Nablus (Arabic نابلس, Hebrew שכם, Shechem) is a large city (population, approximately 125,000) within the Palestinian Territories, located in the Central Highlands of the West Bank, some 63 km north of Jerusalem. Located in a strategic position between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, it is the capital of the Nablus Governorate and a Palestinian commercial and cultural center.
Nablus is one of the oldest cities in the world, possibly first established 9000 years ago. It was originally called "Shechem" by its Canaanite and Israelite inhabitants. The Romans built a new city (Flavia Neapolis, in honor of Flavius Vespasian) a short distance from Shechem. The name Nablus comes from Neapolis. The old city of Nablus is located on the site of Neapolis, but in modern times the city has grown to include the site of Shechem as well.
Nablus is distinguished by its location in a narrow valley between the two mountains Gerizim and Ebal. This makes for an impressive view when you are within the city itself.
Schools were first established in the middle of the 19th century during the short reign of Ibrahim Pasha, but maintained their existence in the following years when the Ottomans regained control of the region. On 11 July 1927 the town suffered a major earthquake. Much of the consequent damage to buildings was never repaired, and the ruinous condition of many of them may well have encouraged the inhabitants to move outside the old city to build their new houses, although some new building to the north and west of the old city had already been undertaken before 1927. The arrival of the motor car has increased emigration to the slopes of Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, where new roads allow vehicles the easy access denied them in the hilly and partly-stepped streets of the old city.
During the British Mandate (1918-1948), Nablus became the core of Arab-Palestinian Nationalism, and it was the center of resistance against the British. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War Nablus was occupied by Jordan, and 2 refugee camps were built near the city. In 1967, during the six days war, Nablus was occupied by the Israeli army, the infrastructure of the city was damaged and 3 refugee camps were added to accommodate the people who fled to the city. Jurisdiction over the city was handed over to the Palestinian National Authority on December 12, 1995, as a result of the Oslo Accords Interim Agreement on the West Bank.
During the Second Intifada (2000-2006) Nablus was a center of violence between the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian militant groups. There are many damaged buildings and debris-filled fields around Nablus, the result of past Israeli attacks, but today most of the damage was repaired. Israeli restrictions on the city are generally looser than they used to be, and a visit to Nablus in the daytime is a safe and worthwhile trip.
The majority of Nablus' inhabitants today are Muslim, but there are small Christian and Samaritan communities as well. Much of the local Palestinian Muslim population of Nablus is believed to be descended from Samaritans who converted to Islam. There are seventeen Islamic monuments and eleven mosques in the Old City. Nine of the mosques were established before the 15th century. In addition to Muslim houses of worship, Nablus contains an Orthodox church dedicated Saint Justin Martyr, built in 1898 and the ancient Samaritan synagogue, which is still in use.
Ramallah and Jerusalem: From Jerusalem, take the #218 or #219 bus to Ramallah. The bus departs from the bus station off Nablus Road north of Damascus Gate and the Old City. A #218 bus leaves every 30 minutes throughout the day, and it costs 11 NIS. This bus will drop passengers off at the main street in Ramallah, but stay on until the main bus station. From the Ramallah Bus Station, a bus runs to Nablus (10 NIS as of July 2010) but the last bus leaves early, often around 4pm. Pay attention: it takes an hour or more to get to Nablus, and the bus will wait with leaving untill it is full. Going back will take even longer, due to traffic jams. If the last bus has already left a servees taxi will take you to Nablus from Ramallah for 17 NIS (as of November 2011).
As of July 2010 there are no check points for buses/servees taxis entering Nablus from other West Bank cities, although you will need your passport and visa stamp to enter back into Israeli territory upon your return. As of June 2009, the IDF is now allowing many cars and buses to pass through the checkpoints surrounding Nablus without dropping their passengers off at the walking checkpoint. This is subject to change without much warning.
Leaving Nablus through the Huwwara checkpoint on foot is more complicated and on average takes half an hour (except during work "rush hours," during which the process can take several hours). Women undergo less security in the rightmost queue and as a foreigner one might try this row as well. The time of this process depends on the attitude and the mood of the Israeli soldier. If you carry bulky luggage, this will be x-ray scanned by a portable scanner across the road. The military will keep your passport whilst you have your bags screened. Walk through and look for a taxi or servees taxi to your destination.
Servees minibus taxis leaving Nablus tend to congregate around the center of town, ask the drivers which cities they're going to until you find yours. There's also a servees taxi station near the center of town, ask where the "muHattat al-busaat" is. There is a bus that goes to Ramallah (10 NIS) from the station, but the last bus leaves at 4pm. A servees taxi to Ramallah costs 15 NIS, and from Ramallah the bus to Jerusalem is 8 NIS and leaves from the main bus station in Ramallah. As of July 2010, you won't encounter any checkpoint or need to show your passport to go to Jenin or Ramallah, although you will need your passport and visa stamp to enter Israeli territory.
Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV) Is the main international airport serving Israel and the West Bank. From Ben Gurion it is cheapest to take a "sherut" (shared taxi) to the bus station on Nablus Road by Damascus Gate, and then follow the directions above to Nablus. A sherut from Ben Gurion to Jerusalem costs 50 NIS and runs constantly 24 hours a day.
Most of metropolitan Nablus is small enough to be navigated on foot, but count on walks of at least 45 minutes. The public transportation in Nablus is informal, and normally is done by sharing servees taxis. At sofian street, there is a huge parking garage where community taxis are leaving west and east bound for the cost of 4 Shekel per person. The yellow taxis will take you anywhere in Nablus for 10 shekels. Your hotel can call Taxi-companies who will send you a taxi to take you anywhere in the city for 15 Shekels.
- The Old City of Nablus is a charming area filled with winding narrow streets and small shops selling all kinds of foods, clothing, and trinkets. Simply enter the alleyways leading into it nearby the massive parking garage in the center of town, and wander around until you recognize every street.
- The Sooq is a typical colorful and loud Palestinian vegetable market located right in the center of town. Look for the tent roofs.
- Jacob's Well, the spot where it is believed that a Samaritan woman offered a drink from the well to Jesus and he then revealed to her that he was the Messiah (John 4:5), is located here. All Western monotheistic religions also believe this to be a site where Jacob camped near Shechem during his travels, hence the name. A Greek Orthodox Church is located on the site, and it is free to tour. Its hours are unpredictable, however. Ask a taxi driver downtown to take you to "Beer Ya'koub" (2-5 NIS). If you come for a visit, do not venture down the road away from the city center as you will find yourself inside rough neighborhoods.
- Mt Gerizim, (overlooking Nablus city). The top of the mountain hosts the community of "Kiryat Luza", one of the only two Samaritan communities left in the world. The Samaritans are an ancient offshoot of Judaism who believe that Mount Gerizim, and not the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, is the location of the Holy of the Holies. The Samaritans of Nablus hold both Palestinian and Israeli ID cards and historically have had good relations with both the Palestinians and the Israelis (they are also represented in the Nablus Municipality). The Palestinians of Nablus revere the Samaritans alleged ability to predict the future with palm readings by using the Samaritan holy books. Kiryat Luza offers tours of their community and even has a gift shop. Genetic studies have made the hypothesis that much of Nablus' Palestinian population are originally Samaritan who converted to Islam at the time of the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land. edit
- Joseph's Tomb in the eastern part of the city is a Muslim and Jewish holy site. As such, it is gated and guarded by Palestinian Authority officers. However, they will usually open the gate for tourists and even allow a couple of pictures if asked nicely. The building was damaged in 2008 but has since been repaired. Ask a taxi driver to take you to "Habr Yosef."
- Tell Balata Archaeological Park, . Tell Balata archaeological site, near Nablus, the site contains the remains of a Middle Bronze Age city with a massive fortification wall (ca. 1650-1450 BC), two impressive gates and a fortress temple. The site has been identified as ancient Shechem, known from Egyptian and biblical references. Tell Balata was an important cultural and political centre due to its strategic location at the eastern end of a pass between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. It was overlooking the plain of Askar and commanded all traffic through the area. It was also a centre for agriculture and trade, it has been called “the uncrowned queen of Palestine”. The archaeological evidence on the history on the site is the result of German and American excavation during the 20th century. It shows that Tell Balata was first settled in the Chalcolithic period (c.4000- 3500 BC) and developed into a city during the Middle and Late Bronze Age. The site was used again during the Iron Age and throughout the Hellenistic times until the 1st century BC. After the Hellenistic times the focus of the settlement shifted further west to the newly established Roman town of Flavia Neapolis, now known as Nablus. Tell Balata is a potential World Heritage Site as part of ``Old Town Nablus and its environs``. At the moment the site is being developed by a joined Palestinian-Dutch project, in cooperation with UNESCO, into Tell Balata Archaeological Park. Facilities for visitors will be provided, as of 2013 there will be a visitor centre. The site is open for visitors all year, every day between 8 am - 3 pm. edit
- Sebastia Archaeological Park, (12 km from Nablus). Sebastia is home to a number of impressive archaeological ruins. The ancient ruins of Samaria-Sebaste is located just above the built up area of the modern day village on the eastern slope of the hill The ruins dominate the hillside and comprise remains from six successive cultures dating back 10,000 years: Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Byzantine. Also in the village of Sebastia is the alleged tomb of John the Baptist pronounced "Maqam an Nabi Yahya" in Arabic. Also in St. John's tomb are the tombs of the Biblical figures Elisha and Obadiah edit
- Awarta village, (8 km from Nablus). Present in the town is the burial ground for the presitly family of the Biblical character of Aaron (notably the tombs of: Ithamar, Eleazar, Phinehas, Abishua, and seventy tombs for the Biblical Seventy Elders (Sanhedrin). There is also a Muslim monument that is claimed to be the Tomb of Ezra the Scribe edit
- Kifl Hares, (18 km from Nablus). Kifl Hares contains the Tombs of the Biblical figures Joshua, Caleb, and Nun edit
- Climb Mount Gerizim or Mount Ebal on either side of Nablus for a beautiful view of the city. A small Samaritan community, one of only two left in the world, resides atop Mt. Gerizim, and you can get a look at their temple on the mountaintop. Mt Gerizim is the holiest place for the Samaritan religion, believed to be the first piece of land ever created by God, and the Samaritan community there offers a tour of their community to visitors.
- The Yafo Cultural Centre in the Balata refugee camp offers background information about and tours through the city of Nablus to international visitors. ☎ 9-232-4553.
- Enjoy a day getting pampered at the Turkish Baths located in the Old City (there are separate days for men and women).
*Nablus olive soap, "Nablusi Soap" has been very famous for centuries. It is handmade in factories located in the Old City. The factories will be more than happy to offer a very interesting tour of their facilities. The soap, 100% organic and freshly made is an extremely inexpensive (not more than 2-5 NIS per bar) souvenir for friends and family
- Olive oil in Nablus is some of the best olive oil you can find anywhere. It can be purchased in several shops in the old city. Keep in mind that the olive oil you purchase will be handed to you in a leftover coca-cola bottle or in a few layers of plastic bags.
- Nablus's Old City also has numerous candy factories, spice markets, and of course, Nablus is home of the famous Kenaffa dessert.
Kunafa (sugary pastry on top of melted goat cheese) is a popular Palestinian treat. Nablus residents boast that Kunafa Nablusy is the best in Palestine, and no trip to Nablus is complete without it.
You can get other sweets from Nablus as well, ha-lawa and zalabya (sweet fried pastry with pumpkin jam) are very delicious.
Alcohol is difficult to find in Nablus. Try one of the many fine sheesha (water pipe) cafes downtown instead. You can buy alcohol in the samaritan village at Gerizim.
- Al-Qasr Hotel, . A basic hotel in the Rafeedia area on the mountain. Personnel are friendly and there's a Wifi installed all over the hotel. 75USD single room, 95USD double (as of June 2013). edit
- Al-Yasmeen Hotel. An authentic and charming Nablus hotel located in the center of town. This hotel is appropriate for women traveling alone, as are some of the others. 180 NIS as of August 2008. edit
- Crystal Motel, ☎ 972(or 972) (02) 233 3281. edit
If you don't know their addresses, you can ask anybody in the street or get in a taxi and tell the driver to take you to any one of these hotels.
- Damascus Guest-House, ☎ 00972-597 874 555. The Damascus House provides both accommodations and Palestinian cultural experiences based in the city center of Nablus. [email protected] $16 per night. edit
- International Friend's Guest-House, ☎ 970 9 2381064, . the International Friends’ Guest House offers services of hosting visitors of Nablus and the north cities, villages and refugee camps of West Bank, as well as historical and current situation information, a reference for local organizations and necessary contacts for those who want to volunteer or to make researches, regular visits to the old city and the refugee camps, varied weekly activities and aiming seminars made by specialists. edit
- Asia Hotel, ☎ 972(or 970) (02) 238 6220. edit
- El Esteklal Hostel, Nablus - Hitten Street, ☎ 09 2383618. El Esteklal is a small hotel/hostel located about 5-10minutes from the old city. Nestled in a discreet location, ask anyone where it is. A bed is 40shekels a night as of April 2015. Don´t expect english service, but really friendly staff and mostly Palestinian guests. If you want a quiet hostel with local people, but not much geared towards organized tours, this is a good option. edit