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May 2, 2012May 2, 2012  0 comments  Biblical Archaeology

Renovations in Israel are ever far from simple. No one figured that the Beersheva bus station redevelopment would uncover an ancient Byzantine city buried deep below.

Two well-preserved churches, a Roman camp and several other structures were exposed in the recent excavations and what was most surprising was that no signs of destruction were discovered. Rather, it seems that the ancient residents of the town appeared to have left on their own.

The city is extremely well preserved, and archaeologists attribute this to the fact that the area was abandoned in the seventh century. The site will be preserved by a conservation crew  after the public has an opportunity to view the site. The site will later be recovered adn protected while the artifacts will be put on display at the new bus station.

The redevelopment of the city's old bus station mandated that an archeological dig be performed in order to see what lay under the facility, passengers had an opportunity to see the uncovered remains with their own eyes. Just a foot or two below the surface archaeologicsts found remains of a bustling Byzantine city of Beersheba, thought to be home to several thousand people as well as a popular stopping place for Negev travelers.

Like today, Beersheva's Old City bus station was the city center of life for the ancient civilization residing there 1,500 years ago.

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post:

"For Byzantine Beersheba, this was it," says Dr. Daniel Varga, excavation director for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who conducted the dig. "This was the heart of the Byzantine city, right here. Two Byzantine churches were built within a radius of 300 meters from here, and right over there was the Roman military camp."

To read more about the Beersheva dig: read here.


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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.


June 30, 2012June 30, 2012  0 comments  Biblical Archaeology

....And during the time of King David, the biblical boundary of Israel extended from Dan until Beersheba...(Sam II 24:2)


Just outside the perimeter of the modern city of Beersheba, stands the ancient site of Tel Sheba, the remains of a biblical administration centre/fortress dating back to the early Israelite period It is strategically situated, overlooking the confluence of the Beersheba and Hebron Stream.  The  site was excavated in the 1970's, and it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005. The site containus the remains of ancient walls, with parts of the gateway and an ancient well at the entrance. Inside the fortifications, one sees the foundations of the original residences, warehouses and a general layout of the former town. Extremely interesting, and impressive, is the ancient subterranean water system which was connected to the Hebron Stream and delivered water inside the fortress via tunnels and cisterns, erstwhile concealed on the outside to invading forces. 


Ancient walled entrance to Tel Sheba

Entrance gate into Tel Beer Sheba; photo courtesy Travelujah.com


Adjacent to the tamarisk trees, beside the entry into the site, stands the replica of an altar with the 4 horns, the original having been discovered on the site. The ancient Tel Sheba is a site rich with biblical references especially associated with the wanderings of the Patriarchs - the digging of the well by Abraham and his servants, the sworn agreement with Avimelech, and confirmed by the planting of the tamarisk tree - Genesis 21:22-33; the covenant with Isaac, renewing the blessing God had made with Abraham, and sanctified by Isaac who built an altar there - Genesis 46: 1-3; and the covenant with Jacob, and the promise that God will accompany Jacob and his family down to Egypt and redeem them as a great nation Genesis 46:1-3.


One of the most significant features of the site is an ancient well that lies just outside the city gates, known as Abraham's Well, which is where, according to tradition, Abraham made the oath with Abimeleh.


Well outside gates of Tel Sheba

Ancient well outside the gates of Tel Sheba, photo courtesy Travelujah


Today, the story of Beersheba, the gateway and the modern capital of the Negev ( Israel's southern desert region), boasts a population of 250,000 citizens, of whom a large majority are students, studying at the various faculties of the Ben Gurion University, and has revived a city that belies an important historical event that took place almost a hundred years ago - October 31st, 1917. Only in recent years has the story come to light, and yet it had the most profound effect of changing the direction and redefining the boundaries of the modern Middle-East.


ancient water system tel Beersheva

Entrance to ancient water tunnel underneath Tel Sheba; photo courtesy Travelujah

The drama can be retold from the commanding location of Tel Sheba, and with a compass and maps in hand, it is possible to determine the various positions of the opposing forces. One can visualize the charge of the Australian Light-Horse Brigade, valiantly racing across the plains of Beersheba, as the late afternoon sun is wavering, and their desperate mission to capture the wells of Beersheba before dark, or otherwise face the grim prospect of retreat, returning through 2 days of blistering, waterless desert to their nearest supply source.


The failing theatre of war in Western Europe during World War I, and trapped in a bloody carnage of trench warfare, encouraged the British Command to initiate an alternative Front, by attacking the German-Turkish Alliance through the Middle-East. History books memorialize the tragic and unsuccessful Battle for Gallipoli (1915-16). Its disastrous consequences for the British, Australian and New Zealand forces led to a change of strategy, resulting in the re-deployment of forces in Egypt with the intention of advancing through Palestine. However, two disastrous battles fought by the British Palestine Expeditionary Force along the Gaza coastline, thwarted their attempt to breach the German-Turkish forces.


Subsequently a change of command, with the promotion of General Allenby, created a different quality of leadership. He employed a ruse - using propaganda, whereby the enemy was misled to incorrectly anticipate and reinforce their troops - leaving Beersheba exposed and vulnerable. In the background to this smoldering situation, Lawrence of Arabia, was creating a groundswell of rebellion amongst the Arab tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan River. There was a spy story, and a tragic love- triangle that assisted the Expeditionary Forces to find their way across the desert to Beersheba. Whilst in London, the British Parliament was promulgating the Balfour Declaration, for the establishment of a Jewish homeland, and yet simultaneously, the same British Parliament was deceptively promising part of the same territory to Emir Hussein, offering an Arab Kingdom that extended across the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean Sea. Against this scenario of conniving politique, calculated duplicity and empty promises, the British and the French had conspired between themselves to divide the Middle-East and formulate their own borders - in essence, the creation of the modern Middle-East.


If we return to the events unfolding in the Battle of Beersheba, one recalls the capture of the strategic mound of Tel Sheba - by the New Zealand forces - which had militarily dominated the surrounding landscape and overlooked the plain below. This success was followed by the dramatic 6 kilometer charge of the Australian Light - Horse Brigade, across the plains towards the town of Beersheba, the last great horse-cavalry charge in history. The Australian force comprised of volunteer farmers from rural Australia - chosen because they were all good horsemen - and later, their virtues were immortalized in a poem by Banjo Paterson. The horsemen were desperate to succeed before darkness, and capture Beersheba or face forced retreat and defeat. With their bayonets waving - as they were not a regular cavalry they did not carry sabers - and with that will to decide the fate of the battle, they overran the German-Turkish positions and trenches, amongst volleys of enemy artillery and rifle-fire. They secured the wells of Beersheba and victory was theirs! As a result of this breakthrough, the way to Jerusalem was opened. Six weeks later, General Allenby entered Jerusalem and received the surrender of the city - which heralded the change into the modern Middle-East.


Tel Beersheva


Driving through the modern city of Beersheba today, we pass the Commonwealth Cemetery, where the graves of 1200 brave men recall that period of history, and whose heroism brought about the fall of the Ottoman-Turkish Empire (1530 - 1917), and led to the more favorable change of administration under the British Mandate Period (1917- 48). It seems providential that Beersheba, the site chosen by God to renew the covenant with the patriarchs of Israel, would be the place in modern history which was chosen again, and most influenced a causal chain of events resulting in the eventual creation of a State.


Touring Tel Sheba

There are no regularly scheduled bus tours that currently include Beersheba and Tel Sheba so options for touring these sites are limited to doing them on  your own by either public transportation or car rental, or by hiring the services of a private guide for a day.  Beersheba is approximately a 70 minute  car ride from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and both cities offer regularly scheduled bus service to Beersheva, as follows.

From Tel Aviv: Take line 380 from Arlozorov Terminal, or line 370 from Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. The trip takes about 1.5 hours.

From Jerusalem: From central bus station - line 470; line 446, approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Train service runs hourly from Tel Aviv to Beersheva


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Graeme Stone is a licensed Israeli tour guide and contributing expert on Travelujah.  People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah. He can be reached at grums@bezeqint.net.il.







February 24, 2013February 24, 2013  0 comments  Tourism

The unexpected beauty of the Negev offers a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a 2-day getaway. Promising a myriad of biblical archaeological sites, hiking trails, Bedouin hospitality and even some delightful boutique wineries, the Negev desert is the perfect place to get away from it all and enjoy it all!

Tel Beersheba

And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of the well of water, which Abimelech's servants had violently taken away. (Genesis 21:25) …Wherefore that place was called Beer-sheba; because there they swore  both of them (Genesis 21:31)

How did Abraham achieve greatness? As the Bible tells us, he knew where to dig wells. He could access water, even in the desert! Drive just a few minutes east of the modern city of Beersheba, named for the oath sworn by Abraham and Abimelech 3,000 years ago, and you’ll see how the search for fresh water has shaped Negev life for thousands of years.  Man could only settle in places where he could find water for himself and his flocks. Tel Beersheba was such a place. With remains dating back to the Chalcolithic era, you can see how successive civilizations settled there, where the Hebron and Beersheba Streams merge. Climb down a 200-foot-deep ancient cistern that dates back to the time of King Hezekiah in the 8th century BCE.  It’s the largest one ever found in the Negev!  Don’t miss the hewn-stone alter.  Its design, in violation of the Lord’s commandment that altars be built of undressed stone, proved that King Hezekiah faced great challenges when he embarked on a course of religious reforms. When you visit the remains of the residential settlement, marvel that some of these homes were built almost a 1,000 years before King Hezekiah ruled!  This has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and as you survey the remains from the lookout tower, it’s easy to understand why.

Tel Beersheva Travelujah 

Tel Beersheva, photo courtesy Travelujah- Holy Land tours

Once you’re back in your car, follow the signs to Route 40 south. As you head south, notice the impressive chalk plateaus as well as the tamarisk trees that dot the landscape. These are just like the tamarisk trees that Abraham planted in Beersheba when he made the oath to Abimelech promising that he would deal honestly with him.

In less than an hour, you will find yourself at Kibbutz Sde Boker, home to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion.  Just past the kibbutz is the Ben Gurion Institute.  Follow the palm tree-lined access road into the institute where you’ll find a cafeteria that offers a variety of food at moderate prices.

Take a moment and visit Ben Gurion’s grave. As you near the end of the short walk from the parking area to his final resting place, you will be overwhelmed as you look out over the expansive breaks in the rock that form the Zin Valley. The majestic view, striking in its stark beauty, was a constant source of inspiration to the country’s first prime minister who worked the earth with his own hands to make the desert bloom.

Tel Beersheva Travelujah     Tel Beersheva Travelujah

Tel Beersheva, photo courtesy Travelujah-Holy Land tours

Would you believe grapevines grow in the Negev? See for yourself at the Sde Boker Winery located in Kibbutz Sde Boker. Zvi Remak was born in the U.S. and he is delighted to introduce visitors to desert wine.  He’ll be thrilled to pour you a glass!  Why not buy a bottle so that your designated driver can enjoy a glass at the end of the day! Imagine opening a bottle while you watch the mountains reflect the purple and pink hews of the setting sun!

For nature lovers, a short drive south from Sde Boker is the Ein Avdat National Park , where you’ll have the unique opportunity of walking in a desert canyon. The path winds its way along a spring-fed stream through magnificent chalk cliffs. Look out and see ibex grazing as they gracefully navigate the rocky cliffs.  If you’re lucky, you may be able to see eagles nesting on the cliffs. While there is a path that is designed for experienced hikes which involves ascending a large set of stone steps, there is an equally breathtaking circular route for novice hikes that is relatively flat and can be complete in an hour. If ancient culture is what you are after, don’t miss the striking ancient Nabatean fortress of Avdat, a UNESCO world heritage site situated along the ancient Nabatean spice route.

And now for a night like no other! A trip to the Negev would not be complete without unparalleled Bedouin hospitality. A few minutes from Ein Avdat you’ll find Khan Chan Hashayarot offers five Bedouin tents of various sizes to provide you with an idyllic Bedouin experience.  Whether you are traveling on your own and looking to meet other lone travelers, or with your family, you’ll find a tent that is perfect for you. The tents, decorated with colorful mats, are made of goat wool and provide warmth during the cool desert nights.  Step outside the tent and view a sky blanketed with stars. Far from city lights, you’ll be able to easily spot Orion, Ursa Major along with a host of other stars and constellations you had only read about. If you want to spend a night in the desert but aren’t ready for the tent experience, Chan Hashayarot has furnished cabins as well.


Kfar Anokdim meal

After a deliciously restful night, wake up to a full Bedouin breakfast including Bedouin coffee served with array of homemade breads, cheese and puddings colorfully displayed on a balcony overlooking the desert.

The Khan will arrange special camel tours and other outdoor adventures for you if you wish.

Day 2

Drive south on Route 40 to Mitzpeh Ramon, home of Israel’s largest crater, or machtesh. This machtesh was not created from a meteor collision but from an unusual geological process where erosion caused the collapse of heavy limestone that covered the softer sandstone underneath. There are only six in the world and three of them are here in Israel.  As you stand at the Machtesh Ramon Lookout you’ll have a chance to view the length and breadth of Israel’s largest machtesh!  It’s 25 miles long, between 1 and 10 miles wide and over 1,600 feet deep!  Situated on the machtesh’s northern edge, it’s the perfect spot for viewing the various geological features.  Look out at the nearby Givat Gaash (Volcanic Hill), a basalt-covered hill resulting from a pre-historic volcanic eruption.  Look south to the tabletop mountains of Mount Ardon and Mount Arpek.  Don’t be surprised if some ibex wander past you as you explore! The new Ilan Ramon visitor center overlooking the crater is a must see as well.

Mitzpe Ramon Travelujah Mitzpe Ramon Visitor Center

But, for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, either hike down into the machtesh itself or enjoy a jeep ride to the crater’s bottom, or get a local private biking guide, rent bikes and ride inside the crater.  The hike is 4-5 hours so this is only appropriate for very experienced hikers.  Bring lots of water with you as the trail is not shaded.  If you choose the jeep option, you’ll all enjoy all of the natural beauty without breaking a sweat.  Drive to the middle and see the “carpentry” shop.  These “wooden” planks are actually ancient geological prisms.  Or drive along the northern wall and see the ammonite fossils; large snail remains that indicate that this desert was once covered by water.  But even if you decide to just enjoy the vast beauty from the observation point, enjoying the yellow and pinks of the surrounding sandstone mountains, you will enjoy an unforgettable morning!

For some manmade fun! Drive five minutes from the Machtesh Ramon Lookout to Desert Archery World and giggle your way through a desert archery course designed for the whole family.  The rubber-tipped arrows are safe and the various sizes of bows mean that even children as young as nine can join in the fun!  Traveling with younger children? Visit the nearby Alpaca Farm where you and your children can hand feed the alpacas and 400 llamas. You can even try weaving in the wool house and learn about the process of shearing the animals.

Grab fast food in the town of Mitzpeh Ramon  and head back on Route 40, past Sde Boker and turn left a Mashavim Junction onto Route 222. You’ll arrive at Khirbet Halutza a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was part of the ancient Nabatean Spice Route and served as a way station for Nabatean traders traveling between Gaza and Jordan.  The Nabateans were a nomadic people who came to Israel almost 400 years before Jesus and existed here until the 7th century. These expert desert farmers ultimately converted to Christianity not long after Constantine made it the official religion of the Roman Empire and, eventually, this became the most important city in the Negev.  You can see remains of the Byzantine church basilica as well as remains of the only known Roman style theater in the Negev.

Continue on route 222 and then turn left onto route 232.  If you’re traveling during the winter months, look for the beautiful red anemones and purple irises that can be found along the way. Follow signs to the town of Talmei Yosef for the final stop on your two-day Negev getaway.

Learn how Israel has made the desert bloom and join agronomist Uri Alon at the Salad Farm for a tour where you’ll not only learn about desert agriculture, you also have a chance to eat fruit right off of the vine.  From strawberries to peppers to tomatoes, you’ll learn about the latest advances in greenhouse technology, while enjoying some of the most mouthwatering fruits and vegetables imaginable.  Savor the taste of pita baked before your eyes and then served with fresh olive oil and hyssop while you watch homing pigeons carry out their jobs.  Then see if you can navigate your way through a passion fruit maze. Eating your fruits and vegetables was never this much fun!

After a few hours at the Salad Farm, it will be time to leave your Negev getaway, but don’t despair. As you traverse the Negev landscape, you’ll be able to enjoy the magnificent colors as the setting sun reflects its brilliant color off the Negev’s sandstone mountain.

If you go:


Onnie Schiffmiller is a licensed tour guide and contributes regularly to Travelujah-Holy Land Tours.


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