Mamshit was an ancient Nabatean city which formed part of the Incense Road, a trading route of various spices in the Mediterranean and south Arabia. In fact, it is one of four such cities in the Negev Desert in Israel which form the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Incense Route. It is arguably the best preserved out of the four.
History of Mamshit
Founded in approximately the 1st century BC, Mamshit was a prosperous trade route between Petra and Gaza on the Incense Route. Under later Roman occupation, its prosperity from the Incense Route declined significantly, but the city began to breed Arabian horses (and other prestigious breeds).
Under Byzantine rule, Mamshit was a frontier city, and received funding accordingly. When this was withdrawn, the city fell into disrepair, almost ceasing to exist by the 6th century, and being left to the desert.
Reportedly David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel, believed Mamshit could potentially be a capital of his new state – however, this didn’t happen, and the capital was named as Tel Aviv. Mamshit was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in June 2005.
The ruins are undeniably impressive, and inclue a caravanserai, two large churches, large homes, a bathhouse, market, and amazing frescoes and mosaics, which survived relatively in tact. A huge hoard of treasure was found in Mamshit, including 10,500 silver coins and various Greek texts on papyrus, all further cementing Mamshit’s position as a city of wealth and sophistication.
The site is part of a National Park – it closes early on Fridays and is normally closed on Saturdays for Shabat. Get there early before the heat of the day and for nicer light.
Getting to Mamshit
Mamshit is just off Route 25, about 8km southeast of Dimona and 45km southeast of Be’er Sheva. Buses travelling between Be’er Sheva and Eilat via Dimona can drop you on Route 25, where it’s then a 1km walk to the site itself.
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