Spurned Samaria

Site of the capital of the Kingdom of Israel blighted by neglect

Samaria was the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel, and remains of Roman-era Sebaste adorn the site's acropolis. However, thirteen years of neglect threaten the site's cultural heritage. Photo: Duby Tal/Albatross

One of the most storied cities in the ancient world has seen better days. Samaria was established by Omri as the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel in the ninth century B.C.E., and according to the Hebrew Bible, six kings of Israel were buried at the site. Remains from Roman-era Sebaste (the site was rebuilt and renamed by Herod the Great in 30 B.C.E.) include a magnificent colonnaded street, a temple-lined acropolis and a lower city, which includes the traditional location of the burial of John the Baptist.

Despite the site’s impressive remains and sacred value to Jewish, Muslim and Christian visitors, the Associated Press recently reported that the Biblical capital is “marred with weeds, graffiti and garbage.” In the 1990s, the West Bank site was managed by Israel’s National Parks Authority, but after the second intifada began in 2000, the site has been closed and has not received proper maintenance or protection. The neglected archaeological site is reported to be covered in litter, and antiquities have been smashed or sprayed with graffiti.

BAS Library Members: Read more about the site of Samaria in “Lost Tombs of Israelite Kings” by Norma Franklin as it appeared in the July/August 2007 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

The site’s natural beauty and historical significance should have the capacity to attract a large number of visitors. It has not always been shunned by preservationists. Harvard University archaeologists began excavating the site in 1908, and they immediately recognized the significance of a palatial structure atop a man-made, 13-foot-high rock-cut scarp. In a BAR article published in 2007, University of Haifa researcher Norma Franklin re-investigated the already neglected site to discover two forgotten tombs of the Israelite kings. Recent international donations are helping to curb looting at Samaria, and the Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry’s soon-to-be opened “interpretation center” should provide the site with a renewed conservation and tourism program.

Read more.


Related Content in Bible History Daily

Ancient Samaria and Jerusalem: Jill Katz on urban anthropology in the capitals of Israel and Judah

Did the Northern Kingdom of Israel Practice Customary Ancient Israelite Religion?

Biblical City of Shekem Set to Open in the West Bank

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  • abo says

    I wish to see more ancient picture of my country Sabastia

  • Regina says

    bs to the above..Israelis don’t destroy their own antiquities jack

  • Tom says

    The impressive excavation and conservation work being done on the Byzantine and medieval remains in the village, plus the new interpretive center opening near the forum, demonstrate that the Palestinians are willing and capable of operating a proper, controlled park site. This is possible with foreign help, just as is being done in the village, at Tel Balata (Shechem), at Tel es-Sultan (Jericho), and elsewhere. They’d just have to get the Israelis out of their faces. It would have to begin with Israel removing the “Area C” designation from the western part of the site, the tel.

    The generally balanced AP source article mentions that <>. The interpretive installation on-site there tells the story (which the AP reporter either missed or didn’t care to relate): Years ago, the Israeli occupation authorities dismantled the mausoleum, lifted several sarcophagi out with a crane, and deposited them at the edge of the forum where they still lie in disarray and unprotected — in Area C.

  • WILLIAM says

    Samaria: an almost unknown city, both historically and in relation to the present-day Samaritans, themselves all too neglected. Shouldn’t Biblical Archeology be paying even more attention to both present and past of the Samartitans, of the remnants of Northern Israel and to the no doubt fascinating history of their great capital, to their theology vis-à-vis the Judaeans to the south, to the landscape of the North after the Assyrian invasion and a multiplicity of other topics related to your story?

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