Sabastiya Travel Overview
The origin of the name of the modern day village of Sabastiya is the Herodian city of Sebaste, founded in 25 BC by Herod the Great on the site of anceint Samaria. Herod the Great, was awarded the city in 30 BC by the Roman Emperor Augustus, and built a temple dedicated to Augustus, a stadium, a theater and refortified the city with larger walls. The large site includes a number of fascinating finds from several periods including the Basilica and Forum, the Theater, the fortified Tower from the Hellenistic period, the Temple of Augustus, the Colomned Street, the ancient City wall and Gates, the Church of the Discover and the Stadium.
History of Sabastiya in the Holy Land
The city is located on a strategic hill overlooking Samaria, just off road 60 approximately 10 minutes from Nablus (ancient Shechem) and was rebuilt several times. Early settlements are dated to the Early Bronze Age and were tied to agricultural production including wine and oil, the site of which was a rocky summit on the hill.
The citadel on the acropolis was built under the rule of King Omri (885-887) who bought the hill from Shemer and moved his capital there, calling it Samaria. The city expanded establishing commercial and social relations with the Phoenician when Omri’s son, King Ahab (874-853) marriet the Phoenician Princess Jezebel.
The Assyrian Empire took control over the region in the eighth century BC and later the city was taken by King Sargon II in 722 BC.
son and was eventually rebuilt at the end of the 2nd century AD by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus. The outstanding remains of present day Sabastiya come mostly from this period.
After the conquest of the region, Alexander the Great settled at Samaria with thousands of Macedonian soldiers transforming it into a Hellenistic town. Later the city was destroyed again by the Maccabaean King John Hyrcanus in 108 BC. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 6 BC by Pompey, the city was annexed to the Roman province of Syria.
In 30 BC the city was awarded to Herod the Great, and renamed in his honor and rebuilt with a temple, a stadium, a theater as well as refortified. After his death, the city remained under the authority of his Christianity eventually spread all over the region of Samaria in the first centuries AD and the traditional developed that the body of John the Baptist, recovered by his disciples in Transjordan, were buried in Sabastiya. In 634 AD, Sabastiya fell under Islamic rule and with the arrival of the Crusaders, a Byzantine church was rebuilt over the tomb of presumed tomb of John the Baptist.
Later, Sabastiya came under the control of Saladin’s nephew, Husam ed-Din Muhammad, who turned the cathedral into a mosque and dedicating it to Prophet Yahia, the Muslim name for John the Baptist. Since then the tomb of John the Baptist was visited by many pilgrims and visitors, both Christians and Muslims.
Relative to the other sites in the Holy Land, Sabastiya is not nearly as developed as other sites in the Holy Land, yet it does offer the visitor a very interesting glimpse into ancient civilization and the sophisticated development generally associated with Herod the Great. The site is currently in “Area C” in the Palestinian Territories which means it is under the control of the Israeli Authorities but is open to both Palestinians and Israelis. At the present time there is no entrance fee.
The town of Sebastiya is worthy of a stroll and offers a cute little mosaic studio where visitors can learn the art of mosaic making. A small guesthouse, called “The Guesthouse” is also available for travelers seeking to stay over in this village.
Lunch – For those interested in authentic Palestinian food, just outside of Sabastiya there is a restaurant called the Holy Land Sun, that along with kebab, middle eastern salads and other entrees, served some of the best Kunafa delicacies in the area.
Location – Road 60 (open to both Israelis and Palestinians) is the main thoroughfare that intersects with the access road into Sabastiya, north of Nablus.
For more information and to create your individual or group pilgrimage today contact us!