Nestled among the hills just north of Nablus, the historic village of Sebastia offers visitors a quiet and quaintly beautiful resting place in which they can meander through thousands of years of local history. Sebastia is built on the site of the biblical city of Samaria, a city that underwent numerous sieges and transitions in power as various rulers took control of the region. It acquired its current name when Augustus Caesar gave the city to Herod the Great and Herod, in turn, named it Sebastia after the Greek version of Augustus’s name.
Today, many remnants of this period in Sebastia’s history are visible at the village’s impressive archaeological site. Here, against a stunning backdrop of rolling hills and valleys, visitors can explore the sprawling ruins of the elaborate temple Herod built to Augustus, as well as ruins of a Roman stadium, theater, and colonnaded forum.
In addition to discovering remnants of the strong Roman presence that once defined Sebastia, visitors can also view more recent sites connected to the figure of John the Baptist. Atop the archaeological hill, surrounded by Roman ruins, a Greek Orthodox church marks the site associated with the discovery of John’s head. Built in the sixth century and restored in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the church houses frescoes depicting John the Baptist’s beheading and the later discovery of his head on the site. Today, Sebastia’s one Christian family is responsible for maintaining the church.
Further into the village itself, the Mosque of the Prophet Yahia (John in Arabic) also marks Sebastia’s connection to the religious figure. Originally a Byzantine church, the structure was rebuilt by the Crusaders in the twelfth century and, shortly thereafter, transformed into a mosque by Saladin’s nephew, Husam ed-Din Muhammad. The mosque boasts beautiful and ornate architecture, and beneath its main courtyard lies a crypt that is said to contain the tomb of John the Baptist. To descend into the crypt, ask for the key at the “Jerusalem Restaurant for Food” outside of the mosque on the main square.
Sites in the Jenin Region:
While walking through the agriculturally and historically rich fields of the Dothan Valley, take a short detour to explore the archaeological findings of the nearby Tel Dothan excavations. As you go, peer into the depths of a few gaping stone wells that hark back to the story of Joseph – a narrative that unfolded in the very fields in which you are standing.
Climb the grassy hill outside the village of Ta’anek and poke around in the layers of archaeological history on top. Among the tall grasses and the shady olive groves, discover the remnants of ancient caves, burial sites, stone courtyards, and thick city walls – all against a background of sweeping views of the surrounding Jezreel Valley.