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  • Writer's pictureRaz Tsafrir

Incense road in the Negev desert

Updated: Apr 3, 2020

The Negev is Israels' main desert and home to a unique Zionist story of bringing life to a deserted place. The Negev was always a rural area in the Greek and Roman empires and that allowed a new empire to form - the Nabataeans ruled the Negev since 5th century BC, for 1,200 years, trading Moore and Frankincense along the Spice route from Arabia to Athens and Rome. The Nabataeans the best navigators of the ancient world but they also mastered the art of finding water and domesticating camels. Their trips of more than 2000 km from Arabia to the Gaza port took 3-4 months (one way) and that trade route helped them build one of the wealthiest empires of ancient times. Their monopoly on trading good with high demand in Athens and in Rome, was so substantial that it took the Romans more than 140 years to find a bypass through the Red Sea. When that happened, early in the 2nd century A.D, the Nabataeans became farmers, settled in their small towns who grew dramatically, became Christian, built churches and became tour guides of European pilgrims who came to Sinai. Their capital Petra (in Jordan) is one of 7 world wonders.

The Negev is also a Zionist story, seen by the Jewish leaders as a key to a sustainable statehood. In the 1940's Israel built dozens of settlements in the desert, cultivated the land and brought water from the Sea of Galilee, which made UNSCOM grant the Negev to Israel in the Partition plan on Nov 29 1947. Many places to see:

The Ramon crater and its unique geological story and amazing sunrise and sunsets.

Nabataeans cities: Memphis, Uvdat, Shivta, Nitsana and several khans along the Incense road, with their amazing churches, temples and 2000 years old wine production.

Several oasis like Ein Uvdat, Ein Akev, Gev Zarhan and more, all providing the weary traveler fresh water and shadow.

Petra, the Nabataeans capital and treasury, in Jordan.

Other sites include: the Scorpions amazing ancient route; Sde Boker - the house and grave of David Ben Gurion; Ashalim power plant - 140MV solar project; Carcom mountain - burning bush and 4000 years old cave painting.

The Negev is an amazing desert just 90 minutes ride from TLV. We visit it in our 7 and 14 day tours. We can combine a day visit to Petra in our 14 day tours, but on Jeeps, not bikes.

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