Avdat or Ovdat (from Arabic: عبدات, Abdat, Hebrew: עבדת), the remains of a Nabataean road station for their caravans, is located on a mountain in the center of the Negev Desert in Israel on the road from Petra and Eilat.
Avdat (in Greek: Oboda) was a seasonal camping ground for Nabataean caravans travelling along the early Petra – Gaza road (the Darb es-Sultan) in the 3rd – late 2nd c. BC. The town of Avdat was founded at the site in the late 1st century BC and named after the Nabataean King Obodas who was revered as a deity and, according to tradition, was buried there (hence the name in Arabic: Abdah).
Before the end of the 1st c. BC a temple platform (the acropolis) was created along the western edge of the plataeu. Recent excavations have shown that the town continued to be inhabited by the Nabataeans continuously from this period until its destruction by earthquake in the early seventh century AD.
Sometime towards the end of the 1st century BC the Nabataeans began using a new route between the site of Moyat Awad in the Arabah valley and Avdat by way of Makhtesh Ramon. Nabataean or Roman Nabataean sites have been found at excavated at Moyat Awad (mistakenly called Moa of the 6th c. AD Madeba Map), Qatzra, Har Masa, Mezad Nekarot, Sha'ar Ramon (Khan Saharonim), Mezad Ma'ale Mahmal and Grafon.
Avdat continued to prosper as a major station along the Petra-Gaza road after the Roman annexation of Nabataea in 106 AD. Avdat, like other towns in the central Negev highlands, adjusted to the cessation of international trade through the region in the early to mid third c. AD by adopting agriculture, and particularly the production of wine, as its means of subsistence. Numerous terraced farms and water channels were built throughout the region in order to collect enough run-off from winter rains to support agriculture in the hyper arid zone of southern Israel. At least five wine presses dated to the Byzantine period have been found at the site.
In the late third or early fourth c. AD (probably during the reign of Diocletian) the Roman army constructed an army camp measuring 100 x 100 m. on the northern side of the plataeu. Elsewhere at the site, an inscription was found in the ruins of a tower describing the date (293/294 AD) and the fact that one of the builders hailed from Petra. Around this time a bath house was constructed on the plain below the site. The bath house was supplied with water by way of a well, tunneled 70 meters through bedrock. Sites along the Petra-Gaza road were apparently used by the Roman army in the 4th and 5th centuries when the road continued to function as an artery between Petra and the Nabataean Negev settlements. Pottery and coins from the late 3rd – early 5th century have been found at Mezad Ma'ale Mahmal, Shar Ramon and Har Masa and Roman milestones line part of the road between Avdat and Shar Ramon. A fort with four corner towers was constructed on the ruins of early Nabataean structures north of Avdat at Horvat Ma'agora. Milestones have been found on along the Petra Gaza road north at Avdat between Avdat and Horvat Ma'agora and further up the road towards Halutza (Elusa).
The early town was heavily damaged by a major (probably local) earthquake, sometime in the early fifth century AD. In the ruins of this destruction a Nabataean inscription, in black ink on plaster, was found bearing a blessing of the Nabataean god, Dushara. The inscription was written by the plasterer, one Ben-Gadya. This is the latest Nabataean inscription ever found in Israel.
A wall was built around the later town, including a large area of man-made caves, some of which were partially inhabited in the Byzantine period. Under Byzantine rule, in fifth and sixth century, a citadel and a monastery with two churches were built on the acropolis of Avdat. Saint Theodore's Church is the most interesting Byzantine relic in Avdat. Marble tombstones inserted in the floor are covered with Greek inscriptions. St. Theodore was a Greek martyr of the fourth century. The Monastery stands next to the church and nearby a lintel is carved with lions and it marks the entrance to the castle.
The town was totally destroyed by a local earthquake in the early seventh century AD and was never reinhabited.
Avdat place is also notable for being the filming location of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Avdat was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on June 2005.