Nablus Tourist Attractions
West BankSituation and characteristicsNablus (Shekhem to the Israelis) lies 42km/26mi northeast of Tel Aviv and 60km/37mi north of Jerusalem in the uplands of Samaria.
An industrial town, it is the main Palestinian center on the west bank of the Jordan. Since Nablus is subject to frequent outbreaks of violence it is advisable to enquire about the current situation before visiting the town.HistoryIn A.D. 72, two years after the destruction of Jerusalem, Titus founded the settlement of Flavia Neapolis (the "new city") 2km/1.25mi northwest of the ruined town of Shechem. The town flourished, and in 244 was granted the status of a colonia. At first mainly populated by pagan veterans (time-served Roman soldiers) and Samaritans, it soon acquired a Christian community, which produced the philosopher and martyr Justinus (Justin Martyr, c. 100-165). In 521 the Samaritans killed the bishop and devastated the town's churches, whereupon Justinian had the rebels (except those who became converted to Christianity or managed to escape) executed or sold into slavery. In 636 the town of Neapolis was occupied by the Arabs and became known as Nablus. During the Crusader period Queen Melisande, widow of King Fulk, fortified the town against her son Baldwin III, who in 1152 excluded her from political life but left her in possession of Nablus, where she founded a number of churches. The Christian occupation of the town, however, was short-lived: in 1187 it was recovered by the Arabs and since then has remained a Muslim town.In the 16th century Nablus was the center of one of the four Ottoman administrative divisions of Palestine (the other centers being Gaza, Jerusalem and Safed). In 1936 it was the starting-point of a rebellion against the British Mandatory authorities. Jordan seized Nablus in 1948 but it was retaken by Israel in 1967. In 1980 the mayor of Nablus, Bassam Sheker, one of the most influential Palestinian politicians in the Israeli-occupied territories, lost both legs in a bomb attack, and in 1986 his successor Zafer el-Musri was murdered. The perpetrators of these terrorist acts have not been found, but are believed to have been either Israeli extremists or Palestinians who considered the mayors too pro-Israeli.
The modern districts of Nablus with their tall office blocks are in sharp contrast to the maze of irregular streets and lanes in the old town. In the center of the market area is the El-Nasser Mosque. The town's largest mosque is the El-Kebir Mosque, a few hundred yards east, which was built in 1168 on the foundations of a Frankish church.
In the western part of Nablus is the district of Haret es-Samira, in which some 250 Samaritans live. The only other place where Samaritans are still to be found is Holon, near Tel Aviv, where there is a small community.The Samaritans were the result of the mingling of Jews who had escaped being deported after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C. with "men from Babylon and from Cuthah" who had settled here (2 Kings 17,24). They were, therefore, no longer recognized by official Jewry and began to develop their own particular faith. Their Torah scroll, which is believed to date from the second century, contains only the five books of Moses, the only sacred writings they recognize. Their shrine is on Mount Gerizim (881m/2,891ft), which rises on one side of Nablus; on the other is Mount Eval (the Biblical Ebal; 940m/3,084ft).Moses instructed the Israelites to "put the blessing upon mount Gerizim and the curse upon mount Ebal" (Deuteronomy 11,29). When they came into the Promised Land Joshua set up an altar on Mount Ebal (Joshua 8,30). In 168 B.C. the Samaritan shrine which had stood on Mount Gerizim since 350 B.C. was converted by the Hellenising Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV into a temple of Zeus. This was destroyed in 128 B.C. by the Hasmonean John Hyrcanus I, who desired to incorporate the Samaritans into his kingdom. The Samaritans were also persecuted under Pontius Pilate (A.D. 26-36), Vespasian and the Roman Emperors from Hadrian to Justinian II. In 486 their temple on Mount Gerizim was again destroyed by the Emperor Zeno and replaced by a Christian church.In spite of their continuing persecution the Samaritans have survived to this day, though in very small numbers. They celebrate the Passover annually on the summit of Mount Gerizim, slaughtering seven lambs in precise accordance with the Mosaic prescriptions (Exodus 12,5-11).
The surroundings of Nablus include the site of ancient Shiloh and Tel Tirza.
36km/22mi south of Nablus is the village of Sinjil, which takes its name from the Crusader Raymond de Saint-Gilles, Count of Toulouse. From here a poor road runs 6km/4mi east by way of the village of Turmus-Aya to the site of ancient Shiloh (Hebrew Shillo, Arabic Khirbet Seilun). In the early period of Israelite settlement Shiloh was an important shrine, for it was here that the Tabernacle containing the Ark of the Covenant stood for a hundred years from about 1175 B.C. (Joshua 18,1). Here Samuel was called to be a prophet (1 Samuel 3). After the battle of Eben-ezer the Ark of the Covenant was carried off by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4,11) and the town was destroyed. In the 10th century B.C. Shiloh was the abode of the prophet Ahijah, who prophesied to Jeroboam that after Solomon's death he would be the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel (1 Kings, 29-37).Excavations by Danish archeologists from 1926 onwards brought to light a temple of the Canaanite period and a mosaic pavement from a Byzantine church. Adjoining the site is the Mosque of the Sixty (Djami Sittin).
15km/9mi northeast of Nablus on the road to Tubas is Tel Tirza (Arabic Tell Faria). Excavations between 1946 and 1960 showed that there was a settlement here in the fourth millennium B.C. which was abandoned about 2500 B.C. Around 1700 B.C. the Canaanites established a new town, which was taken by Joshua in the 13th century B.C. (Joshua 12,24). In the 10th century Jeroboam, who had first resided in Shechem and later in Pnuel on the east bank of the Jordan, made Tirzah capital of his kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 14,17). The town lost its importance when, about 880 B.C., Omri transferred his capital to Samaria. In 772 B.C. the town was destroyed by the Assyrians. Over the remains of the town the excavators found traces of Assyrian, Hellenistic and Roman settlement.
Two springs under the tell are the sources of the river Tirza. 24km/15mi down the Tirza valley to the southeast (7km/4.5mi before Adam's Bridge over the Jordan) the road to Jericho goes off on the right. 6km/4mi along this road, to the right, can be seen Mount Sartaba (alt. 377m/1,237ft), rising some 700m/2,300ft above the Jordan rift valley. Here in the first century B.C. the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus built the fortress of Alexandreia, destroyed by the Romans and later rebuilt by Herod. In 31 B.C. it served as a place of confinement for Herod's wife. It is a steep climb up the hill to the remains of the fortress destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, but the effort is rewarded by the magnificent views from the summit, extending southwestward to the Mount of Olives at Jerusalem (40km/25mi) and northeastward to the castle of Belvoir on its hill (55km/35mi). In the time of the Second Temple Sartaba, lying between these two points, was part of a chain of beacon stations which transmitted signals from Jerusalem to the boundaries of Israelite territory to announce the beginning of the month and of religious festivals.