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