Nablus or “The Uncrowned Queen of Palestine” as historians call it, is located 63 km north of Jerusalem between Mt. Gerzim and Mt. Ebal. The Roman Emperor Titus founded it in 72 AD in honor of his father Flavius Vespasian and it was called Flavia Neapolis, the “New City”. In the early centuries of Christianity, Neapolis was the scene of constant strife between the local Samaritan and Christian populations. The Samaritan revolt against Rome in 529 AD was severely put down by Emperor Justinian and most of the Samaritans were expelled. In 636 AD the Arabs took the town, changing its name to Nablus; it has been predominantly Muslim ever since. Nablus enjoys a strategic position being at the junction between two ancient commercial roads: one linking the coast to the Jordan valley, the other linking the north to the south of Palestine through the mountains. Today Nablus is one of the largest cities in the West Bank aside from Jerusalem, with a population of 120,000 and a principal industrial and commercial center. Some of its numerous factories of olive-oil soap for which Nablus is famous have been operating for more than 250 years. Nablus is famous for its sweets, reputed for its excellent goldsmiths and its busy markets.
Old Town of Nablus
The Old city is a large residential and market area featuring many old buildings and lively street scenes and activities. There are impressive mosques, souqs, Turkish baths and traditional soap factories, which are worth exploring. From Al-Hussein Square, the way to the Old City is a route lined with shops selling Palestinian sweets such as Knafeh, Baklawa or Burma for which Nablus is renowned.
Mount Gerzirn and Mount Ebal
881 m and 940 m above sea level respectively, dominate the views of Nablus. They are strikingly different in appearance. Mt. Gerzim is green and tree-covered; Mt. Ebal is for the most part bare, gray rock. The panoramic view from Mt. Gerzim is magnificent. The Samaritans who have lived there for 2500 years hold Mount Gerzim as sacred. In the Hellenistic period a temple of Zeus was erected on the mountain and was rebuilt in the Roman period. Remains of this temple have been recently excavated. It was connected with the city of Neapolis (Nablus) below it by a staircase, represented on coins, of which traces have also been found. The modern synagogue, which replaced an earlier one destroyed by an earthquake in 1927, houses what the Samaritans believe to be the world’s oldest Torah scroll (The Pentateuch). They are the five books of Moses (pbuh) and the only part of the Scriptures accepted by the Samaritans.
Jacob’s Well is located at the entrance of Nablus. Jacob (pbuh), on his return from Mesopotamia, bought a plot of land from Hanor for “a hundred pieces of silver” (Genesis 33:19), on which he pitched his tent and dug a 35 meter deep well for himself, his children and his flocks. Since that time, the well has been known as Jacob’s well. Tradition states that it was at this well that Jesus (pbuh) met the Samaritan woman and asked her for water to drink, the well has been an object of pilgrimage since then. The old church over the well was destroyed but restored by Crusaders, today Jacob’s Well stands within the walled complex of the Greek Orthodox Monastery.
Tell Balata (Shechem)
Tell Balata or Shechem is situated 3 km east of Nablus. The city was founded by the Canaanites during the 3rd millennium BC and since then it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Owing to its position in a fertile and well-watered valley. Tell Balata was one of the earliest and most powerful Canaanite cities. The remains still visible are a monumental gate and wall on the east and another on the north; near the latter stood a large sanctuary. The large temple in the reconstructed courtyard nearby is thought to have been used for public worship.
A little to the north of Jacob’s well is the traditional site of Joseph’s tomb (pbuh), an Ottoman building marked by a white dome.