At a ceremony held at Avdat on March 12, 2007, several Israeli sites were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The organization’s list contains around 830 sites around the world that have “outstanding value to humanity.” The incense route – desert cities in the Negev, and three biblical Tels – Megiddo, Hazor, and Beersheba, are the latest additions to the list that already contains the Old City of Acre, Masada, and Tel Aviv’s White City.
Along the 2,400 kilometer long incense route, incense and other goods were transported from Oman, Yemen, via Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Negev, to the port in Gaza. From Gaze the goods were shipped to Rome and other Mediterranean ports. The most sought-after and expensive perfumes during the Roman-Hellenistic era were the myrrh and the frankincense, types of aromatic resin derived from thorny bushes that were considered for thousands of years among the most valuable goods that passed between India and Rome. The myrrh and frankincense were taken from bushes that were only found in Oman, Yemen, and what today is Somalia. The incense route was created in order to deal with the immense demand for the products. Aside from incense, the route also served as a passageway for spices, jewelry, silver, gold, expensive fabrics, and more.
The route was in use between 3 BC and 3 AD. In Israel the most impressive part of the route is a 65 kilometer long stretch from Moah, next to the town of Tzofar in the Arava, to the Nabataean town, Avdat. Because of the route the Nabatean people changed from a nomadic society into a permanent and thriving society. The main Nabatean cities found along the route are Haluza, Mamshit, Avdat, and Shivta. The incense route was chosen as a world heritage site because it indicates the importance of incense on Hellenistic-Roman culture and economy, as well as people and ideas. The incense route also embodies a blossoming culture that came out of harsh desert surroundings, which constitutes a unique phenomenon in the world. Today, along the incense route there is bustling tourism, and it is expected to increase following the UNESCO announcement.
Amongst some 200 biblical Tels (prehistoric settlement mounds) in Israel UNESCO chose Tel Megiddo, Tel Hazor and Tel Beersheba because they constitute tangible proof of the culture of the Canaanite and Israelite cities that vanished, and contain architectural remains that highlight a unique encounter between human values. Tel Hazor is the largest Tel in northern Israel. Hazor was a wealthy city, an important trade site, and had a population of around 15,000. Tel Megiddo had strategic importance because it was a fortified city in the heart of the ancient “sea route” that stretched from Egypt to Babylonia, and it is also an important site in Christian theology. Tel Beersheba was situated at the crossroads between the sea route and the king’s route, and functioned as a center for religious and trade activities in the southern region.