West Bank Secrets: The Stunning Town of Nablus
January 1, 1970
by Aiyah Sibay
The West Bank is known to many as a politically unstable and tumultuous region, with frequent protests and outbreaks of violence. That is, of course, the most common context in which this region appears when addressed in the media. However, scattered throughout this rather tranquil landscape are some of the most beautiful cities one could travel to, and one of them is the city of Nablus.
This old city lies in the northern part of the West Bank, nestled between two white-stoned mountains. Over the past decades, the city has expanded towards the top of these mountains, but the center remains below. It is perfectly safe within the city, and at times, when protests do break out, they take place far from the city at a place called Huwara Checkpoint. This could mean that the driver needs to take a different route to leave or enter Nablus. Otherwise, you are quite safe within the city.
The city’s inhabitants are some of the most generous and kindest in the Middle East. They are fascinated with tourists and often go out of their way to assist them. This is also one of those rare cities in travel where you don’t have to worry about pick-pocketing. I and many other travelers have walked around the city many times with money and phones in our pockets, and we’ve never had an incident. On the contrary, they are honest people, and one feels quite comfortable around them. In fact, one of the main highlights of the city is meeting the people there. They are truly interested in the foreigners who visit their city, and they always have fascinating stories to tell.
Here are some of the best places to visit in Nablus:
“My grandfather’s house” is an old but newly renovated cafe in an area above the city center called Rafideyeh. The cafe is made of white stone and marble floor, and it has a wonderful old feeling to it. The owner often plays Arabic classics, and serves the best sahlab in the area. You can also order Turkish coffee and a variety of other drinks. It is a great place to get away from the noise of the city and go back in time.
“The old city” is the center of town, in between the two mountains, and is the most popular area for tourists. The old city is a large area with lots of alleyways. There, you can visit well-known sites such as the hamams (bath houses), the soap factory, and souq al-basal (market of onions), although they don’t really sell onions, but rather, a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and olives. While you’re there, make sure to stop by Al-Aqsa for knafeh. Nablus is best known in the West Bank for its knafeh, and Palestinians from all over the region come to this city specifically for this desert.
“Sky of Nablus” is an area situated at the top of Mount Ebal, one of the two mountains in Nablus. This is where you can get a spectacular view of the city. Sama Nablus overlooks the entire city, and the best time to go is during sunset, as the area has one of the most stunning sunsets in the world. You can take a taxi from the city center to the top, and you only pay an entrance fee if you need a parking spot. There are also several cafes at the top if you wish to have something to drink.
Church of Jacob’s Well
This is one of the most important churches in the West Bank. It is a large church with many spectacular ornaments. You can ask someone at the church to take you to the well below, and he can show you, with a drop of water, how far below the water is in the well. It is a site in Nablus you don’t want to miss. And while you’re there, you may be interested in visiting the Balata refugee camp directly across from it. This camp has some of the most tightest alleyways you will ever walk through, but it’s also a great place to go if you want to learn more about the politics and history of the country.
Where to stay
This hotel is a very old yet also newly renovated building in the old city with plenty of rich history. It is perfect for travelers who are looking for a raw and intimate experience in Nablus. Long time ago, this building used to be where merchants rested and fed their horses. Now, it is a beautiful white-stoned building with a large courtyard in the middle. You can choose whether to stay in a single or a shared room.
There are two main ways to get to Nablus. One option is to travel to Jordan, then take a taxi to the King Hussein bridge that connects Jordan to the West Bank. This, however, is a lengthy process which involves crossing three checkpoints: the Jordanian, the Israeli, and the Palestinian. I have crossed through the border many times, and I am always stopped by Israeli security on my way in. Sometimes, I am held for four hours, other times, for just fifteen minutes. They may ask you questions, then tell you to take a seat for however long. Of course, there is always the chance that you will pass without any questioning. Just be prepared.
The other option is to arrive at the Ben Gurion airport, and from there, you can take a taxi to Nablus. This is a more costly option, but one which many find easier. However, at the airport too, you may be stopped for a brief interrogation. In the two times I have come through the airport, I was sent to a room for questioning and had to wait a couple of hours before my passport was returned to me. Other travelers I know have passed through without any questioning. It all depends on chance, but also, if you are political involved in the current conflict, or if you happen to have a Middle Eastern or North African background, this could greatly increase your chance of being questioned.
Despite the challenges of making it into the West Bank, you will find that it is absolutely worth it. It is a remarkable city that you will remember for a very long time afterwards.