Issue No.
190, February 2014 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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Another one of Palestine’s hidden treasures is the ancient village of Sebastiya, located around 12 km northwest of Nablus. Sitting peacefully on the scenic slopes of the Nablus hills, the village is surrounded by fertile valleys in which olives, almonds, figs, and grapes are cultivated. Visitors to Sebastiya can easily spend an entire day discovering the old town, exploring the archaeological site, and walking one of the various designated hiking trails. (See Walking Palestine…25 Journeys into the West Bank).

Sebastiya is perhaps best known for its Roman ruins that include a theatre, a forum, and a basilica. There is also a Byzantine church where John the Baptist is reputed to be buried. Other remains include Hellenistic defence towers, an old twelfth-century Crusader church that was later converted into a mosque, and several buildings that date back to Ottoman and Crusader times. In fact, excavations in the area have uncovered a mosaic of history and culture that go back nearly 10,000 years, including remains from the Canaanite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman, and Byzantine periods.

Sebastiya was also the administrative capital of the Samaria province during Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian rule. In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the city, and many Macedonians actually settled there. In 30 BC, the city was granted to Herod the Great who rebuilt it and called it Sebaste after his sponsor Augustus.

Unfortunately, the actual archaeological site is located in what is known as Area C, which remains under full Israeli military and civil control. The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has been unable to develop and renovate the actual site. Nevertheless, it remains open to visitors to explore and enjoy. A couple of nice restaurants and souvenir shops are located at the entrance to the site along with a newly opened interpretive centre.

Just down the hill from the ancient ruins is the modern village of Sebastiya. Over the past few years extensive renovation and restoration works were completed in the old town. Buildings that date back to the Crusader era have been restored and brought back to life. One example is the recently opened Sebastiya Guesthouse, which offers several single and double rooms for visitors. A tourist information office is also located in the old town. Most recently, directional signs were installed on the way into the village, leading towards the main archaeological site.

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