Nablus was founded as Neapolis in Roman times (meaning 'new city') just west of an ancient Samaritan village gaggled around the ancient Jacob's Well. It is located in a deep valley between two ancient holy mountains, Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. The town is long and thin, following the east-west valley-bottom and climbing up its sides. It has a population of 130,000.
Today’s city is less prosperous than Ramallah and Bethlehem, not least because it is frequently blockaded and roadblocked by Israel. Religious Israelis claim it as their ancient Jewish birthright, yet there is actually no evidence of early Jewish settlement there – if anything it is historically more important to Christians, though few Christians now live there. Jews and Samaritans were quite numerous here a thousand years ago though, in the early Muslim period in the Middle East.
Nablus is quite unpretentious and it receives few foreign visitors. Yet its valley location, with buildings clinging to the edge of the mountains, makes it rather special, a city to remember and pleasantly unmodernised. One nice aspect of it is that foreigners are treated as objects of friendly surprise rather than as walking ATMs and buying-machines.
two holy mountains,
Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal
with a lively atmosphere.
The city goes east-west along the bottom
of the valley, climbing up its sides.
founded as the Roman city of Neapolis
(Naples in Italy also bore this name).
in the intifadas of 1988 and 2000,
and it's still harassed by settlers,
who claim it is the ancient biblical Shechem.
old Ottoman architecture.
genuine and spirited.
Some Jews claim Nablus as the site of the ancient biblical city of Shechem. Two sites, Joseph’s Tomb and Jacob’s Well, crop up periodically in the news when army-backed settlers enter, officially to make prayers.
There’s a provocative aspect to it, including desecration of mosques. Perhaps this is retaliatory, since Nablus was a centre for militant activity in the second intifada, when 522 residents were killed and 3,000 injured. In the local elections in 2005, 13 of 15 representatives were from Hamas, the Islamist party.
There’s a lovely Ottoman old city in the centre of town. They were big developers, the Ottomans, whose 300 year rule ended during WW1.
Ottoman townscapes are human-size, built for pedestrians. They have lovely arches, domes, courtyards, alleyways, buildings, nooks and crannies.
Come to Nablus sometime!