Israel celebrates 8 new World Heritage Sites

Biblical tels constitute 'testimony of universal value,' while Nabataean towns illustrate ancient trade routes.

nabataean city 298 (photo credit: Israel National Parks Authority)
nabataean city 298
(photo credit: Israel National Parks Authority)
A ceremony marking the designation of eight additional sites in Israel on UNESCO's World Heritage List will be held on Monday at Avdat. The localities were selected by UNESCO as world heritage sites in 2005. The sites are the four Nabataean towns of Halutza, Mamshit, Avdat and Shivta and the associated fortresses and agricultural landscapes in the Negev, and the biblical tels of Megiddo, Hatzor and Beersheba. UNESCO said that together the Negev sites reflect the hugely profitable trade in frankincense and myrrh from south Arabia to the Mediterranean, which flourished from the third century BE until the second century CE. "With the vestiges of their sophisticated irrigation systems, urban constructions, forts and caravanserais they bear witness to the way in which the harsh desert was settled for trade and agriculture," according to the UNESCO Web site. "The Nabataean 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. "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." Tels, or prehistoric settlement mounds, are characteristic of the flatter lands of the eastern Mediterranean, particularly Israel, Lebanon, Syria and eastern Turkey. Of more than 200 tels in Israel, Megiddo, Hatzor and Beersheba are representative of ones that contain substantial remains of cities with biblical connections, UNESCO said. "The three tels also present some of the best examples in the Levant of elaborate Iron Age underground water collecting systems, created to serve dense urban communities. "Their traces of construction over the millennia reflect the existence of centralized authority, prosperous agricultural activity and the control of important trade routes," the UNESCO Web site said. "The three tels represent an interchange of human values throughout the ancient Near East, forged through extensive trade routes and alliances with other states and manifest in building styles which merged Egyptian, Syrian and Aegean influences to create a distinctive local style. The tels "are a testimony to a civilization that has disappeared - that of the Canaanite cities of the Bronze Age and the biblical cities of the Iron Age, manifest in their expressions of creativity: town planning, fortifications, palaces, and water collection technologies," UNESCO said. The cities exerted a powerful influence on later history through the biblical narrative, and constitute a religious and spiritual testimony of outstanding universal value. Other World Heritage sites in Israel are Masada, the old city of Acre and Tel Aviv's White City. The World Heritage List includes 830 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value.