Shivta in Roman and Byzantine Times

Shivta is located some 40 km. southwest of Beer Sheva. Some of the buildings now standing date from the Roman period, but most were built in Byzantine times, when the inhabitants engaged in intensive agriculture. In the 4th century two churches were built here (the northern and the southern); later, in the 5th-6th century, when the city expanded, the central church was added. Shivta appears to have been abandoned at some point during the Islamic period (9th-10th century). The Southern Church was built among the Roman-period buildings, next to the water cisterns. 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 Elija and the Transfiguration of Christ. 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 Northern Church was part of a large monastery, which consisted of many courtyards and some 40 rooms, in the very north of the city. The only entrance to the church was through a particularly large atrium (21 x 15 m.), which had an opening into the rock-cut cistern beneath it. Between the atrium and the church is a narthex (passageway) leading to the triple entrance of the basilica, which measures 12 x 10 m., divided by two rows of six columns into a main hall and two aisles. As in the northern church, the original central apse with rooms on either side of it was replaced with a triple apse in the 6th century. Niches in the rear walls of the side apses probably contained reliquaries. Marble slabs covered the floor and also the lower part of the walls. A chapel was constructed south of the basilica, with an apse in its eastern side. The floor is 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 the indiction (517). The baptistery, with a large stone-cut baptismal font, lies south of the chapel. It was also used as a cemetery, and contains several gravestones with the names of monks and priests, dated between 612 and 679. The Central Church was built in the center of the new (5th-6th century) residential quarter in the northern part of Shivta. It has a small, narrow atrium through which one enters a basilica measuring 18 x 14 m. Along its length run two rows of four columns and on its eastern side are three apses. [ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES] [Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs]

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