During the recent spring, we organized a group of tourists and locals from Bethlehem to tour Sebastiya, a village in northern Samaria which is home to incredible ancient ruins from the Bronze age to the time of Herod the Great. Sebaste was built by the King Herod in 25 B.C. on the site of ancient Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 9th & 8th century B.C.
The settlements on the hill were built several times, but the first one is dated to the Bronze Age and the rule of ancient King of Israel Omri, (885-874 B.C.), who bought the hill from Shamer and moved there his capital calling it Samaria, after the name of the previous owner.
Later, the place was also occupied by the Greeks, Romans, Islamic Cultures, Crusader and many different rules leaving behind them great buildings and treasures.
It took approximately two hours to drive to Sebastiya from Bethlehem. While waiting for our local guide, we watched some small kids playing football and others riding a camel, a local attraction on the site just next to the ancient Basilica and Forum from the 2nd century A.D.
We were amazed by the heritage of the area. First we went to the northern slope of the hill of Sebastiya to see the antique Roman stadium, which was built inside the walled area during the Roman period.
Later, we proceeded to the site where we could see the great Hellenistic defensive tower, which was built to protect the Hellenistic city. Nearby the tower, we saw the Temple of Augustus, built by Herod the Great to show his loyalty to the Roman Emperor.
At the theater – Girls’ school group was visiting Sebastiya too. Courtesy: Beata Andonia for Travelujah
About midway between the Forum and the upper temple of Augustus are the remains of an ancient theater. The place has incredible accoustics- when you stand in the middle of the stage your voice sounds very loud even is you speak quietly.
We also had a chance to see an ancient Church of the Head – ruins of a 6th century’s Byzantine monastery associated with the discovery of the head of the beheaded John the Baptist.
Church of the Head; courtesy Beata Andonia for Travelujah
After all those interesting views we became a bit hungry, so it was a perfect time to direct ourselves to the Sebastiya’s Guest House, situated in the middle of the village of Sebastiya, where we booked our meal.
The typical light Palestinian treat was delicious. We ate homemade pastry manakish with za’atar(wild thyme with sesame seeds), lebaneh – a kind of white yogurt sprinkled with olive oil, home pickled green olives, as well as plenty of fresh vegetables and delicious tea with mint.
Our day in Sebastiya was an unforgettable experience! When planning your travel to the Holy Land consider visiting it as well! Read the Travelujah tips on how to get there and what more is there to see here: Sebastiya
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Beata M. Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.