Mamshit National Park is a Nabatean city in the Negev desert. Therefore winter is an excellent time to visit this world heritage site by UNESCO. Just make sure it is not raining, and there are no floods. Let’s begin!
Map of the area:
Mamshit – Basic Info
Mamshit (official site) is a Nabatean city not far from Dimona. You can find the remains of a Nabatean city from Roman and Byzantine times. Mamshit’s location is strategic, just on the Incense Road, which is also the road connecting the Mountains of Edom in Transjordan via the Arava Valley to Beer Sheva and north to Hebron and Jerusalem.
It is the smallest (40 dunams) of the Negev’s Nabatean cities. It is also the best restored.
In recent years we visited Mamshit twice. Once during the winter of 2013. Back then we combined it with nearby camel ride. And we returned to Mamshit during Sukkot 2017. And today I will give an overview of both these visits. Let’s start!
Mamshit During Winter
The gate was built in the late Roman period. It was part of the city’s fortifications and was protected by two watchtowers. The gate and towers are marked on the Madaba map (a mosaic map from the 6th century CE, found in a church in the town of Madaba, Jordan), but was burned down and destroyed in the 7th century CE.
Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.
The Wealthy House
The Wealthy House was restored a gives us a glimpse into the past.
A splendid house built on approximately 1000 m². The building has two stories, with rooms surrounding a rectangular courtyard. It includes a guard room, reception hall, chancery, servants’ rooms, residential wing, and more.
When trade in Mamshit declined following the Roman occupation, the inhabitants made a successful living raising Arabian steeds. Later, Byzantine Mamshit was supported by authorities as a frontier city but after the time of Emperor Justinian the city ceased to exist.
Close to the Wealthy House, you can find the Tower.
A square building, originally three stories high. A preserved room on the entrance story has arches bearing a ceiling made of stone slabs. It is possible to go up to the second story of the tower, by a flight of stairs.
From the top of the Tower, you can see Mamshit’s streets, as well as Nabatean complexes featuring rooms, courtyards, and terraces made of meticulously dressed stone, with strong arches to support the ceilings:
St. Nilus Church
The Western Church (St Nilus Church): The entrance to the church was through an atrium, in the center of which was a covered cistern. The church was built as a basilica – a central nave with two side aisles, with three entrances leading into it from the courtyard. At the end of the nave is an apse, with rooms used for ritual purposes on either side. The nave is paved in mosaic, decorated with inscriptions, geometric designs, and birds. One inscription is a dedication, which translates as: “Lord, save your servant Nilus, who loves Christ, who founded this church, and Lord, protect his household”. It is this inscription that gave the building its name.
Church of the Saints and Martyrs
The Eastern Church (Church of the Saints and Martyrs): This church was built as a basilica and was part of a monastery.
Human bones were found inside the church, apparently the bones of the saint who was worshipped here. An impressive flight of stairs leads into the atrium. In the center is a large cistern, and three entrances to the church. A mosaic floor was uncovered in the central nave, with two crosses, evidence of the antiquity of the church, because after 427 CE there was a prohibition against putting crosses on church floors. A large cruciform baptismal basin was found in the church, for baptizing adults, and alongside it, a small, square font for infants. On the eastern side of the church, in the rooms on either side of the apse, were the remains of the reliquary chests in which the bones of the saints were kept, giving the church its present-day name.
If you look closely, then in the next photo you will see camels. We made a camel ride just a few hours before visiting Mamshit. You can read more about it in camel ride post.
Mamshit is not a big national park, and the whole visit took us around two hours.
Mamshit During Sukkot Holidays
Why Sukkot? If you are planning on visiting Mamshit National Park, then consider doing it during Sukkot. Because on Sukkot, they open the market for artists and crafters.
When we arrived at Mamshit we heard that every round hour there is a guided tour around the park. Unfortunately, we just missed one and almost an hour to the next one. So we headed to the market.
The Market: A reconstructed Nabatean street. On either side are rows of rooms that were used as shops (some people think that the street was an army camp). At Sukkot and Passover, a colorful market is held in and around this street.
The tour started from the stairs next to The Eastern Church (Church of the Saints and Martyrs), which is located at the end of the market.
At the market, you can find different antiquities.
Like old coins.
There was a stand of glassmaker.
There was also an oven, but we did not see anybody working there.
There were food stands. One of them was unique. It is the first time I saw such street nut toasting.
Most of the sellers on the market looked like Bedouins. Despite all the antiquities and the environment, one piece of technology nobody was willing to be left without is the smartphone.
There was a stand of camel wool production. They said that camel wool is very healthy and helps with join and head pain. It also supposed to help with sleep problems.
Sheep wool on the left, Camel in the middle and goat on the right.
This woman was preparing a rug from camel wool.
This is a stand of colored sand bottles. You can buy different size bottles and at extra cost, you can make a custom order where a name will be added to the bottle.
We had guests and thought it would make a nice souvenir so bought a couple. The price of a bottle was 40 NIS.
We joined the 11 o’clock tour and started heading towards the wealthy house. Looking back at the market area.
We discussed the history of Mamshit, visited the wealthy house and then climbed the tower.
Since the city was in the middle of the desert water is critical. Close to the tower you can find aqueducts:
But where the water was coming from? There are barely any rains in this area. Well, most of the water came from Mamshit Stream.
The inhabitants of ancient Mamshit built a number of dams to collect the water. Today, three of these dams can clearly be seen. The lower dam was renovated during the British mandate and was used by the camel-mounted police. Further down the stream, a well has been dug.
The tour lasted about an hour, and it was lovely. But even in the winter, it can be hot in this area. So definitely wear sunscreen (most of the tour is under the sun).
Back To The Market
All these activities for kids were at extra cost.
My daughter wanted to fill a bottle with colored sand. There were different size and shapes of bottles and the prices varied from 15 to 45 NIS.
A free gaming corner.
There were also short music session, where musicians told about their instruments and played several pieces.
Unfortunately, we found out this room only in the end. And by this time my daughter was tired. So we did not hang too long. But there was a timetable at the entrance to the room.
On our way back we passed next to the Bathhouse complex.
The Mamshit bathhouse is built alongside the reservoir, which was apparently the source of its water. The bathhouse had three main sections: the frigidarium – cold room, tepidarium – warm room, and caldarium – hot room. The pottery pipes built in the walls, through which there was a flow of hot air, can still be seen.
Mamshit is a nice National Park with many findings. It is amazing that people lived in the desert. Even more, they did not simply live, they prospered.
If you are visiting during Sukkot, then you can spend up to a half day there. And at other times, two hours should suffice. Thus, Mamashit can serve not only as a destination but as a stop on the way. For example, a stop on the way to Eilat.
Have you visited Mamshit National Park? How was your experience? Tell us in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!