Where to go Guide
Sebastya, located 10 km north-west of Nablus, is a small Palestinian village renowned for being surrounded with rich olive groves and lush hills that, during the spring time, colourfully bloom with flowers. The present-day village is located just next to impressive archaeological remains.
Sebastya’s charming old town predominantly consists of Mamluk and Ottoman style architecture, but there is also a deep pit containing several Roman tombs.
The center of the village is dominated by the Mosque of Nabi Yahya, which was built as the splendid Crusader Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, on the site of his supposed entombment alongside prophets Abdias and Eliseus. Also, not far from the village’s center, are ruins of the 5th century Byzantine Church of the Head (Kniset el-Ras), said to be built over the traditional place of John’s beheading. A small modern Christian cemetery can be seen next to the Byzantine basilica.
The site was originally established as a Canaanite agricultural settlement. Omri (882-871 BC), the sixth king of the Israelite Northern Kingdom, bought this strategically located hill and build his new capital on it. He named the city Samaria, after the hill’s previous owner, Shemron (1 Kings 16:21-24). After 722 BC, the Assyrians made Samaria their provincial capital for central Palestine.
In 331 BC, Samaria became a Hellenistic village, with Alexander the Great stationing thousands of his Macedonian soldiers there. Excavations revealed three round towers (13 m in diameter) and later-period massive fortifications with square towers, as well as plenty of Hellenistic artifacts.
The Macedonian camp was destroyed by Hasmonean King John Hyrcanusin in 108 BC. However, after the Roman conquest in 63 BC and the fall of the Hasmonean Kingdom, Roman governor Gabinus rebuilt Samaria around 55 BC.
In 27 BC, Cesar Augustus awarded Samaria, among many other sites, to Herod the Great, who in honour of the Emperor gave it a new name - Sebaste, meaning Augustus in Greek. Herod built a theater, stadium, and many other public edifices on the site. He also initiated construction of a great temple and dedicated it to Caesar. The ruins of all of these places can still be seen today.
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