Shivta: Christian Heart of Southern Israel
In 2005 UNESCO recognized the Incense Road, or the Christian pilgrimage route, in southern Israel as a world heritage site, and for good reason. The Nabataean merchant route that went through the area, established in 1st century B.C., rose in importance under the Roman occupation of Israel, and flourished through the Byzantine period. This is just history, of course, but we must never forget that history is the story of people, of lives and of faith. The major cities along the trade rout became some of the most important Christian centers in Israel, and remained so until the Muslim occupation of the area in the 7th century from whence these cities were deserted. Today four cities are miraculously still standing, and have been wondrously reconstructed to show a glimpse to a bygone area, an area of religious and financial flouring that tells of a very interesting chapter of Christianity in Israel.
Among the four humbly sized cities, no less than seven churches have been discovered and conserved. The most impressive of them are probably the three ancient churches of Shivta which lies less than a half hour drive from the city of Be’er Sheva. Shivta is known to have been a center of Christian pilgrimage and wine production, and its importance does not fail to show on the half ruined main church, which is a marvel to behold. This important Christian heritage site is not frequented by many, which makes it perfect for people who wish to connect with Christian history in peace and explore less-known Christian sites.
Shivta is a national park and as such is free to access. It is highly recommended to visit during daytime. To get there take route 40 from Be’er Sheva towards Tlalim and head on route 221 to Nitzana, from there on follow the signs and you will reach Shivta.
Attractions in the Area
Sadly, many of the areas around Shivta are unapproachable, but Christians who are interested in Christian heritage sites should know about Nitzana, a Nabataean fort which is within walking distance of Shivta. The fort has not been as well preserved as Shivta, but remnants of the three churches it used to contain are still discernable, and the site’s amazing history (it has been anything from a battle field to a Gernman hospital) make it a nice complementary experience to your visit in Shivta.
Dinning and Hotels
Shivta holds an amazing inn for those who wish to dine and stay in the area. The Nabato inn was built using a combination of ancient and modern building techniques which make it blend seamlessly with the ancient surroundings while at the same time supplying modern travelers with the standards of comfort they’ve grown accustomed to. The inn is run by a couple who fell in love with the area and decided never to leave, they are very hearty and informed in addition to being great hosts and cooks. For more information, visit the Nabato inn’s website.