The ancient city of Mamshit sprang up in the first century BCE as a post along the incense and spice route between Petra and Gaza. During the Roman period, evolving trade demands caused the residents of the city to undertake the practice of breeding the now famous Arabian horse. This development brought great wealth and historical significance to the city, which contributed to the site’s adoption as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005.
Archaeologists have found a variety of remnants within the city that uncover the site’s history and point to its identity as a former center of trade and wealth. Relatively recent reconstruction efforts have helped to make the site a place where history comes alive and visitors can encounter some of these realities while ambling about. Most notable of these recreated structures is the Nabataean “wealthy house” which displays spacious rooms, a large guard tower, and a notable courtyard. Nearby, the remains of a stable allow visitors to explore remnants of one of the economic ventures that helped put Mamshit on the map.
In addition to the trading of horses, incense, and spices, Mamshit is remembered for its extensive water management projects that allowed its population to flourish in the desert. Though difficult to conclusively verify this theory archaeologically, it is believed that Nabataeans used a form of water-retaining soil and a planting strategy known as lithic mulch agriculture; this method involved spreading layers of smaller pebbles and rocks several centimeters thick over the surface of a planted area in order to reduce erosion and evaporation while increasing groundwater retention and moderating soil temperature. Visitors can explore the network of dams, canals, and cisterns that enabled the Nabataeans to produce tradable bumper crops in ancient times.
Consider visiting the site over one of the holidays or festivals when the ancient market is recreated to depict its previous grandeur and lively nature; and for a truly immersive experience, spend a night in the park’s Nabataean Khan tent campground.
Acquaint yourself with a slightly more recent era by visiting the remains of the two Byzantine churches on the site. The western “Nile Church” contains a mosaic floor with geometric patterns featuring animals and produce. In the eastern church, you will find remnants of a pulpit on small marble pillars. Both buildings harken back to a the time when Mamshit was a waypoint for Christian pilgrims passing through the Negev.