Memphis is the Nabataean city of Mamshit which is today became Mamshit National Park located in the Negev. Moreover, Memphis was an important station on Incense Road, running from the Idumean Mountains, through the Arava Valley, and on to Beer-Sheva or to Hebron and Jerusalem. The city covers 10 acres and is the smallest but best restored city in the Negev Desert. The once-luxurious houses feature unusual architecture not found in any other Nabataean city.
The reconstructed city gives the visitor a sense of how Mampsis once looked. Entire streets have survived intact, and there are also large groups of Nabataean buildings with open rooms, courtyards, and terraces. The stones are carefully chiseled and the arches that support the ceiling are remarkably well constructed.
The History of Memphis
Memphis was founded in the 1st century B.C.E. as a trading post between Petra and Gaza. Also based on agriculture, it continued to develop over time. When its trade with the Roman occupation waned the city developed a lucrative trade breeding fine horses, notably, the renowned Arabian horse. During the Byzantine period, Memphis received support from the authorities as a frontier city until the time of Justinian I. When this funding ceased, the city went into decline and had practically ceased to exist by the middle of the 6th-century C.E.
Before the founding of the State of Israel, Prime Minister to-be David Ben-Gurion saw Memphis as the capital of the future country, which dovetailed with his dream of settling the Negev Desert.
Two churches were discovered in Mamshit National Park. The western St. Nilus Church has a mosaic floor with colorful geometric patterns, birds, a fruit basket, and five dedications in Greek. The eastern church has a lectern on small marble pillars, the remnants of which can be seen at the site.
Things to See at Mamshit National Park
The City Gate – An indoor gate, which was protected by two towers and beautifully preserved. The gate appears on the Madaba map and was burned and destroyed in the 7th century. The gate was set in the city wall that was built in the Roman period and whose length reached 900 meters. The wall was strengthened after an earthquake that struck the city in 363.
The Palace – a large affluent house (covers an area of 1,000 square meters) and what’s so special is the guard-room; reception hall; archive, servants’ rooms, living quarters, and more.
The Dams – three were built by the Nabataeans and one by the British in the 20th century. They could store tens of thousands of cubic meters of water that were used to fill the pools and pits in the city.
St. Nile Church – Three openings led to the church space from the atrium in front of it. The shape of the church resembled a basilica with three naves and an apse fixed at the end. On the floor of the church are several mosaics in one of which is written: “God has saved your servant Nile, the lover of Jesus, who founded (this building) and guards his household” or “God help Laber (they) son of Zenobius who guards the church”. These inscriptions gave the building its name.
The Church of the Saints and the Martyrs
is so named because human bones were found in it, probably a remnant of the worship of ancient Christian saints. The church was part of a convent, and a staircase led to the atrium in front of it. On the floor of the church is a mosaic with two crosses, which indicates that it dates before 427 when it was forbidden to display crosses on the floor of churches. In the church, there is a baptismal font with a baptismal font in the shape of a cross for adults and next to it a small square baptismal font for babies.
Nabato House – the largest house discovered in the city. Its area is 2,000 square meters, including courtyards and staircases. The house got its name due to the many Nabataean characteristics that were discovered in it.
In one of the rooms were preserved frescoes of figures from Greek mythology. A cache of about 10,800 silver coins that were collected and buried in it from the 1st to the 3rd century was discovered in the building.
Stables were also discovered in the house that could hold 16 horses; These were used for trade and agriculture developed in the city.
The biggest hoard of treasure ever found in Israel was discovered in Memphis; 10,500 silver coins, a 72Kg, lead ingot with its foundry markings, a collection of ancient Greek texts on papyrus, and other objects indicative of wealthy people.
Mempsis was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in June 2005. Click on the link for the 5 Must-See UNESCO World Heritage sites in Israel.
Mamshit National Park Opening Hours
Entrance to the park closes one hour before cited closing time
Sunday–Thursday and Saturday: 17:00 – 08:00
Friday and holiday eves: 16:00 – 08:00
Sunday–Thursday and Saturday: 16:00 – 08:00
Friday and holiday eves: 15:00 – 08:00
Holiday eves: 13:00 – 08:00
Yom Kippur eve: 13:00 – 08:00