The city of...
Beer Sheva, the capital of the South. There are a number of interesting place to see likeTel Beer Sheva, the archeological remnants of the ancient city and a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as the old Turkish town and the Bedouin market. You can take autobus or train to reach Beer Sheva in two hours from Tel Aviv. It is also a great place to spend a day or two en route to Eilat.
Beer Sheva, known as the capital of the Negev, is the largest city in the desert. Though its origins are biblical, it grew dramatically only in the 19th century, when the Ottomans developed the city. Beer Sheva is 107 km (66 mi) south of Tel Aviv, and about 90 km (55 mi) southwest of Jerusalem. The climate is arid, with lots of sunshine and very little rain.
Five Great Reasons to Visit Beer Sheva:
• The Negev desert is the perfect place to experience Bedouin hospitality: you can ride on a camel, feast on Bedouin food and even stay overnight in a traditional tent. The Bedouins are nomadic tribes that have lived in the desert for centuries.
Many Bedouins continue to preserve their traditional lifestyle, while more and more share their traditions with local and international tourists alike.
• Tel Beer Sheva National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site after archaeologists uncovered a city dating from the early Israelite period (10th century BCE). The site is of great importance for the study of biblical history. Some of Tel Beer Sheva’s buildings were meticulously and authentically reconstructed, and you can stroll the streets and peek into some of the mud brick dwellings. Other highlights include a well, the city gate, a reconstructed ‘horned altar’ and a lookout tower with a panoramic view of the desert and the modern city.
• Beer Sheva is also a bustling college town, thanks to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, established in 1969 in order to boost development in the desert. The university was inspired by the vision of Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, who aspired to make the desert bloom. Today, BGU is not only an important center for teaching and research, but also a major contributor to the multicultural, international and cosmopolitan air of Beer Sheva. You can visit the sprawling campus, with two movie theaters, a state-of-the-art sports center, pubs, restaurants, cafés and 24-hr libraries.
• The Negev Museum of Art, in the Old City of Beer Sheva, is one of the best museums in the country, in what was once the home of the Turkish governor. The building was later transformed into a museum, as part of the Archeology Museum complex. In 2004, after extensive renovations, it is now a heritage building slated for preservation. The museum has two galleries with temporary exhibitions, and a vast entrance yard, where you can join the locals and enjoy live concerts in the summer months.
• The Bedouin market is a famous attraction in Beer Sheva, a weekly fanfare that has taken place every Thursday since 1905. Bedouins from the neighboring villages come into the city to sell various authentic Bedouin crafts such as copperware, glassware, jewelry, rugs and more, amid stalls selling clothes, footwear, fresh produce and foodstuffs. The Bedouin market is a unique, vibrant and colorful marketplace, and a definite must-do on your itinerary.
Beer Sheva was the only city built by the Ottomans when they ruled the land, and the Old Turkish Town they left behind has some interesting remnants from that time, including the Governor's House and the city's first mosque, both from 1906, as well as the Turkish railway station, built during World War I.
However, that doesn't mean that the city is frozen in time. Beer Sheva is a vibrant city, enjoying a tourist revival, with new initiatives. Among those, the B7 Art Experience, promoting educational tours and workshops for those who want to experience the city.
A new hiking trail winds its way around the city, divided into five sections which vary in length (5-10 km or 3-6 mi). The trail passes some important sites along the way: the Monument of the Negev Brigade, designed by Dani Karavan; the well of Abraham, and the Beer Sheva Stream Park.
In the Omer Industrial Park, outside Beer Sheva, visit the Omer Open Museum, boasting a space for changing exhibitions of Israeli art, including photography, as well as an open air Sculpture Garden, with artwork by the likes of Ofra Zimbalista and Uri Lifshitz. In the same complex there is also a lovely Antique Car Collection, with tens of squeaky clean and shiny cars from different periods
For lunch, try Saba Jepetto, a freaky restaurant and espresso bar specializing in big sandwiches and don't forget to round it off with the famous Glida Beer Sheva, a well known ice cream parlor founded 60 years ago, with branches all over the country.
Smilansky Tapas Bar is hidden away in the alleys of the Old City, and is one of THE places to go for a night on the town. The fine ambience is complemented by a well-stocked bar, and the extensive menu includes salads, tapas and sandwiches, along with a heartier fare (paella, risotto) and much more.
Chopin's Shipudia is a classic (and kosher) Israeli grill restaurant and a well-known place in the area, with meats done to perfection and a wide assortment of Mediterranean style salads.
Arabica is a huge restaurant, and yet the décor lends it an intimate and warm atmosphere. The international menu features meats and hamburgers, noodle and pasta dishes and even a sushi bar.
Seven spacious rooms in a beautiful Old City house in Beer Sheva were transformed into an Artists' House (Beit HaOmanim), displaying works of local artists and artisans: paintings, engravings, photography, sculpture, ceramics, glassware, embroidery, textiles, jewelry, woodwork and souvenirs. And best of all, it is all for sale.
The Azrieli Center in the Negev is the biggest shopping mall in the area, with three stories and 140 stores, including all the major chain stores, boutiques like Versace and Michal Negrin, a food court and a multiplex cinema.
Tips and trips
• The Israel National Trail (Shvil Israel in Hebrew) passes through Beer Sheva. This hiking trail crosses the length of Israel, from the Lebanese border in the far north all the way to Eilat, a length of approximately 940 km (580 mi). The trail is marked with white, blue and orange stripes, and will take you an average of 45 days to complete (you can also walk just a few segments).
• When travelling in the desert, don't forget to pack an ample supply of fresh water, sunscreen and a hat.