Nablus (Arabic نابلس, Hebrew שכם, Shechem) is a large city (population, approximately 300,000) within the Palestinian Territories, in the Central Highlands of the West Bank, some 63 km north of Jerusalem.
Nablus is one of the oldest cities in the world, possibly established 9,000 years ago. It was called "Shechem" by its Canaanite and Israelite inhabitants. Shechem was the first capital of the northern ancient Israelite kingdom. 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 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 in the city.
Schools were 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 (1917–1948), Nablus became the core of Palestinian Arab Nationalism, and it was the center of resistance against the British. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war Nablus came under Jordanian rule, and 2 refugee camps were built near the city. In 1967, Nablus was occupied by the Israeli army, the occupation damaged the infrastructure of the city. The hard years of the occupation caused much damage to the city, 3 refugee camps were added to accommodate the people who fled to the city.
Nablus was invaded and occupied in 2002 during the Second Intifada, and has been raided frequently ever since. Nablus has a particularly high concentration of open anti-Israeli sentiments for a major West Bank city; you can see many memorials to Palestinians killed during Israeli attacks in the old city, and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and Palestinian militants occasionally clash in some parts of greater Nablus such as the refugee camps. There are many damaged buildings and debris-filled fields around Nablus, the result of past Israeli aerial bombing, but the residents of Nablus have been working hard on repairing their city and there's less and less visible damage every day. 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.
As of July 2010 there were no checkpoints for buses and service taxis (aka servees) 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.
Ramallah and Jerusalem: From Jerusalem, take the #18 bus to Ramallah. The bus departs from the bus station off Nablus Road north of Damascus Gate and the Old City. A #18 bus leaves every 10 minutes throughout the day, and it costs ₪7. 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 (₪10.5) but the last bus leaves early, often around 4PM. If the last bus has already left a servees taxi will take you to Nablus from Ramallah for around ₪17. There are at least four bus stations in Ramallah, so ask around if you get off/start at the wrong one.
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 and runs constantly 24 hours a day.
Most of the urban area of Nablus is small enough to be navigated on foot. It is not recommend that you wander around too much as there are a number of neighborhoods in Nablus that may have troubles with IDF raids and public unrest. However, the tensions have eased, but you should still check for the latest situation.
The public transportation in Nablus is informal, and is normally done by sharing service taxis (aka servees). The black-and-yellow taxis (sometimes with a Hebrew "Monit" sign on top) will take you anywhere in Nablus, and it's easy to find people to share the taxi with for many locations.
- 1 The Old City (southeast from the commercial center). This 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 Souq (The q is silent) is a typical colorful and loud Palestinian vegetable market located right in the center of town. Look for the tent roofs.
- 2 Jacob's Well (Be'er Ya'akov). 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 "Be'er Ya'akov" (₪2-5). If you come for a visit, do not venture down the road away from the city center as you will find yourself inside rough neighbourhoods.
- 3 Mount Gerizim (overlooking Nablus city). Check for the hours, as this place does not seem to be open all the time. 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 descendants of Samaritans who converted to Islam throughout the centuries of Muslim rule of the Holy Land.
- 4 Monastery of Bir el-Hamam (next to Mount Gerizim). Seen from all over Nablus, this monastery offers a great from above Nablus. The archaeological site included a complex of household installation and spaces, such as an open courtyard, a rain-fed cistern, a stable, and a kitchen. It also included a room with a mosaic floor with fragments of religious texts. This room gave access to an exceptional space of a chapel with colourful mosaics and a dedicatory text for three deceased ‘brothers, lovers of Christ’. A nicely decorated chancel screen separated the holy eastern part, the bema, with its altar table, from the main room.
- 5 Joseph's Tomb. In the eastern part of the city is a Muslim and Jewish holy site; however, it closes sporadically and it may not be possible to visit. As of March 2008 Joseph's Tomb had part of the roof destroyed and has been burnt out. Of the two Palestinian guards, one spoke English, and after radioing in advised that photos could not be taken without permission.
- 6 Tell Balata Archaeological Park. Daily 8AM - 3PM. 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". 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.
Close-by popular sights of the West Bank (read here) are Sebastia Archaeological Park (conveniently located if you go north towards Jenin), Awarta village, Kifl Hares and Aqabah with the twin minaret.
- 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 most holiest place for the Samaritan religion, believed by the Samaritans to be the first piece of land ever created by God, and the Samaritan community there offers a tour of their community to visitors. If you can come for their Passover (not necessarily the same date as the modern Jewish Passover!) you will see a colorful festival involving the consumption of lamb and goat sacrifices, comparable to Jewish practices 2,000 years ago. Check for opening hours.
- Yafo Cultural Centre, ☏ . In the Balata refugee camp, it offers background information about and tours through the city of Nablus to international visitors.
- Turkish Baths (Ask around, there are at least two famous ones around). Sundays are for women. Enjoy a day getting pampered at the Turkish Baths in the Old City. ₪50-70.
- Zajel International Program, Nablus, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Zajel is the Arabic word for a carrier pigeon: a symbol of communication and a symbol of peace. The Zajel Program offers a peaceful way by which Palestinian youth can be part of their cause. They seek to answer the misunderstanding and unawareness of people in the West, by representing Palestinian youth in a positive way and by acting as ambassadors for the Palestinian cause.
- 1 Albader Soap Factory (Alnabulsi Soap). 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 ₪5 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, and spice markets.
Kunafa/Kenafeh (sugary couscous pastry on top of melted goat cheese) is one of the most popular Palestinian treats. Nablus residents boast that Kunafa Nablusy is the best in Palestine, and no trip to Nablus is complete without it.
- 1 Al-Aqsa Pastry (Less than 50 m northwest/west of the mosque and clocktower). Famous with the locals, this is the place you have to go to if you want to "experience" kunafa/kenafeh. At the nearby factory/bakery you can take a sneak peek of how it is made. ₪5 per plate.
- 2 Abu Salha Sweets (in the center, next to the park alley to the roundabout). Not a treat for the eye like Al-Aqsa Pastry, but taste-wise a little better. ₪5 per plate.
- 3 Abu Salha Sweets (2) (حلويات أبو صالحة), Ervadi, ☏ . Another highly rated place in Nablus for the delicious kunafa/kenafeh.
You can get other sweets from Nablus as well, ha-lawa (baklava) and zalabya (sweet fried pastry) 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.
- 1 Nablus Youth Hostel, Al-Sekka Street, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. A good backpacker place and the first choice in Nablus when it comes to budget options. All amenities, even though the cleanliness of the beds is doubtable. Make sure you agree on an arrival time, the "reception" does not seem to be occupied most of the time. ₪70 (₪60 if recommended by Hostel in Ramallah).
- 2 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 as of August 2008.
- 3 Turquoise Hostel, Al-Nasr Street 184, ☏ . Wifi, hot water, shared kitchen, breakfast on request, panoramic rooftop terrace, tours available. In kasbah area. $25.
- 4 Hotel Crystal Motel, ☏ .
- 5 Al-Qasr Hotel. A basic hotel in the Rafeedia area on the mountain. Personnel are friendly and there's fixed LAN in the room (but it doesn't always work). US$70 single room, US$95 double (as of May 2008).
- 6 Asia Hotel, ☏ .
- Damascus Guest-House, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The Damascus House provides both accommodations and Palestinian cultural experiences based in the city center of Nablus. US$16 per night.
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.
Shared minibus taxis (sherut/servees) leaving Nablus tend to congregate around the center of town and along the two-sided Al-Gazalah (Al-Hadadeen) Street going southeast out of town. Ask the waiting drivers which cities they're going to until you find yours or they point you into the right direction.
- Ramallah – Not so exciting, but the de facto seat of government of the Palestinian authority. There is a bus that goes to Ramallah (₪10.5) from the station, but the last bus leaves at 4PM. A servees taxi to Ramallah costs ₪15, and from Ramallah the bus to Jerusalem is ₪7 and leaves from the main bus station in Ramallah.
- Jerusalem – Besides the Dead Sea, a central focus for most people coming to this region.
- Bethlehem – The biblical birthplace of Jesus and hometown of David, surrounded by Mar Saba Monastery and Herodium (Herodion) Park.
- Jericho – One of the oldest settlements in the world and the Middle East, and a great starting point for Kalya Beach at the Dead Sea.
- Jenin – Its name's meaning is The spring of gardens.
- Tiberias – A large Israeli town in the north and great starting point for Galilee and Golan. To get there by hitchhiking, take a sherut to Tubas (₪7.50) and from there hitchhike east through Tayasir and Aqabah to the highway #578 or #90, and then north past the Israeli checkpoint.