The Mamshit National Park lies in the Negev Desert in Southern Israel. It holds the reconstructed ancient Nabataean desert city of Mamshit (or Mampsis) which was once an important stop on the Incense Road that connected Arabia to Jerusalem. The city was settled in the mid-1st century BC by the Nabataean people and it grew in prosperity becoming one of the richest Nabataean trade posts despite being the smallest of the Negev Desert cities covering 10 acres.
Excavations of Mamshit have uncovered entire streets, homes, and public buildings that have been preserved thanks to the dry climate and remote location away from interfering humans. Visitors to the Mamshit National Park can walk through the reconstructed Nabataean city and see entire streets, courtyards, buildings, and terraces that have survived.
The Nabatean City of Mamshit
The Nabatean Kingdom is best known for the city of Petra in Jordan. It was a powerful force in the region from c. 4th century BC to c.106 AD and dominated the region’s trade routes. Mampsis was one of several trade posts that gave merchant caravans respite from the harsh desert on their journey from the Arabian Peninsula to Jerusalem and even Europe. It was home to luxurious homes unlike any other found in the Nabataean Kingdom. Among the discoveries at Mamshit was an incredible 10,500 silver coins, Greek texts on papyrus, and a 72kg lead ingot.
The city thrived under Roman occupation and went on to be a hub for horse-trading and breeding of the renowned Arabian horse. During the Byzantine Era, Mamshit was supported by the ruling authorities as a frontier city and by the 4th century AD, most of the Mamshit residents had converted to Christianity. It was during this period that churches were constructed and a 900m-long fortified wall was built to encompass the settlement.
In 527 - 565 AD when the financial support from Rome ran out Mamshit’s prosperity diminished. Over the years occupation of Mamshit was sporadic and the city was finally abandoned in the 7th century. Fast forward to the 20th century and the establishment of the State of Israel. Ben Gurion, who was passionate about the Negev, considered Mamshit as the future capital of the Jewish nation.
Visiting Mamshit National Park
One of the most impressive buildings of Mamshit would have been the luxurious double-story house built on 100m² and surrounded by a courtyard. There is a late Roman-era city gate that would have been part of the city walls. Watchtowers were integrated into the fortified walls to protect the city. The Mamshit city walls feature on the 6th century AD mosaic map found in a church in the town of Madaba, Jordan.
Walking among the ruins you can see columns, stone arches, and beyond the city, walls are the remains of two caravan inns where merchants would take rest. The St. Nilus Church with its magnificent mosaic floor stands to the west of the city and the smaller Church of the Saints and Martyrs to the east where human remains were found. At the highest point of the city is the Mamshit Fortress where the British built a police station on the ancient remains.
From the elevated police lookout point, there are sweeping views across Mamshit, Mamshit Stream, and the desert. You can also get an overview of the ancient city from the double-story Nabatean tower lookout. Other points of interest within the Mamshit National Park include the city reservoir; Roman bathhouse and the reconstructed Nabatean market street.