Nablus, The Holyland
Nablus, or ancient Neapolis, the new city, was founded in 72 AD by the Flavian Emperors, as part of the Roman dynasty. Built on the northern slope of Mount Gerizim, around 2 km west of Tell Balata, the Roman city was marked on the Madaba map as early as the 6th century AD. Over the years, the original Greek name, Neapolis, was Arabicized into the city's modern name, Nablus. It was printed on the first city coins issued during the reign of Domitian and Marcus Aurelius. The city developed into a major center in the 2nd century AD. Major building projects were launched, including the hippodrome, the theater, and other public buildings. A Roman temple dedicated to Zeus was erected on Mount Gerizim during the reign of Antonius Pius. During the reign of Philip the Arab, the city of Neapolis was raised to the status of a Roman colony: Colonia Flavia Iulia Sergia Neapolis.
The city of Neapolis flourished during the Byzantine period and became the seat of a bishop. In 484 AD, during the reign of Emperor Zeno, a large octagonal church was built on the summit of Mount Gerizim, dedicated to Mary Theotokos. In the 6th century, Justinian (530 AD) fortified the church by building an enclosure encircled by towers.
While depicted on the Madaba map, the representation of the city was badly damaged, though some details are still visible, including parts of the city wall and its towers. A colonnaded street runs east to west, and seems to be crossed by a shorter street running from north to south. The large church in the southeast of the depiction might be the cathedral of Neapolis.
In the first half of the 7th century, the city was conquered by the Arabs of the Umayyad Dynasty. From the 10th century it was known as little Damascus, as the growing city found itself in the province of Damascus when that city was made the seat of Umayyad power between 661 and 750. Since then the old city has been extensively damaged by a series of earthquakes, which destroyed some of the architectural sites.
The seven quarters of the old city represent a distinctive example of traditional urban architecture in Palestine. The city center features a bustling market, or souq, with impressive mosques, Turkish baths, and traditional soap factories. At the end of the 18th century, the city began to expand outside its original walls.
Today, Nablus is considered the major commercial, industrial and agricultural center in the northern region of Palestine. It is known for its olive oil soap, talented goldsmiths, and traditional sweets. Nablus is considered to be the best place in Palestine to eat knafeh, a beloved Palestinian dessert made from cheese and semolina flour, and dripping with sweet rose water syrup.