Shivta, in Israel’s Negev Desert is a Nabatean City that forms part of the series of UNESCO Heritage Site Desert Cities which were part of the Nabatean Spice Route, transporting frankincense and myrrh from Yemen to port on the Mediterranean. Relatively uniquely Shivta was never destroyed, and whilst over time many of the structures collapsed, having been restored by archaeologists, walking through the ruins really presents the feeling of walking through what was once a real, live city, and not just a pile of ruins.
History of Shivta
Shivta was founded around 1 century BCE and housed a mixed population of Romans and Nabateans. Two magnificent churches from the Byzantine era can be seen in the village as well as meticulous architecture belonging to buildings such as the Governors House, oil presses, and the impressive water collection and storage system which is seen via a comprehensive network of drains throughout the city streets – no water was wasted amid the harsh desert conditions.
The city of Shivta was abandoned following the Muslim conquest. Unlike most cities in the Negev, it was not destroyed, giving evidence to the fact that the population left without a battle (also evidenced by the fact that many windows and doors of houses were blocked up with bricks in anticipation that residents would return). It was not until the 20th century that archaeologists rediscovered the city and began excavating, and in 2005, the city was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a testament to this.
Shivta is located in the extreme west of Israel, very close to the border with Egypt. The National Park is free to enter and whilst there is no visitor center, a unique restaurant preparing typical desert fare (you need to book ahead on 050-7383802) and guest house, which has been opened by a family on the edge of the ruins, in the house built by the first archaeologist to excavate at the site, can provide visitors with information about the site.
The park is open in summer from 8am to 5pm, and in winter from 8am to 4pm, closing one hour earlier on Fridays and holiday eves.
Accessing Shivta is easiest by car. From the Tlalim junction on Road 40, the main road from Beer Sheva heading south to Mitzpe Ramon, turn right onto Road 211. Drive west for about 15 km. Then turn left at the junction and drive about 10 minutes.