Perched high on the edge of a desert plateau, the ancient city of Avdat was built in the third century BCE overlooking the deep Nahal Tzin river basin. In the years following its establishment, the city quickly became a significant stop on the region’s famous Spice Route, an international trade highway by which spices and other goods from the East were taken to Mediterranean ports to be shipped to major cities in the Roman Empire. Second in importance only to Petra on this trade route, Avdat grew rapidly throughout the following centuries.
During the first century BCE, the city was heavily developed by King Oboda II, who was later revered as a god by the Nabataeans; tradition reports that the deified ruler was buried at Avdat. Throughout the reign of King Oboda II and the following years, the residents of Avdat began to transition into an agricultural lifestyle, making serious advances in the practices and technology required to live off the harsh desert landscape. Much of this transition to agrarian living occurred after the Romans annexed Avdat and the surrounding region in the first century CE. During this period, the Nabataeans at Avdat built a series of dams and complex irrigation systems to effectively utilize the minimal amounts of rain the region received; and by the third century CE, they had begun to cultivate vineyards and produce significant quantities of wine.
Wine production continued to be a major industry in Avdat during the Byzantine period. Throughout the years of Byzantine presence (roughly the fourth through seventh centuries CE), Avdat continued to serve as a center for the development of agricultural practice. The Byzantines also added a number of impressive churches and other structures to the city.
Today, visitors to Avdat can explore ruins from a variety of periods in the city’s history. The most impressive sites include the Nabataean Temple of Oboda and the Byzantine ruins of St. Theodore’s Church.