When Mamshit was a Nabataean (original ancient Arab people, who converted to Christianity in the 4th century) city (100 BC), was an important station on Incense Road, running from the Idumean Mountains, through the Arabah and Ma’ale Akrabim, and on to Beer-Sheva or to Hebron and Jerusalem. The city covered 40 square km., and is the smallest but best restored city in the Negev. The most luxurious houses could be found in this city. Map.
The current reconstruction gives everyone a better view how Mamshit once looked, with entire intact streets, with large groups of Nabataean buildings with large, open rooms, courtyards and terraces. The quality of the buildings was remarkable well done and survived so long in the desert.
At first, Mamshit functioned like a trade post on the way from Petra and Gaza, and the citizens made a living from agriculture. When the trade waned with the Roman occupation, they found another form of income: raising horses. Mamshit bred the renowned Arabian horse, which brought great wealth to the city and therefore beautiful houses and large buildings.
During the Byzantine period, Mamshit received support from the authorities those times for being a frontier city. When this funding dried up during the time of Justinian, the people left the city and was abandoned.
Two churches were discovered in Mamshit. The western St. Nilus Church has a mosaic floor with colorful geometric patterns, birds, a fruit basket, and five dedications in Greek (the mosaic is not open to the public). The eastern church has a lectern on small marble pillars, the remnants of which can be seen at the site.
The biggest hoard ever found in Israel was uncovered in Mamshit – 10500 silver coins, a lead ingot weighing 158 pounds with foundry signs, a papyrus cluster with ancient Greek texts, and other objects indicative of wealthy people.
Mamshit, now a national park and a World Heritage Site, reveals not only magnificent desert landscapes and ancient culture, but also an important chapter in early Christian history.