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Incense Route - Desert Cities in the Negev

Incense Route - Desert Cities in the Negev

The four Nabatean towns of Haluza, Mamshit, Avdat and Shivta, along with associated fortresses and agricultural landscapes in the Negev Desert, are spread along routes linking them to the Mediterranean end of the incense and spice route. Together they reflect the hugely profitable trade in frankincense and myrrh from south Arabia to the Mediterranean, which flourished from the 3rd century BC until the 2nd century AD. With the vestiges of their sophisticated irrigation systems, urban constructions, forts and caravanserai, they bear witness to the way in which the harsh desert was settled for trade and agriculture.

Route de l’encens – Villes du désert du Néguev

Dans le désert du Néguev, les quatre anciennes villes nabatéennes d’Avdat, Haluza, Mamshit et Shivta, ainsi qu’une série de forteresses et de paysages agricoles, jalonnaient la route par laquelle transitaient l’encens et les épices. Tous ces sites constituent un témoignage du commerce extrêmement rentable de l’encens et de la myrrhe, entre le sud de la péninsule Arabique et la Méditerranée, qui prospéra du IIIe siècle av. J.-C. au IIe siècle apr. J.- C. Leurs vestiges de systèmes d’irrigation extrêmement perfectionnés, de constructions urbaines, de fortins et de caravansérails, témoignent de la façon dont ce désert inhospitalier fut colonisé pour le commerce et l’agriculture.

طريق البَخُّور - مدن صحراء النقب

في صحراء النقب، كانت مدن الأنباط القديمة الأربع أفدت وحلوزا وممشيت وشيفتا، بالإضافة إلى سلسلة من الحصون والمناظر الزراعية المتنوعة، منتشرة على طريق عبور البَخُّور والتوابل. وتشهد هذه المواقع كلها على تجارة البَخُّور والكندر (المرّ) المربحة جداً بين جنوب شبه الجزيرة العربية ومنطقة المتوسط، وهي تجارة ازدهرت من القرن الثالث قبل المسيح حتى القرن الثاني ب.م. كما تظهر آثار أنظمة الري المتطورة وأبنية المدن والحصون وخانات القوافل الأسلوب الذي جرى من خلاله استيطان هذه الصحراء الموحشة لصالح التجارة والزراعة.

source: UNESCO/ERI

熏香之路——内盖夫的沙漠城镇

那巴提人的四个城镇哈鲁扎(Haluza)、曼席特(Mamshit)、阿伏达特(Avdat)和席伏塔(Shivta),以及内盖夫沙漠的相关堡垒和农业景观,分布在通往地中海端的熏香之路两边。它们共同反映了自公元前3世纪起到公元2世纪间从阿拉伯南部到地中海地区乳香和没药贸易的巨大繁荣景象。复杂的灌溉系统、城市建筑、城堡和商队旅馆等遗迹,见证着条件艰苦的沙漠发展成为贸易和农业定居点的过程。

source: UNESCO/ERI

«Дорога ладана» – города в пустыне Негев

Четыре древних набатейских города – Халуза, Мамшит, Авдат и Шивта, вместе с окрестными крепостями и сельскохозяйственными ландшафтами в пустыне Негев, расположены вдоль дороги, по которой перевозили к Средиземному морю ладан и пряности. Все вместе эти объекты свидетельствуют о процветавшей в период с III в. до н.э. по II в. н.э. торговле ладаном и миррой, которые вывозились из южной Аравии в Средиземноморье. Следы совершенных оросительных систем, руины городских сооружений, крепостей и караван-сараев показывают, каким образом суровая пустыня осваивалась людьми, вознамерившимися заниматься здесь торговлей и развивать сельское хозяйство.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Ruta del incienso – Ciudades del desierto del Neguev

En el desierto del Neguev, las cuatro antiguas ciudades nabateas de Avdat, Haluza, Mamshit Kurnub y Shivta, así como una serie de fortalezas y paisajes agrícolas, jalonaban los itinerarios de la ruta por la que transitaban el incienso y las especias hacia su destino final: la cuenca del Mediterráneo. Todos estos sitios constituyen un testimonio del comercio sumamente rentable del incienso y la mirra entre el sur de la Península Arábiga y la cuenca del Mediterráneo, que floreció desde el siglo III a. C. hasta el siglo II d. C. Este sitio conserva vestigios de sistemas de irrigación extremadamente perfeccionados, de construcciones urbanas, de fortines y de caravasares que atestiguan cómo el hombre logró asentarse en estas tierras desérticas inhóspitas y desarrollar la agricultura y el comercio en ellas.

source: UNESCO/ERI

香料の道-ネゲヴ砂漠都市

source: NFUAJ

Wierookroute – steden in de Negev woestijn

De vier Nabateïsche steden Haluza, Mamshit, Avdat en Shivta bevinden zich samen met hun bijbehorende forten en agrarische landschappen in de Negev woestijn. De steden liggen verspreid langs routes die hen verbinden met de Middellandse Zee en het eindpunt van de wierook- en specerijenroute. Samen weerspiegelen ze de enorm winstgevende handel in wierook en mirre van Zuid-Arabië naar de Middellandse Zee, in de periode van de 3e eeuw voor tot de 2e eeuw na Christus. Binnen de steden zijn overblijfselen van geavanceerde irrigatiesystemen, stedelijke constructies, forten en karavanserai te vinden. Ze getuigen van de manier waarop de barre woestijn werd gebruikt voor handel en landbouw.

Source: unesco.nl

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Incense Route - Desert Cities in the Negev © OUR PLACE
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The Incense Route was a network of trade routes extending over two thousand kilometres to facilitate the transport of frankincense and myrrh from the Yemen and Oman in the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean.

The four Nabatean towns of Haluza, Mamshit, Avdat and Shivta, with their associated fortresses and agricultural landscapes linking them to the Mediterranean are situated on a segment of this route, in the Negev Desert, in southern Israel. They stretch across a hundred-kilometre section of the desert, from Moa on the Jordanian border in the east to Haluza in the northwest. Together they reflect the hugely profitable trade in Frankincense from south Arabia to the Mediterranean, which flourished from the third century BCE until the second century CE, and the way the harsh desert was colonised for agriculture through the use of highly sophisticated irrigation systems.

Ten of the sites (four towns - Haluza, Mamshit, Avdat and Shivta; four fortresses - Kazra, Nekarot, Makhmal, and Grafon; and the two caravanserai of Moa and Saharonim) lie along, or near to, the main trade route from Petra, capital of the Nabatean Empire in Jordan, to the Mediterranean ports. The town of Mamshit straddles the northern parallel route. Combined, the route, and the desert cities along it, reflect the prosperity of the Nabatean incense trade over a seven hundred year period, from the 3rd century BCE to the 4nd century CE.

The towns were supported by extremely sophisticated systems of water collection and irrigation that allowed large-scale agriculture. These included dams, channelling, cisterns and reservoirs. Evidence of all these features is widespread around Avdat and central Negev, as are the remains of ancient field systems strung along riverbeds and hill slopes.

The property displays an all-embracing picture of Nabatean town planning and building technology over five centuries. The combination of towns, and their associated agricultural and pastoral landscapes, present a complete fossilized cultural environment.

The remains of the Nabatean desert settlements and agricultural landscapes presents a testimony to the economic power of frankincense in fostering a long desert supply- route from Arabia to the Mediterranean in Hellenistic-Roman times, which promoted the development of towns, forts and caravanserais to control and manage that route. They  also display an extensive picture of Nabatean technology over five centuries in town planning and building and bear witness to the innovation and labour necessary to create an extensive and sustainable agricultural system in harsh desert conditions, reflected particularly in the sophisticated water conservation constructions.

Criterion (iii): The Nabatean towns and their trade routes bear eloquent testimony to the economic, social and cultural importance of frankincense to the Hellenistic-Roman world. The routes also provided a means of passage not only for frankincense and other trade goods but also for people and ideas.

Criterion (v): The almost fossilized remains of towns, forts, caravanserais and sophisticated agricultural systems strung out along the Incense Route in the Negev desert, display an outstanding response to a hostile desert environment and one that flourished for five centuries.

Integrity

The towns and forts combined with their trade routes and their agricultural hinterland, in all they provide a very complete picture of the Nabatean desert civilisation strung along a trade route. Remains of all the elements that comprised the settlements - towns, forts, caravanserais, and agricultural landscapes are within the boundaries. The limited development of the region has given the sites considerable protection from development. None of the attributes are under threat.

Authenticity

The remains of the towns, fortresses and caravanserais and landscapes mostly express well the outstanding universal value of the property as reflecting and exemplifying the prosperity of the Nabatean incense trade.

It is acknowledged that the cities of Mamshit and Haluza have previously been subjected to earlier interventions that threatened their authenticity. As part of the current management action, the inappropriate reconstructions in Mamshit, which were based on a scenographic intention rather than a scientific approach, were removed in 2005. And, excavations at Haluza, partly left without sufficient post-excavation consolidation, were backfilled during 2005 - 2006.

Protection and management requirements

All of the nominated property is State owned. It is protected by national legislation, with all the component parts either being within designated national parks or nature reserves.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority manage the property on a daily basis, and the Israel Antiquities Authority manages the conservation and excavation activities on the designated structures.

All finance comes from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority budget, supported by site income, sales and government subsidy. The four towns each have specifically designated allocations. In low-income years, funds are spent only on maintenance and protection, with conservation subsequently taking place as external funding becomes available.

There is a need for a continuing comprehensive archaeological strategy for the whole property and also for each of the major towns to cover archaeological research, non-destructive recording and approaches to stabilization and repair. 

Long Description

The Nabatean towns in the Negev and their trade routes bear eloquent testimony to the economic, social and cultural importance of frankincense to the Hellenistic-Roman world. The routes also provided a means of passage not only for frankincense and other trade goods but also for people and ideas. The remains of towns, forts, caravanserai and sophisticated agricultural systems along the Incense route demonstrate an outstanding response to a hostile environment and one that flourished for five centuries.

The towns, fortresses, caravanserai and fossilised agricultural landscapes that reflect the prosperity of the Nabatean spice trade over 500 years from the 3rd century BC, stretch out across a 100 km section of the desert from Haluza in the north-west to Moa in the east on the Jordanian border. They were part of a network of trading routes which transported frankincense and myrrh, extracted from thorn trees in what are now Oman, Yemen and Somalia, to the Mediterranean and North Africa. From the 3rd century BC until the 2nd century AD, the Nabateans transported frankincense and myrrh across the desert to the Mediterranean coast, a distance of some 1,800 km. This trade was fostered by demands for luxury goods in the Hellenistic and Roman world. It was made possible by the knowledge of the desert-dwelling Nabateans, who were able to bridge the 'impassable' desert and travel into the southern Arabian Peninsula, a world unknown to the Romans and those living along the coast of the Mediterranean.

The Nabateans moved into the Negev area in the 6th century BC after the Edomites had abandoned their country and invaded the Judaean plains. The Nabateans grew rich on the profits of the spice trade. The Romans consistently tried to take over the trade, and their hostile influence meant that the Nabateans had to follow routes to the south of Roman territory and thus traverse and secure some of the most difficult terrain in the Negev. They developed towns and forts to defend the route and caravanserais to provide it for travellers. To support their own population and those of the merchant caravans, they were compelled to colonize the harshest of dry, rocky deserts. By the 2nd century AD all the Nabatean towns had been annexed to the Province of Arabia after the Roman conquest of Petra. The heyday of Nabatean control of the routes was at an end. Although Roman control heralded two centuries of prosperity for the towns as they became incorporated into the defence system of the Roman Empire under Diocletian, it meant a decline of the trade routes as the Romans diverted trade through Egypt. Most of the towns were finally abandoned after the Arab conquest of AD 636 and have lain largely undisturbed since.

Frankincense was used in enormous quantities in the Hellenistic and Roman world, as incense for temples and for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. Such was the demand that its price was at times higher than gold. The demand prompted elaborate measures for its supply. In the Negev, its trade fostered the development of substantial towns and for 500 years their livelihood largely depended on continuous supply.

The World Heritage property consists of sites that represent the rise of Nabatean control of the incense route in the Negev, following the domestication of the camel in the 3rd century BC, and then its subsequent decline in the 2nd century AD with the Roman occupation of Petra. The sites have been preserved due to their almost total abandonment in the 7th century AD. The property is in four sections: the landscape and a 50 km section of the route from Petra to Gaza between Avdat and Moa; the town of Haluza further north along the same route; the town of Shivta, just west of this route; and the town of Manshit on the route from Petra to Damascus.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Historical Description

From the 3rd century BC until 2nd century AD, the Nabateans transported frankincense and myrrh across the desert from Arabia to the Mediterranean coast, a distance of some 1,800 km.

This trade was fostered by demands for luxury goods in the Hellenistic and Roman world. It was made possible by the knowledge of the desert dwelling Nabateans, who could bridge the ‘impassable' desert and travel into the southern Arabian Peninsula the source of the frankincense, a world unknown to the Romans and those living along the coast of the Mediterranean.

The Nabateans moved into the Negev area in the 6th century BC after the Edomites had abandoned their country and invaded the Judaean plains.

The Nabateans grew rich on the profits of the trade. The Romans consistently tried to take over the trade, and their hostile influence meant that the Nabateans had to take routes to the south of Roman territory and thus traverse and secure some of the most difficult terrain in the Negev. They developed towns and forts to defend the route and caravanserai to provide for travellers. To support their own population and those of the merchant caravans, necessitated colonising the harshest of dry, rocky deserts.

By the 2nd century AD all the Nabatean towns had become annexed to the Roman Province of Arabia after the Roman conquest of Petra. The heyday of Nabatean control of the routes was at an end. Although Roman control heralded two centuries of prosperity for the towns as they became incorporated into the defence system of the Roman Empire under Diocletian, it meant a decline of the trade routes as the Romans diverted trade through Egypt.

Most of the towns were finally abandoned after the Arab conquest of 636 AD and have lain largely undisturbed since.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation
Activities (1)