By the Editors of the Madain Project

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Ancient Shivta (Esbeita), originally Sobata (Greek: Σόβατα) or Subeita (Arabic: شبطا), was an ancient city in the Negev Desert of Israel/Palestine located 43 kilometers southwest of Beersheba. Previously thought to be a traditional Nabataean settlement situated along the historical spice trade route, Shivta is now being reconsidered by archaeologists as a potential Byzantine agricultural community and a stopping point for pilgrims traveling to the Saint Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula.


Archaeological excavations have uncovered ruins dating back to various periods of history. Roman ruins from the first century BCE in the southern part of the town, three Byzantine churches (a primary church and two smaller ones), as well as two wine-presses, residential sections, and administrative structures.

Archaeological Remains

circa 350 CE

South Church
Though the current structure of the southern church of Shivta dates to the fifth and sixth century CE, it is believed that it is the oldest in the ancient city of Shivta, and was most likely constructed during the fourth century CE for the first time. The church is a three isled basilica, with three apses on the eastern side. The central nave of the church is divided into three isles with two rows of column, with six columns in each.

During the fourth century CE, the original structure was built as a single hall containing a single altar, with two square rooms known as pastophoria positioned on either side. However, in the early sixth century CE, these rooms were replaced by side apses, resulting in a transformation from a single-apse design to a triple-apse design that is visible to this day. S. Margalit's research indicates that this alteration in design was observed in other churches situated in the Holy Land as well, such as Avdat, Rehovot, Kh. Heshek, and Kh. Eirav.


North Church
The northern church is located on the outer most edge of the city. Comprising of more than fourty chambers and sections, this may have been a large monastic complex. The current structure dates back to the middle of the fourth century CE, originally a smaller single apse structure was constructed here during the second half of the third century CE. The main church, built in the basilica style, is oriented east-west. The central hall is divided into three isles with two rows of six columns each. The side apses have niches, where the sacred relics might have been placed. The walls on this structure are preserved up to the height of approx ten meters and lean against the city's enclosure walls.


Double Cistern


Winepress (A)
The wine presses discovered in Shivta offer valuable information about the magnitude of wine production during that era. Based on the estimations made by archaeologists, it is believed that the Nabatean/Byzantine community of Shivta was responsible for producing approximately two million liters of wine. In close proximity to the site, there is also a sizable farm that employs traditional Nabatean methods of irrigation, planting, and harvesting.



circa 600-700 CE

Seventh Century CE Mosque
The Shivta Mosque was discovered during the Colt excavations in 1933-1936 CE. It is location directly north of the town's southern church, adjacent to the baptisterium. The construction of the walls is of dressed stones with gravel/filler. The mihrab niche, located in the southern wall, is built with ashlar stones.

The entire structure measures approximately 6.7 x 12.35 meters, divided into two sections. First, the prayer hall, measuring approx. 6.7 x 8.6 meters, contained a mihrab measuring 0.9 meter wide and 1.2 meters deep. The niche is approx. 0.1 meter higher than the floor level and projects slightly south into the baptisterium neighbouring church. The niche was constructed in one of the entrances to to the baptisterium without harming the room intself or the cross shaped baptismal basin.


See Also


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