- The ancient city of Sobota was known by various names. In
Greek it was known as Subeita, the Arabs called is Isbeita, and
in Hebrew it is known as Shivta.
- Sobota is located around 40 km. southwest of Beersheba in
an area with very low humidity. Some of the buildings now standing
date from the Roman period, but most were built in Byzantine
times, when the inhabitants were engaged in agriculture. In the
4th century AD two churches were built, which are now known as
the northern and the southern churches. Later in the 5th &
6th centuries, when the city expanded, a central church was added.
Sobota appears to have been abandoned at some point during the
Islamic period, probably during the 9th or 10th century.
- The city of Sobota covers approximately 81,000 square meters
and did not have a city wall. The outer ring of houses all faced
in, forming a protective wall around the city.
- Shortly before World War I, two archeologists arrived at
Sobota to map out the city plan. They were T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence
of Arabia) and C. L. Woolley. The war, and Lawrence's subsequent
military fame all but obscured his archeological work.
- Although Sobota was one of the largest Nabataean settlements
in the Negev, it's name was uncertain until the discover of the
papyri in Nessana during excavations there between 1935 and 1937.
Former documents dealing with military matters did not mention
Sobota and therefore it had no military significance, as it did
not have any defenses and was probably not classified as a city.
The papyri however mentioned donations to the monastery, dedicated
to St. Sergius, with complaints that the taxes were too high
under the Islamic regime.
- An inscription from an older building stone, later used in
the construction of a church mentions King Aretas IV. This mans
that the city must have been founded during the Nabataean era.
Another inscription found outside the city mentions the god Dushrat,
and Nabataean pottery has been found south of the settlement.
- The Southern Church
- Just east of the central water reservoir is the entrance
to the atrium of the Southern Church. This church is the earliest
of the Christian religious buildings in the Negev and faces the
direction of the rising sun (east).Because of lack of space it
had only one apse, with a room on either side of it. In the 6th
century, these rooms were turned into two small side apses with
wall paintings, surviving fragments of which depict Moses and
Elijah and the Transfiguration of Christ. (T. Wiegand, 1920)
During a later phase, several rooms were added north of the basilica,
including chapels and a large baptistery with a stone cruciform
baptismal font and a smaller, rock-cut font for infant baptism.
An inscription on a lintel attests to the building of these annexes
at the beginning of the 5th century, and one incorporated into
the floor the year 640.
- The Governor's House and the Middle Church
- A road with steps led north from the southern church. Along
the road ran stone channels and pipes which took collected water
to the central cisterns. Along this road the buildings were built
right beside each other, so that rain water from their roofs
could be collected. Water was piped to private reservoirs, and
also to large communal reservoirs. These private buildings had
no courtyards or gardens. Along the road there is a square, with
a large building named the Governor's house by an expedition
headed by Dr. Colt, an American in the 1930s. It is one of the
few buildings with the second story still intact.
- The Central Church was built in the center of the new (5th-6th
century) residential quarter in the northern part of Sobota.
It has a small, narrow atrium entrance to the basilica. Along
its length run two rows of four columns and on its eastern side
were three apses.
- The Northern Church
- The Northern Church was part of a large monastery, which
consisted of over forty rooms connected by a system of courtyards.
The entrance to the church was through a particularly large atrium
(21 x 15 m.), which had an opening into a rock-cut cistern beneath
it. A chapel was constructed south of the basilica, with an apse
in its eastern side. The floor was paved with mosaics in geometrical
patterns and contains an inscription attesting to its construction
in the time of Bishop Thomas in the fifth year of his induction
(517). The baptistery, with a large stone-cut baptismal font,
lies south of the chapel. This area was also used as a cemetery,
and contains several gravestones with the names of monks and
priests, dating between 612 and 679.
- The End
- At the start of the sixth century AD and earthquake damaged
much of Sobota. After this time a number of people were buried
within the churches, with Greek inscriptions dating them from
the years 595 to 679 AD.
Gibson, Dan, The Nabataeans, Builders of Petra, CanBooks,
Saskatchewan, Canada 2002
Gibson, Dan, The Nabataean Collection, CanBooks, Saskatchewan,
Glueck, Nelson, Rivers in the Desert, A history of the
Negev, The Norton Library, W. W. Norton & Company Inc,
New York, 1959, 1968
Levy, Udi, The Lost Civilization of Petra, Bath Press
Color Books, Glasgow, 1999
- The pictures on this page are taken from Dr. Udi Levy's book,
The Lost Civilization of Petra. (Used
without permission) You can order a copy of the book from
- Sobota was located near Mishrefeh,
between Nessana & Avdat
- Above: The gate to Obadas's Temple
- The North Church
- Above The south church
- Above: A baptismal font
- The steps to the Governor's house
- Above: The Stables