one of my visits, I saw a special combined ticket for both Ein Avdat and Avdat National Parks. So if you will be visiting both, ask at the cash register.
Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in December 2022. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
There are three routes on site. The red trail is the shortest one and takes you through the most important findings. The intermediate track is a combination of the red and the blue routes. And the long trail is a combo of red, blue, and green. It also takes you down to the lower parking. But in this case, I would not worry too much that the long route is not cyclic since the distances are small (though they are not short if you will be there on a hot day – see when to visit at the top of this post).
In this post, I will be describing the short trail with parts of intermediate and long tracks.
Before entering this UNESCO World Heritage Site, we decided to have some snacks on the benches at the complex. Immediately guests started arriving. Here are some of them:
And here, on top of the hill, you can see the remains of Avdat:
At the entrance, there is a small museum. The museum is a small room with several exhibits. But first, let’s start with a fundamental question, what was Avdat? The incense trade route stretched from the Arabian Peninsula to the port of Gaza, and from there, they exported the merchandise to the lands of the Roman Empire. Avdat was station number 62 on the Incense Route.
In the third century BCE, there was a small Nabatean settlement here, and in the Byzantine period, Avdat grew into a planned agricultural town. In 630 CE, an earthquake struck this area. Due to significant damage, the residents abandoned the city.
Avdat was founded by the Nabateans in the 4th century BCE. Initially, it was a waystation on the Nabatean Incense Route – the ancient trade routes crossing the Arabian Peninsula to the city of Gaza and the Mediterranean Sea. These routes served the camel caravans, mainly carrying spices and incense. The city developed in the days of King Obodas II (1st century BCE), and was named after him. A temple, an army camp, and other buildings from this time have been found. At the end of the 1st century CE, the city’s inhabitants moved over to agriculture as their main livelihood, and an inscription from this period found at the site mentions the Nabatean king Rabbel II – “Restorer and deliverer of his people.” Apparently, under pressure of the heavy hand of the Romans, who damaged the Nabatean economy, he laid the foundation for the development of agriculture and animal husbandry.
In the year 106 CE, after the death of the king, Avdat was annexed to the Roman empire and continued to develop. The height of its prosperity was in the Byzantine period (4th – 7th centuries CE). The city’s inhabitants converted to Christianity and built magnificent churches, developed intensive agriculture, constructed water storage systems, and dug many caves in the hillside. The caves were used mainly as workshops and storerooms for keeping and processing the agricultural produce. Towards the end of the Byzantine period, the security situation in the city was undermined. In around 630 the city was damaged by a strong earthquake, and shortly after, in 636, the area was conquered by Arab tribes. These two factors together sealed its fate, and the city was abandoned.
Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.
Model of the city along with photos of other Nabataean towns in Israel.
The Nabataean City
We left the museum, drove to the upper parking, and explored the city.
2380 km divided by 65 gives us 36.6 km per day. And, if there were no break days, it took 65 days to pass this route. For comparison, today, such distance can be covered in around three hours by plane.
Near the parking, there is a tower you can climb. And this is the view from it.
I liked the signs on the ground that helped with the orientation.
When I see such a massive city in the desert, the obvious question is where the water was coming from.
The water supply consisted of Nabatean storage cisterns and various streams.
At the foot of the city runs the course of the Tsin Stream, one of the largest streams in Israel (120 km long). It is a seasonal stream, and only rare winter floods disturb its tranquility. About 1 km to the west of the city (outside the boundaries of the national park), the Ramliya cisterns are carved in the rock – a series of Nabatean storage cisterns for capturing the floodwaters and utilizing them to irrigate their crops. The water supply for the city itself came from local cisterns and a well next to the bathhouse. In walking distance of the city, there are some springs – En Ma’arif, En Avdat, and En Mor in the Tsin Stream (in En Avdat National Park), and Upper En Akev and En Akev in the Akev Stream.
View to the outside:
Storage inside the fortress:
Here we climbed the walls of the fort, and this is the view towards the area with the churches.
The early Nabatean people believed in many gods. Dushara was the chief god. Al Uzza is the goddess of strength, queen of heavens, mistress of the earth, mistress of the netherworld, protector of sea travelers, and of those who ply the roads. QoS – the chief Edomite god. The god of storm and rain, harvest, and fertility. And there were others.
Later on, they converted to Christianity, and this is Saint Theodorus church.
Model of the church:
Finding both temples and churches on one site is quite remarkable. You can witness the transformation.
Temple of Oboda
Nabataeans changed the city’s original name to Avdat in honor of their King Obodas I, who, according to tradition, was buried on site. And this is the temple in honor of the same king.
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 x 11 meters (45×36 ft). The building was divided into four rooms.
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 the 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.
View from the porch towards the complex I mentioned in the beginning.
We did not cover everything, but we went through the most important things, and it got hot in the desert. So, at this point, we will finish our tour.
If you are looking for a half-day trip in the desert, visiting both Ein Avdat and Avdat National Parks can be perfect. The combination of nature and archeology makes the tour exciting and versatile. And the closeness makes it comfortable to travel.
Have you ever been to Avdat National Parks? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
Additional ResourcesHere are several resources that I created to help travelers:
- Israel Trip Planner is the page that will help you to create your perfect travel route.
- National Parks And Nature Reserves page lists and put all national parks on the map. There is also a top list, information about ticket types and campsites.
- If you are looking for things to do, here are the pages for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Sea Of Galilee, and Makhtesh Ramon.
- Wondering what events are there in Israel? Here is the Events And Festivals By Season guide.