Nablus Touring and History

From Miri
Nablus Old City
No visit to the West Bank is complete without a tour of Nablus. The history of the City of Nablus, located in the northern part of the West Bank, reaches back almost 2000 years and just like the whole of historic Palestine, has always constituted a site of struggle over sovereignty between rivaling forces.

Taking a walk through the alleys of the Old City, one is not only being enabled to unfold layer upon layer of ancient history, but also to learn about more recent events that shook this once so prosperous city.

Take for instance the Al-Khadra mosque, one of the city's oldest buildings in the southwestern quarter of the Old City. According to the Samaritan narrative, it originally served as a synagogue, that was later to be destroyed by the Crusaders and in the 12th century was turned into a church. In the 13th century, Mamluks eventually transformed the building into a mosque, which however still bears the traces of both its Jewish and its Christian past. Even more visible are the marks that the current power struggle left upon the building. In April 2002, the mosque became one of the main sites of the so called Battle of Nablus, which lasted for three days and mainly took place in the Casbah and the refugee camps adjacent to the city. During what was termed “Operation Defensive Shield”, the Israeli army reportedly tried to access the Old City through the mosque and in the process destroyed 85% of the building. 

A parallel story can be told about the beautiful al-Shifa hammam, which was built in 1624 by the reputable Nabulsi Touquan family. Constituting one of the oldest Turkish baths in the country, it still fulfills its function as a place of relaxation and social gatherings. Like the Al-Khadra mosque, however, it  bears the brand of the 2002 army incursion, during which it was hit by three rockets launched from Apache helicopters.

Nablus Soap Factory
Every tour of Nablus should include a visit to one of the soap factories. The two remaining operating soap factories constitute the remnants of what once constituted one of the most thriving and most famous industries of the country, with Nabulsi soap being exported all over the Arab world and Europe since the 10th century. Due to IDF incursions, which partially or completely destroyed a number of traditional soap factories, and because of difficult transportation stemming from West Bank closures, the industry has been largely isolated.

Fortunately most of the above mentioned buildings could be reconstructed and continue to fulfill their functions, a notion that can be said to be somewhat characteristic about the spirit of the city as a whole. Although being shaken so much throughout its history, Nablus always seemed to be able to preserve its busy charm and a walk along the alleys of the Souk (market) of the Old City with its buzzing atmosphere only attests to that. The traditional Nabulsi industries, such as the production of soap, olive oil and handicrafts continue to operate and maintain their high reputation throughout the whole country. Until today, visitors on a tour of Nablus usually do not leave before tasting or having themselves wrapped up a piece of its famous Kanafeh, a pastry made of several fine shreds of noodles with honey sweetened cheese in the center, the recipe of which was being exported throughout the whole of the Ottoman Empire. 

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