Sebastia is waiting for Tourists

Back in the 1999s the tour buses clogged the parking lot of Sebastia in the Northern West Bank. Not any more. This ancient Roman city, and the adjacent modern Palestinian village are victims of Isreal's encapsulation of Palestinian areas though hundreds of checkpoints, barriers, and restricted roads. The tourists used to come mainly from Israeli tour companies who now steer visitors away from the West Bank, including important historical sites such as Sebastia.

The magnificent ruins are a legacy from the time of Herod when the city was a Roman metropolis, full of temples, a large hippodrome, theatre and stadium. The remains of these can still be seen in remarkably preserved condition. There is also a small Byzantine church where the head of John the Baptist is supposed to be interred. The church of St. John and an adjacent mosque is located in teh adjacent modern village of Sebastia, home to several thousand Palestinians.

It's actually surprisingly easy to reach Sebastia today, despite the Israeli travel restrictions. I traveled to the West Bank with a friend from Denmark who was an Israeli tour guide in the 1990s and used to take people to Sebastia in the 'old days' when tourism was at a peak. However she hadn't been there for ten years. We entered the West Bank via Kalkiliya, just 15 kilometers from Tel Aviv, traveled east about 20 kilometers on route 55 to a small village where we met up with a Palestinian friend. A few kilometers further we turned north on route 60 and after passing a checkpoint with a single bored Israeli soldier, we arrived at Sebastia less than an hour after leaving Tel Aviv.

We hiked the site of the Roman city then descended back to the village to tour the Church and mosque. There's also a recently restored Crusader villa in the village that is an exquisite example of sensitive restoration. The project was funded by a Swedish agency and will house community programs.

Another great organization working in Sebastia is the Holy Land Association, an Italian organization which is employing local labor to clean and restore the core of Sebastia.

Tours to Sebasia are offered weekly.


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1 comment:

  1. Visit the Sebastia project of ATS Pro Terra Sancta!


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