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Sabastia – Sebastia

Sebastia (Sabastia – Sabastiya)

Sebastia (Sabastiya) is located around ten kilometers northwest of Nablus at the junction of two main historical routes, the northern Nablus-Jenin route and the western route from the Jordan Valley to the Mediterranean coast. The site offers a magnificent view of the surrounding farmland.

Sebastia was a regional capital during the second Iron Age and a major urban center during the Hellenistic-Roman period. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Palestine and remains known by its ancient name, indicating a strong element of cultural continuity. Christian and Islamic traditions place the tomb of John the Baptist here.

A series of excavations were carried out at the site, the first conducted between 1908 and 1910 by Harvard University. The most recent was carried out by the Palestinian Department of Antiquities in 1994, and uncovered part of an Iron Age city, including a royal palace complex and a central courtyard. One of the major discoveries was an ivory collection from the eighth and ninth centuries BC.

Sebastia flourished during the Iron Age II as a regional capital. It was captured by the Assyrians in 722 BC during the reign of Sargun II and became the center of the Assyrian province in Palestine. Later, under Persian rule, the city remained a provincial capital for central Palestine. In 332 BC, the city was captured by Alexander the Great. Massive fortifications around the acropolis were added, including a circular tower. Then, in 63 BC, the city became part of the province of Syria. Emperor Augustus later gave it to Herod, who renamed it Sebaste (in Greek Sebastos is Augustus) in honor of the emperor. Severus gave it the name Colonia in 299 AD. A large building program was carried out during the Roman period, including the city wall, a gate, a colonnaded street with 600 columns, the basilica, the forum, a theatre, a temple for Augustus, a stadium, an aqueduct, and cemeteries.

During the Byzantine period, Sebastia was the seat of a bishop. A church dedicated to Saint John was built on the southern slope of the acropolis. A Byzantine church and a Crusader church, both dedicated to Saint John, were built in the center of the old village. A mosque was also built in honor of Saint John (Nabi Yahyia).

The present town of Sebastia, including the archaeological remains, the historical town, and the cultural landscape, is one of Palestine’s major tourist attractions. A series of restoration activities was carried out in the historic core, including renovation of the mosque, the shrine of Nabi Yahyia, the Cathedral of John the Baptist, the Roman mausoleum, the olive press, Kayed Palace, and the traditional buildings, along with a walking trail.