University Trip: Arava III
Wrapping up our two-day trip to the Arava (I & II) under the behest of Bar Ilan University’s Archaeology department, we found ourselves leaving the gorgeous Timna Park and headed for our next destination: Tamar. A slightly obscure site that still found itself maintaining importance for thousands of years, Tamar is located alongside the kibbutz-cum-settlement of Ir Ovot in the northern part of the Arava (20km from the Dead Sea). Arriving sleepily at Tamar after the bus ride, we disembarked and prepared ourselves for a long tour of the site. We started at the northern corner, a corner tower of the ancient Israelite fortress.
Just to give a quick historical summary: Tamar was first established as an fortress by the Israelites, becoming a site of regional importance due to its strategic location and control over the freshwater spring. Tamar was expanded from fortress to fortified city over the following two hundred years or so. The city was abandoned after the Babylonian conquest of the Holy Land, to be taken control of by the Nabatean hundreds of years later, using it as a fortified stop on their Incense Route. In the 200-300s CE the Romans built their own fortress and bathhouse on the site, among other buildings.
There was then a period of general disuse and eventually the site became the location for a British Mandate police station; a drinking trough built to water their horses coming in from dry desert rides. In modern times, a group came to settle the south and built a small community next to the expansive ruins, naming it Ir Ovot. An organisation named Blossoming Rose, a non-profit based out of the USA, has undertaken restoration and conservation efforts to make the site the pleasant place it is to visit today.
Leaving my group to explore on my lonesome, I walked from the northern corner to the western corner, under the waving Israeli and American flags. On the way, I entered the modern military bunker, with explanatory photographs and maps on the walls in the simple underground room. From the western corner I swung southeast along the excavated city walls. I paused briefly to photograph a small drab bird that was flitting about a tree – a streaked scrub warbler. Dropping down a level I found myself looking at a large, impressive jujube tree.
Despite the popular rumours that this particular tree is over 2,000 years old, the tree is indeed old, but a more logical 500 or so years old, or so I believe. Skirting the decked trunk, I walked out the see the Roman bath ruins, reminding me of the intricate ruins at Bet Shean and Caesaria that I’d seen the previous years.
From the Roman ruins I walked over to a model version of the Israelite mishkan (temporary temple before the First Temple), a tribute to the possibility that the mishkan once stood at this very site (biblically known as Ovot). From the mishkan model I found myself approaching the British Mandate concrete drinking trough with its engraved Arabic graffiti; water being fed in via a duct stemming from the large well metres from the jujube tree.
Passing the through fortress ruins I spent a few futile minutes trying to photograph sunbirds feeding on a flowering bush with the blurred backdrop of the tour company.
Walking back out to the site’s perimeter, I retraced the steps of my colleagues and entered the main gate of the Israelite fortress. From the Israelite fortress I examined the ruins of a Roman cistern and interesting building strata. Rejoined with the group at the British police station, I enjoyed their company until we ended the tour, heading back to the buses for a quick drive over to the final stop on our two-day trip: the Vidor visitor centre at Moshav Hatzeva.
Being that the Arava is an unlikely yet highly successful agricultural centre in Israel, a visitor centre was opened to educated the general public as to the techniques and tribulations of desert agriculture. We learned that these days Russia is the biggest importer of Arava-grown citrus fruits, which are interestingly sweeter due to the slightly salty water pumped from desert wells (a form of compensation of sorts). At the culmination of the slide-show lecture we were taken outside to the greenhouses to be taught more, with demonstrations of flower genders and talks of pollination.
Unfortunately, the sun was slowly sinking over the horizon and it was hard to get many decent photos of the greenhouse fun that we had. With the classic desert night chill setting in, the Archaeology department’s volunteer hero swooped in with hot drinks and soups to both warm and nourish us before our long drive back to the Tel Aviv area, the end of yet another successful educational trip provided for us by Bar Ilan University.
Written by: Shem Tov Sasson
P.S. Thank you Shem for sharing this wonderful experience with us!