Wednesday, April 4, 2012
TIME OUT - Part 2
Of course we did not sit for three days at Be'erotaim, near the tiny settlement of Ezuz, with our feet up on the porch of the hut.
The Negev Desert is far too interesting for this, and sends out calls to wander around, to explore, to discover the charm of a rather ragged, rough and arid landscape. Spending time in the desert is often not so comfortable. It includes to endure heat, dust, dry air, blazing sun, or hazy sky. But the allure of the desert gives also cause to drift into special emotions - it evokes feelings of timelessness, of separation for a while from reality, of absence from daily routine. There is the dry heat of the desert. The breeze in the morning and evening. The howling of the jackals at night. The clean air. The stars are bright on the sky, no pollution disturbs their sight. After a good sleep the desert whispers in the morning: come, come, look around, here, there, further, and everywhere my tales are told! And we obey! In visiting old and ancient places we are transferred to the far away past and meet strange and different people and cultures. I can feel them, I can hear them, I can see them in my imagination, the simple people - living, building, praying, farming, herding. The rulers and kings, the destroyers and warriors. Yes, in that vast seemingly empty space, the Negev Desert, took place a bustling history during thousands of years. And we strive, again and again, to get a glimpse of it. And there is the nature, the hills and mountains, the dry barren earth, the sand, the stones and rocks, the colors, oh yes those muted soft colors of the desert, the wadis, the desert plants and trees, the precious desert flowers, sometimes plenty, in other years very few, and on occasion, if we are lucky a shy desert animal.
Be'erotaim, Hebrew for "two wells", is a small oasis. Tamarisk and Eucalyptus trees were planted a century ago, and beautiful old palm trees stand erect high above ground.
From the porch of our hut we could see a small segment of the Ottoman railroad and the remains of a train station.
Before the Ottomans were defeated by the English in the early 20th century they had established here quite an empire which ended with the first world war when the British Mandate started to rule Palestine. One of the big accomplishments by the Turks before that, was the building of a railway system. In an attempt to reinforce their power near the border of Egypt a railway construction was started there too, and finished in part, it was in use by the Turkish army only for a short time and then taken over by English and Australian forces. We went to visit remnants of Turkish stations and a high water tower along the railway.
The Turkish water tower
A German-Turkish hospital built on remains of a Byzantine fort at Nizzana
This recent record is interesting. But far more exciting is the ancient history of the region. Tel Nizzana is one of those places just near by. Ancient Nizzana is a Nabatean city, one of six posts built by the Nabateans in the Negev. We visited together already Petra in Jordan, the most impressive Nabatean capital, and Shivta and Avdat in the Negev, you remember?
Those former nomadic tribes did not fear the harsh and difficult conditions of the desert. They were experts in searching and finding water, and masters in engineering it into the most sophisticated arrangements, and using it in the best possible and prolific way. Nizzana was one of those settlements who had great control over the water and the area. The Nabateans had a watchful eye on the eastern part of the Incense Road and made profit by trading, buying and selling spices and incense. Not much was excavated from that period of time.
The mound was later inhabited by Christians and these are the ruins of a Byzantine church on the location.
A very stunning discovery was made at Nizzana, the Nessana papyri, written in Greek and Arabic and telling about Nabatean life during the 5th and 6th century CE.
All photos by Uri Eshkar