Shivta National Park
Meet Shivta National Park
Shivta National Park showcases the impressive remains of a Byzantine city that existed in the heart of a desert area with no natural water sources whatsoever. The splendid churches, streets, and homes are astonishing even today.
Points of interest
- The remains of a partially-restored Byzantine city
- Byzantine-era churches
- Reconstruction of an orchard using Nabatean growing methods
- The remains of columbaria (dovecotes)
The Colt delegation house – a stone building to the south of the parking area, built by the excavation delegation from New York University and the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, headed by Harris Dunscombe Colt (son of the well-known American gun manufacturer). The delegation excavated at Shivta between 1934 and 1936.
The Western Gate – Shivta was not surrounded by a wall, and no fortifications were found, but the outermost houses of the city were built in a line, in the form of a city wall. The entrance of the street to the west of the city, called the Western Gate, serves as a kind of gate.
The Stable House is a large residential house built around an inner courtyard. A flight of stairs shows that there was another residential story. In one of the rooms, water troughs and mangers are incorporated in the walls, indicating that this wing of the house was used for livestock. The average size of houses in Shivta, including the courtyard, is around 360 m².
The Pool House – the house, bordering on the public pools of Shivta, is an example of the high building standards of the Shivta homes. The lower part of the walls, up to around 2 m, is built of hard, roughly-hewn limestone, while the upper part of the walls are built of soft, well-worked limestone. The thickness of the walls is 70 cm, providing the houses with excellent insulation. In the corner of the courtyard the opening of a cistern was found, a fixture in the Shivta houses. Another characteristic is the geometric decorations on the lintels and bases of the entrances.
The Pools Square – a square in which there are two large pools (only one of which has been excavated). The waters of the pools came from an aqueduct at a distance of 2.5 km from the city, and then through channels that can still be seen today. The cisterns in the courtyards of the houses were private, but the pools were used by the general public.
The Southern Church – the Southern Church was apparently built over a Nabatean-era ritual building. The prayer hall is in the form of a basilica – a nave, separated from 2 side halls (aisles) by two rows of columns. The nave is paved with marble slabs, while the aisles are paved with limestone. Two square rooms were built alongside the apse, as was customary in the Negev cities of the 4th century. Later, apparently at the beginning of the 6th century, apses with small niches were built in place of these rooms, in which the relics of saints were placed in special reliquaries. To the north of the church a large baptistery was built. Both infants and adults were baptized in baptisteries of this kind, and these would have included some members of the nomadic population wanting to convert to Christianity.
The Mosque – to the north of the baptistery the remains of a hall were found, with two rows of columns, three columns in each row. The mosque presumably served the Muslims who settled in Shivta, or Shivta residents who converted to Islam. At the entrance to the mosque is a stone step inscribed with a cross, which appears to prove that there were no Christians living in Shivta when the mosque was in existence.
The Governor’s House – the title of the “Governor’s House” was given to a private residential building that incorporates a tall tower, which has survived to a height of almost 6 m. The ceiling of the tower is almost twice as high as that of a regular home, and on the assumption that there were three stories, when complete the tower would have risen to a height of 12 m. The lintel decorations of the restored entrance remain in excellent condition, as is the original stone slab roofing of the first story.
The Northern Square – according to the buildings in and around the large square, it may be assumed that it was the focus of Shivta’s social and economic life. In the eastern part of the square a wine press was found, and to the north of it a building with a large courtyard, with stone benches along the walls. In another room of the house, more stone benches were found. This building may have served as the Shivta town hall, in which people gathered to discuss the affairs of the moment.
The Northern Church – in the large church of Shivta, the walls have been preserved to a height of 10 m. Inscribed on the entrance gate are the letters alpha and omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, hinting at the words of Jesus: “I am the beginning and the end”. The church is built in the style of a basilica. The prayer hall is entered through a square atrium, surrounded by two-story halls and rooms, apparently used as a monastery. The prayer hall and some of the walls were faced with marble. In the two side apses niches were found, in which chests containing sacred objects were kept. Through a side entrance in the southern side hall it is possible to enter two chapels, one of them a baptism chapel, in which a large, cruciform baptismal font was found, entirely carved from a single stone. In the chapel there were marble tombstones of the religious figures who were buried there.
The Central Church – a relatively small church, apparently incorporated in an existing residential area. The three entrances to the prayer hall face directly onto the street.
The Vaulted House – the Vaulted House is a very impressive example of stone slab roofing at Shivta, the slabs laying on stone vaults that have been preserved in their entirety.
The large winepress – the winepress contains a large treading area, paved with stone tiles. Around the winepress are separate chambers, in which the vine-growers laid their grapes and waited for their turn.
The reconstructed orchard – the orchard lies some 700 m to the north of Shivta. It can be reached on foot along a clear path, leaving from the Northern Church. The orchard reconstructs an ancient agricultural farm, and the trees planted in it – carob, fig, almond, plum, olive, pomegranate, pistachio, peach, apricots and grapevines – receive all the water that they need from rainwater diverted to the orchard, just as they did in ancient Shivta.
Dovecotes (columbaria) – on the agricultural fringes of Shivta there were, in the past, four or five dovecotes in the form of circular or square stone towers rising to a height of 8 to 10 m. Thousands of doves were bred in each of these towers, producing large quantities of droppings, used to improve the soil. Today it is possible to see the remains of two dove towers. The western columbarium lies on a hill some 300 m to the north-west of Shivta (and 100 m to the west of the access road to the site). The southern columbarium is on a hill to the south of Zetan Stream, some 400 m south of Shivta.
Shivta National ParkUseful Information
Drive west from Tlalim Junction towards Nitsana (Road 211), and after 19 km, at Shivta Junction, turn south, driving 9 km to the site.
For those coming from Road 40 (Beersheba – Shizafon), from Tlalim Junction continue 30 km westward on Road 211. At the junction, beside the filling station, drive 10 km southward.