Mamshit National Park

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Mamshit National Park contains the remains of a Nabatean city from Roman and Byzantine times, and presents Nabatean architecture in all its glory, against the desert backdrop of the northern Negev hills

Points of interest

  • The remains of the Nabatean city, partly restored
  • The Mamshit churches
  • Nabatean dams on Mamshit Stream
  • Desert vegetation

 

Points of interest in detail:

The caravan inns: The ruins of two large complexes outside the city walls, which provided accommodation for the merchants' caravans.

The city gate:  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.

The Wealthy House: 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.

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.

The Western Church (St Nilus Church): The entrance to the church was through an atrium (a colonnaded courtyard), 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.

Residential house: An example of typical Nabatean construction at Mamshit. The house is attached to the eastern wall of St. Nilus Church, and surrounds a courtyard in which there is a cistern. From the courtyard, a passage leads to the stables. A staircase leads to the second story, and still bears signs of the earthquake that contributed to the destruction of the city, apparently in 363 CE. The building was used as a home in the Byzantine period, as evidenced by the crosses carved in the lintels, although it was partly destroyed in order to make room for the construction of the Western Church. The house has been partly restored.

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.

The fortress: The ancient fortress of Mamshit was built at the highest point in the city. In 1936, the British mandate forces built a police station for its desert mounted police force, which supervised the movements of Bedouins and Jews in the Negev. It was built on an ancient Nabatean structure. From the roof of the building there is an excellent view of the remains of ancient Mamshit and Mamshit Stream.

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 Pessach, a colorful market is held in and around this street.

Nabato House: The largest house found in Mamshit. The building covers an area of some 2000 m², and has interior courtyards and staircases. The name given to the house expresses the many Nabatean features found in it, including a 16-horse stable, and capitals, some of them carved with human busts, a jar and a bull. The remains of frescoes were found on the walls of one of the rooms, depicting Eros and Psyche - figures from Greek mythology. In another room, a hoard of 10,800 silver coins was found, from the 1st – 3rd centuries CE.

The city reservoir: A large public pool (18 x 10 x 3 m) collected run-off water from the houses and streets. In the excavations a potsherd was found in the pool, with an inscription that translates: "For Flavius Gormos, son of Zacharia, I have completed one of the obligatory works for the pool, 25th of the month of Dios".  It appears that the residents of Mamshit maintained the pool by turn.

Bathhouse:  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 Stream:  A marked path leaves the entrance gate of the national park and runs down to 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.

 

Lookout points


The police lookout point: A lovely view of ancient Mamshit and Mamshit Stream from the highest point at the site.

Nabatean tower lookout: A view from the second story of the Nabatean tower, overlooking the city of Mamshit, Mamshit Stream, the dams, and the town of Dimona.

Identity card       

Mamshit is a declared national park, on an area of 1420 dunams. In 1981, the national outline plan for nature reserves and national parks (NOP 8) defined some 3870 dunams for a park, but this has not yet been approved. The city itself covers 40 dunams.

Mamshit National Park is a world heritage site. It was awarded this status by UNESCO in 2005, joining the other ancient desert cities of Avdat, Halutsa and Shivta - all on the Incense Route.

 

Geographic location:

Mamshit National Park is by the road from Dimona to the Dead Sea (Road 25), about 6 km east of Dimona.

 
Reasons for declaration:

  • Conservation of the remains of the ancient Nabatean culture
  • Conservation of rare Nabatean architecture
  • Conservation of a site on the Incense Route, a route connecting Oman and Yemen with the port cities of the Negev.

​Activities of the Nature and Parks Authority

  • Archaeological excavations and reconstruction of Nabatean buildings from the Roman and Byzantine periods (with professionals from these fields)
  • Conservation of the fauna, flora and landscape within the park
  • Preparing the site for visitors
  • Marking a path to Mamshit Stream and the dams
  • "The Nabatean market" - a colorful event held at Sukkot and Pessach, bringing the site to life
  • Lamplight guided tours at night
  • Operation of the Nabatean khan - organized overnight camping for visitors

 

Geography

Mamshit lies in a small valley between the Hatira Range to the south and the Ef'e Range to the north, some 6 km east of Dimona. Mamshit was the easternmost Nabatean city in the Negev. Its location gave it special strategic status, because it closed off a gap in a frontier area with very few settlements.

The city was built on a section of the main Nabatean route going up from the Arava through the Roman Scorpion's Pass, one day's journey from the station at Hatzeva Fortress. This was a desert city with no permanent water source, and its inhabitants took advantage of its proximity to Mamshit Stream: they built dams to collect water, and dug wells.

The city covered a small area, just 40 dunams.

History and archeology

Mamshit was founded in the second wave of Nabatean settlement in the Negev, after the middle of the 1st century BCE. The name Mamshit comes from the Roman name for the place - Mampsis, while the Arab name for the city – Kurnub - is apparently Nabatean.

Because of the limited grazing area, Mamshit could not subsist on breeding camels and sheep or goats. Tests of the animal bones at the site have shown that one branch of agriculture was pig breeding, indicating an abundance of water. In addition to agriculture, the Nabateans at Mamshit developed unusual sources of livelihood, and as suggested by Prof. Avraham Negev, one of these was a school of architecture - a field in which the Nabateans were considered to have expertise. Another important economic branch was apparently horse breeding. At Mamshit a new breed of horses was cultivated, which later came to be known as the Arabian horse,

At the beginning of the Byzantine period (4th century CE) the city's residents converted to Christianity. In the middle of the century, two churches were built there, financed by the central authorities, and it can be assumed that these too were a source of income for the local inhabitants. A 900 m long wall was built at Mamshit in this period. The wall encompassed the entire settlement, and Mamshit became the only fortified city in the Negev, other than Halutsa, which was partly fortified.

According to certificates that have been found, it is assumed that a considerable number of the city's residents enlisted in the border guard, and took part in protecting the south-eastern border of the Byzantine Empire. The aim of the ruling authorities was to achieve a balance of peace in this frontier city. The residents were employed in work for the Army, while the nomadic tribes enjoyed a regular stipend, at least as of the time of Theodorus I (378 – 395 CE). This delicate balance of power on which the existence of Mamshit was based continued until the time of Emperor Constantine (527 – 565 CE). Constantine entered into an agreement with the Persians, as a result of which the border system became redundant, and the payments were stopped. The Mamshit fortifications were burned down around 100 years before the Arab conquest, after which a small settlement existed here during the Early Arab period.

Mamshit represents Nabatean architecture at its finest. Excavations in the city have uncovered many finds, among them a hoard of some 10,500 silver coins and a large lead ingot.

In the 7th century, following the Muslim conquest, the city declined until the point at which it was completely abandoned. During the British mandate, the British built a police station on the ruins of a Nabatean building for the use of the desert mounted police. This building still stands.

Flora

Mamshit is on the fringes of the Hatira anticline, and the vegetation in the area of the ancient city is characteristic of the fold mountains of the northern desert. Limestone deposits are very common in the anticline. In the cracks between the rocks are Artemisia sieberi, Gymnocarpos decander, and common reamuria (Reaumuria hirtella) shrublets. On the rocky outcrops with their meager soil, sharp varthemia (Chiliadenus iphionoides) and Origanum dayi  grow, notable for the pungent scent they give off when rubbed.

Dune plants grow in the streambed of Mamshit Stream and in the sandy valleys, among them desert pancratium (Pancratium sickenbergeri), flowering in October, and Egyptian meadow saffron (Colchicum ritchii), which flowers in January.

Not far from Mamshit is the only site in the world where the Hormuzakia negevensis grows. Because of the uniqueness and rarity of this species, a refuge has been established for the plant in the national park. With the help of a team from the gene bank (Vulcani Institute), Hormuzakia negevensis plants have successfully taken root here, and the site provides a back-up for the wild population, and a source for producing and distributing seeds.

How to get here: Mamshit National Park is by the road from Dimona to the Dead Sea (Road 25), about 6 km east of Dimona.
 
Length of visit: 1 – 2 hours
 
Best season: Spring, fall, winter
 
Don’t miss: The dam on Mamshit Stream, trapping the floodwaters in the stream
 
Other attractions:  Lookout point, partial accessibility, possibility of holding events, campgrounds 

Opening hours

Last entry to the park is one hour before closing time
 
Summer:
Sunday - Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 5 pm
Fridays and the eve of holidays – 8 am – 4 pm
 

Winter:
Sunday - Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 4 pm
Fridays and the eve of holidays – 8 am – 3 pm
 
On the eve of New Year, the eve of the Day of Atonement, and Passover eve: 8 am – 1 pm

Contact us

Telephone: 08-6556478
Fax: 08-6571529
Email:  mamshit@npa.org.il
 

Entrance fee

Individuals:  Adult - NIS 22, child – NIS 9
Group (over 30):  Adult - NIS 19, child – NIS 8

Click here for site pamphlet

 


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    Mamshit National Park