Some Stations Along the Perfume and Incense Route
The Incense route from Petra
to the west, through the Israeli Negev to the port of Gaza by
the shore of the Mediterranean, stretches across some 150 kilometers. This route
was approved, recognized and acknowledged as a world heritage route since 2005
Among the famous fortresses
and cities along this route were Petra, Moa, Khan Saharonim, Avdat, Mamshit, Shivta and
Halutza, which are described in detail below. Some
of these sites contained, in their prime, villas, shrines, churches, bath
houses, water pools for collecting water, water springs, wineries and
cemeteries. Agriculture was developed in some of them and many included cultural
activities which enabled the inhabitants to be relatively self-sufficient.
The city of Petra was
built by the Adomians in the 9th century BCE and was conquered by the Nabateans some 600 years later. The
Nabateans made it their capital
and it served as one of the main
stations in the perfume route.
Walls in the Red Rock of Petra - Station on the Perfume Route
Famous for its magnificent
structures that are carved into its red rocks, Petra is located approximately 885 meters
above sea level and is locked between mountains with only one entry through a
high walled narrow canyon at the east.
In 104 CE it was taken
over by the Romans and their influence is reflected in the archeological
remains. Today Petra is considered as one of the '7 Wonders' of the world.
Influence on Architecture of Petra - Station on the Perfume Route
Moa was built by the
Nabateans some time in the 3rd Century BCE and remained populated for
about 500 years.
of Fortress at Moa and Camp Grounds beside it - Station on the Perfume Route
While not readily
apparent today, Moa once served as a resting
station for the convoys that came from Petra in the east, on their way west to
Gaza on the shore of the Mediterranean.
It was also located on the road that led
to a town, by the Red Sea, where the modern city of
Eilat now sits. Thus, once again, its importance derived from being
located at a cross road.
Oasis beside Moa - cross road of the Perfume Route
Moa contained a fortress, accommodations for the
convoys, an industrial zone, agricultural fields and, what was most important
and crucial for the convoys on their long journey, it had water. It included a
pool, aqueduct and baths.
Khan - a caravanserai - was built by the Nabateans by the end of the 1st Century
CE. It served as a resting and guarding station along the spice and incense
route, between Moa and Avdat.
main structure was 45 by 45 meters and can still be seen in the site. In the center of the
structure there was a courtyard that was surrounded by rooms.
Rooms surrounding courtyard of Khan
Ancient Oven in main structure of Khan
main source of water
for the Khan guards and the convoys was a spring of water that fed into a wadi,
rich in natural vegetation, located some 100 meters from the site.
water no longer flows at the surface level along the wadi, most probably due to an earth quake that occurred a few
years ago. However one can find desert animals coming at night and digging with
their feet to expose the water for drinking.
Khan remained in use after the annexation of the Nabatean kingdom by the Roman
Empire in 106 CE and remains of Roman signposts, pointing directions for the 'Incense
Route', are still standing along the ancient road, not far from this
Roman posts marking the incense route
between Khan Saharonim to Avdat
Roman post marking the incense route
between Khan Saharonim to Avdat
Avdat was also located along the
ancient Incense Route that stretched from Petra to Gaza.
- Station on the Perfume Route
It was deserted at the
beginning of the 1st century BCE, following the conquest of Gaza by
the Hashmonian King Alexander Yanai.
Nabataean Shrine in Avdat - Station on the Perfume Route
The city was revived by the
Nabataean King Aboda the 2nd in the middle of the 1st
century BCE and was named after him. He was the only Nabataean king that was
thought of as a God and was buried, at his request, in this city.
Lintel Carving of Southern Gate of Nabataean Temples and Church Plaza
The city kept on flourishing after the Romans took it over around 106 CE, and then declined only after
the Arab conquest in the Middle of the 7th Century.
The center of the city is
located on a hill some 650 meters above sea level and there one can find the
most impressive structures.
on mountain top protecting the Perfume Route
The remains of the city include:
- A production house
- A winery
- Roman defensive towers
- Churches from the 4th
- A Roman bath house for cold medium and hot
- Army camps
- Water systems
- Warehouses and burial
Bath House of Avdat
System Leading to Bath House in Avdat - Station of the Perfume Route
city is mentioned in the
writing of Talmai, The Greek Geographer from the 2nd century. The
city also appears in Poitinger's map from the 5th century CE and some papyrus writings, found in
Nitzana, claim that Avdat was supported economically and militarily as a
The city of Mamshit was built by the
Nabataeans in the 1st century BCE.
(Memphis) Bath House - Station of the Perfume Route
The city served as a station on
the secondary road of the Incense Route. This road went down from Petra and the mountains of Adomia to the Arava in the
East, up to the scorpion trail and then kept on north to Hebron and Jerusalem or
west to Beer Sheba and to Gaza by the Mediterranean.
The size of the City was
about 40 dunams and, although the smallest station, it is actually the most preserved out
of all the cities from that period in this area. After the Roman
conquest and the decline in merchandising, the inhabitants started to breed
in Mamshit with Mosaic Floor - Station of the Perfume Route
city appears in the mosaic floor of Midba, which describes Israel in the
Byzantine period. The city was supported by the Byzantines as a frontier city
until funds were stopped by the ruler Justinian . By the time of the Arab Conquest in
636 AC, the city had died out. It was
declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO in June 2005.
It is believed that
Shivta was created by the Nabateans some time in the 1st century BCE.
- A Station of the Perfume Route
Unlike other cities of that period, this city was built without protecting walls
around it. It was not located
along the main trade route and today it is still a fair distance off any main road
in Israel, lying between what is now Nitzana and Sde-Boker.
Shivta started as an
agricultural village, some 350 meters above sea level and was one of a few
settlements created by the Nabateans for that purpose.
It had no natural springs
but had a water system that was based on collection of rain water into pools.
Water System in Shivta
It was conquered by the
Romans around 106 CE. By the time of the Byzantine period (the fourth century CE), the Nabateans
of Shivta were already Christians, with a population that reached over
in Shivta - A Station of the Perfume Route
Three churches have been found there and a Mosque that is
dated to a later period. Remains of wineries, dams, water collection pools,
monks' cells and basins that provided water and food for animals and horses can be found there. It was
deserted some time in the middle of the 8th Century.
Ancient Carving on Gate in Shivta - A Station of the Perfume Route
In 2005 it was declared
by UNESCO, together with Avdat, Mamshit (Memphis) and Halutza as a world
The city, 2nd
in importance to Petra, was built by the Nabateans in the 2nd century
BCE. It is located in the northern Negev in Israel in an area that is surrounded
by sand dunes and it stretched in size to about 1000 Dunams (approximately 250
view of Halutza , taken from Google Earth
It's distance from
Avdat was about 40 Km (24 miles), and from Jerusalem about 71 miles.
Although it is not the
ideal place to build a city, the fact that underground water was relatively
easy to access, and the benefits of the location between Avdat and Gaza, seemed
to convince the Nabateans to settle there.
of the Perfume Route - Remains
of buildings in Halutza from a later perfiod
Halutza is mentioned in many early
writings such as those by Claudius
Ptholomeus in the 2nd century CE. It is also marked in the Midba Map
and is mentioned in writings of Antoninus from Plakantia in the 6th century
as well as others.
of the Perfume Route - Remains
of buildings in Halutza from a later period
The earliest known writings from the Nabatean period, dated to
168 BCE, were found there, in which it is said: "This is the place that did Natiro
[was built by Natiro], during the life of Hartat the king of the Nabateans".
Although many archeological excavations
of the city have been undertaken, it is believed that most of the city is still buried under the sand of the
of Halutza on the Perfume Route is still buried under the Sand
Quite a few of the
structures in the city were destroyed at the end of the Ottoman period. Nevertheless it is still clear that this large and impressive city
included towers, magnificent buildings, baths, mausoleums, theaters, water
systems, and kilns for the production of pottery.
It is apparent from
Lyvinius's letters, from the 4th century, that it also served as
the administrative city for the whole area. Halutza, too, like it's sister stations along the incense route, was defined by
UNESCO, as a world heritage site.
Gaza, due to it's location by the shore
of the Mediterranean, was a strategic
port at the end of the incense and perfume trade route. It played an
important role in the connection between Egypt, in the south, to Damascus and
Mesopotamia in the north. For the incense convoys that were coming from the east
it served as a gateway to Rome and Greece in the west.
It was created by the Canaanites and was later populated around the 12th
century B.C.E by the Philistines, a non-Semitic nation (not to be confused with
the contemporary Palestinian Arabs - who are Semites). The Philistines were a
seafaring people who originally came from the island of Crete in the
The Philistines founded 5 principalities along the east-south shore of
the Mediterranean: Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, Gath and Gaza. Gaza resisted the
Israelite conquest by Jonathan the Maccabee until 150 B.C.E, and later
was under Herodian rule (1st century B.C.E.). It was rebuilt under the Roman
influence of the 1st century CE and some 300 years later it became a center for the new religion of
Christianity. Jewish life
flourished there during the 5th century C.E. and remains of a
synagogue have been found. The Moslems conquered the city around 630 CE.
Layers of remains associated with the Canaanite, Jewish, ancient Egyptian,
Persian, Roman, Crusader, Turkish and British periods have been exposed in the
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