Other transcription(s)
 – Arabic نابلس
 – Also spelled Nabulus (official)
 – Hebrew שכם
Old city of Nablus and Mount Gerizim in background

Municipal Seal of Nablus
Nablus is located in the Palestinian territories
Location of Nablus within the Palestinian territories
Coordinates: 32°13′13″N 35°16′44″E / 32.22028°N 35.27889°E / 32.22028; 35.27889Coordinates: 32°13′13″N 35°16′44″E / 32.22028°N 35.27889°E / 32.22028; 35.27889
Governorate Nablus
Founded 72 CE
 – Type City (from 1995)
 – Head of Municipality Adly Yaish
 – Jurisdiction 28,564 dunams (28.6 km2 / 11 sq mi)
Population (2007)[1]
 – Jurisdiction 126,132

Nablus (Arabic: نابلسNāblus [næːblʊs] ( listen), Hebrew: שכםŠəḵem, Biblical Shechem ISO 259-3 Škem) is a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank, approximately 63 kilometers (39 mi) north of Jerusalem, with a population of 126,132.[1] Located in a strategic position between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, it is the capital of the Nablus Governorate and a Palestinian commercial and cultural center.

Founded by the Roman Emperor Vespasian in 72 CE as Flavia Neapolis, Nablus has been ruled by many empires over the course of its almost 2,000-year-long history. In the 5th and 6th centuries, conflict between the city's Christian and Samaritan inhabitants climaxed in a series of Samaritan revolts against Byzantine rule, before their violent quelling in 529 CE drastically dwindled that community's numbers in the city. In 636, Neapolis, along with most of Palestine, came under the rule of the Islamic Arab Caliphate of Umar ibn al-Khattab; its name Arabicized to Nablus. In 1099, the Crusaders took control of the city for less than a century, leaving its mixed Muslim, Christian and Samaritan population relatively undisturbed. After Saladin's Ayyubid forces took control of the interior of Palestine in 1187, Islamic rule was reestablished, and continued under the Mamluk and Ottoman empires to follow.

Following its incorporation into the Ottoman empire in 1517, Nablus was designated capital of the Jabal Nablus ("Mount Nablus") district. In 1657, after a series of upheavals, a number of Arab clans from the northern and eastern Levant were dispatched to the city to reassert Ottoman authority, and loyalty from amongst these clans staved off challenges to the empire's authority by rival regional leaders, like Dhaher al-Omar in the 18th century, and Muhammad Ali—who briefly ruled Nablus—in the 19th century. When Ottoman rule was firmly reestablished in 1841, Nablus prospered as a center of trade.

After the loss of the city to British forces during World War I, Nablus was incorporated into the British Mandate of Palestine in 1922, and later designated to form part of the Arab state of Palestine under the 1947 UN partition plan. The end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War saw the city instead fall to Jordan, to which it was unilaterally annexed, until its occupation by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War.

Today, the population is predominantly Muslim, with small Christian and Samaritan minorities. Since 1995, the city has been governed by the Palestinian National Authority. In the Old City, there are a number of sites of archaeological significance, spanning the 1st to 15th centuries. The city is known for its kanafeh, a popular sweet throughout the Middle East, and soap industry.



Classical antiquity

Flavia Neapolis ("new city of the emperor Flavius") was founded in 72 CE by the Roman emperor Vespasian over an older Samaritan village, Mabartha ("the passage").[2] Located between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, the new city lay 2 kilometers (1.2 mi) west of the Biblical city of Shechem which was destroyed by the Romans that same year during the First Jewish-Roman War.[3][4] Holy places at the site of the city's founding include Joseph's Tomb and Jacob's Well. Due to the city's strategic geographic position and the abundance of water from nearby springs, Neapolis prospered, accumulating extensive territory, including the former Judean toparchy of Acraba.[3]

Insofar as the hilly topography of the site would allow, the city was built on a Roman grid plan and settled with veterans who fought in the victorious legions and other foreign colonists.[2] In the 2nd century CE, Emperor Hadrian built a grand theater in Neapolis that could seat up to 7,000 people.[5] Coins found in Nablus dating to this period depict Roman military emblems and gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon such as Zeus, Artemis, Serapis, and Asklepios.[2] Neapolis was entirely pagan at this time.[2] Justin Martyr who was born in the city c. 100 CE, came into contact with Platonism, but not with Christians there.[2] The city flourished until the civil war between Septimius Severus and Pescennius Niger in 198–9 CE. Having sided with Niger, who was defeated, the city was temporarily stripped of its legal privileges by Severus, who designated these to Sebastia instead.[2]

In 244 CE, Philip the Arab transformed Flavius Neapolis into a Roman colony named Julia Neapolis. It retained this status until the rule of Trebonianus Gallus in 251 CE. The Encyclopaedia Judaica speculates that Christianity was dominant in the 2nd or 3rd century, with some sources positing a later date of 480 CE.[6] It is known for certain that a bishop from Nablus participated in the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.[7] The presence of Samaritans in the city is attested to in literary and epigraphic evidence dating to the 4th century CE.[7] As yet, there is no evidence attesting to a Jewish presence in ancient Neapolis.[7]

Ruins from antiquity in a residential area in Nablus (2008)

Conflict amongst the Christian population of Neapolis emerged in 451. By this time, Neapolis was within the Palaestina Prima province under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. The tension was a result of Monophysite Christian attempts to prevent the return of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Juvenal, to his episcopal see.[3] However, the conflict did not grow into civil strife.

As tensions amongst the Christians of Neapolis decreased, tensions between the Christian community and the Samaritans grew dramatically. In 484, the city became the site of a deadly encounter between the two groups, provoked by rumors that the Christians intended to transfer the remains of Aaron's sons and grandsons Eleazar, Ithamar and Phinehas. Samaritans reacted by entering the cathedral of Neapolis, killing the Christians inside and severing the fingers of the bishop Terebinthus. Terebinthus then fled to Constantinople, requesting an army garrison to prevent further attacks. As a result of the revolt, the Byzantine emperor Zeno erected a church dedicated to Mary on Mount Gerizim. He also forbade the Samaritans to travel to the mountain to celebrate their religious ceremonies, and confiscated their synagogue there. These actions by the emperor fueled Samaritan anger towards the Christians further.[3]

Thus, the Samaritans rebelled again under the rule of emperor Anastasius I, reoccupying Mount Gerizim, which was subsequently reconquered by the Byzantine governor of Edessa, Procopius. A third Samartian revolt which took place under the leadership of Julianus ben Sabar in 529 was perhaps the most violent. Neapolis' bishop Ammonas was murdered and the city's priests were hacked into pieces and then burned together with the relics of saints. The forces of Emperor Justinian I were sent in to quell the revolt, which ended with the slaughter of the majority of the Samaritan population in the city.[3]

Islamic era

The minaret and entrance of the Great Mosque of Nablus, built in the 10th-century, 1908

Neapolis, along with most of Palestine, was conquered by the Muslims under Khaled ibn al-Walid—a general of the Rashidun army of Umar ibn al-Khattab—in 636 after the Battle of Yarmouk.[3][4] The city's name was retained in its Arabicized form, Nablus. The town prevailed as an important trade center during the centuries of Islamic Arab rule under the Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid dynasties. Under Muslim rule, Nablus contained a diverse population of Arabs and Persians, Muslims, Samaritans, Christians and Jews.[3] In the 10th-century, the Arab geographer al-Muqaddasi, described it as abundant of olive trees, with a large marketplace, a finely paved Great Mosque, houses built of stone, a stream running through the center of the city, and notable mills.[8] He also noted that it was nicknamed "Little Damascus."[5][8] At the time, the linen produced in Nablus was of well-known throughout the Old World.[9]

Crusader period

The city was captured by Crusaders in 1099, under the command of Prince Tancred, and renamed Naples.[3] Though the Crusaders extorted many supplies from the population for their troops who were en route to Jerusalem, they did not sack the city, presumably because of the large Christian population there.[10] Nablus became part of the royal domain of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Muslim, Eastern Orthodox Christian, and Samaritan populations remained in the city, and were joined by some Crusaders who settled therein to take advantage of the city's abundant resources. In 1120, the Crusaders convened the Council of Nablus out of which was issued the first written laws for the kingdom.[3] They converted the Samaritan synagogue in Nablus into a church.[10] The Samaritan community built a new synagogue in the 1130s.[11]

During the second half of Crusader reign in Nablus, Muslim forces began launching incursions in order to regain control of the city. In 1137, Arab and Turkish troops stationed in Damascus made an incursion into Nablus, killing many Christians and burning down the city's churches, but were unsuccessful in this bid to retake the city.[3] Queen Melisende of Jerusalem resided in Nablus from 1150 to 1161, after she was granted control over the city so as to resolve a dispute with her son Baldwin III. Crusaders began building Christian institutions in Nablus, including a church dedicated to the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, and in 1170 they also erected a hospice for pilgrims.[3] Crusader rule came to an end in 1187, when the Ayyubids led by Saladin captured the city. According to a liturgical manuscript in Syriac, Latin Christians fled Nablus, but the original Eastern Orthodox Christian inhabitants remained. Syrian geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi (1179–1229), wrote that Ayyubid Nablus was a "celebrated city in Filastin (Palestine)... having wide lands and a fine district." He also mentions the large Samaritan population in the city.[12]

Ayyubid and Mamluk rule

After its recapture by the Muslims, the Great Mosque of Nablus, which had become a church under Crusader rule, was restored as a mosque by the Ayyubids, who also built a mausoleum in the old city.[6] In 1242, the Great Mosque was burnt by the Templar Knights during a three-day raid they conducted in the city in which they killed 1,000 people and took many women and children who were then sold in the slave markets of Acre.[13][14] The Samaritan synagogue, originally built in 362 CE by the high priest Akbon and converted into a church by the Crusaders, was converted into al-Khadra Mosque in 1244; and two other Crusader churches became the an-Nasr Mosque and al-Masakim Mosque during that century.[3][10]

The Mamluk dynasty gained control of Nablus in 1260 and during their reign, they built numerous mosques and schools in the city.[4] Under Mamluk rule, Nablus possessed running water, many Turkish bathes and exported olive oil and soap to Egypt, Syria, the Hejaz, several Mediterranean islands, and the Arabian Desert. The city's olive oil was also used in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. Ibn Battuta, the Arab explorer, visited Nablus in 1355, and described it as a city "full of trees and streams and full of olives." He points out that it grew and exported carob jam to Cairo and Damascus.[12]

Ottoman era

Nablus came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire in 1517, along with the whole of Palestine. The Ottomans divided Palestine into six sanjaqs ("districts"): Safad, Jenin, Jerusalem, Gaza, Ajlun and Nablus, all of which were part of Ottoman Syria. These five sanjaqs were subdistricts of the Vilayet of Damascus. Sanjaq Nablus was further subdivided into five nahiya (subdistricts), in addition to the city itself. The Ottomans did not attempt to restructure the political configuration of the region on the local level such that the borders of the nahiya were drawn to coincide with the historic strongholds of certain families. Nablus was only one among a number of local centers of power within Jabal Nablus, and its relations with the surrounding villages, such as Beita and Aqraba, were partially mediated by the rural-based chiefs of the nahiya.[15] During the 16th-century, the population was predominantly Muslim, with Jewish, Samaritan and Christian minorities.[3][16][17]

After decades of minor upheavals and rebellions mounted by some of the Arab tribes in the Middle East, the Ottomans attempted to reassert centralized control over the Arab vilayets. In 1657, they sent an expeditionary force of local Ottoman-aligned Arab families based in various Syrian cities to pacify Nablus. In return for their services, the families were granted agricultural lands around the villages of Jabal Nablus. The Ottomans, fearing that the new Arab land holders would establish independent bases of power, dispersed the land plots to separate and distant locations within Jabal Nablus to avoid clusters of clans. The 1657 campaign succeeded and the Syrian Arab families began to have a foothold in Nablus' affairs. The largest family were the Nimrs, who originated from villages surrounding Hama and Homs. The other two prominent families were the Jarrars from Balqa and the Touqans from northern Syria. Eventually gaining the role of nahiya chiefs, they began intermarrying with local merchant and leading religious families. Thus, these new families were integrated into Nablus' population. Under an arrangement in 1723, the Touqans and the Nimrs would share and trade leadership of Nablus, and the Jarrars would "indisputably" become the chiefs of the nahiya of Jabal Nablus.[15]

Entrance to Nablus, print after David Roberts sketch made in 1838–1840, in Thomson[18]

In the mid-18th-century, Dhaher al-Omar, an Arab native and ruler of the Galilee and Acre who was hostile toward Ottoman rule, rose to become the most dominant figure in northern Palestine. In order to build up his army, he strove to gain monopoly control over the cotton and olive oil trade of the Levant, which Jabal Nablus fueled. In 1771, during a Mamluk invasion of Syria, al-Omar aligned himself with the Mamluks, allowing him to temporarily besiege Nablus, without gaining ultimate control over the city. In 1773, he again led his army to besiege Nablus, but again to no avail. Nevertheless, from a political perspective, the sieges did succeed in raising Acre's prominence at Nablus' expense. Al-Omar's successor, Jezzar Pasha, maintained Acre's dominance over Nablus. After his reign ended in 1804, Nablus regained its original autonomy, and the Touqans, who represented a principal opposing force to Acre's dominance over Nablus, rose to power.[19]

Egyptian rule and Ottoman revival

Nablus, by W. C. P. Medlycott, in H. B. Tristram, 1865.[20]

After the Egyptians declared independence from Ottoman rule under the leadership of Muhammad Ali, they went on to conquer Palestine in 1831–32. A repressive policy of conscription and taxation was instituted which led to a revolt launched by the a'ayan (prominent) Arab clans of Nablus, Hebron and the Jerusalem-Jaffa area. On May 19, 1834, the clans, led by Qasim al-Ahmad—the chief of nahiya Jamma'in—initiated a Palestinian Arab revolt when he notified Egyptian officials that Palestinian families would no longer supply the Egyptian army with troops. Governor Ibrahim Pasha responded by sending Egyptian forces into the rebelling cities, thus triggering armed conflict with the clans. Nablus sent hundreds of rebels to attack Jerusalem, aided by the Abu Ghosh clan, and they conquered the city on May 31, but were routed out by Ibrahim's forces the next month. The Egyptians then forced the heads of the Nablus clans to leave for nearby villages,[21] and executed Qasim al-Ahmad and his two eldest sons.[19]

The Egyptian occupation of Palestine resulted in the destruction of Acre and thus, the political importance of Nablus increased. The Ottomans wrested back control of Palestine from the Egyptians in 1840–41. As a result, the Abd al-Hadi clan, who originated in Arrabah in the Sahl Arraba region in northern Samaria, rose to prominence. Loyal allies of Jezzar Pasha and the Touqans, they gained the governorship of Jabal Nablus and other sanjaqs.[19]

Nablus in 1898

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Nablus was the principal trade and manufacturing center in Ottoman Syria. Its economic activity and regional leadership position surpassed that of Jerusalem and the coastal cities of Jaffa and Acre. Olive oil was the primary product of Nablus and fueled other related industries such as soap-making and basket weaving.[22] The city also was the top producer of cotton in the Levant, topping the production from northern cities such as Damascus.[23] Jabal Nablus enjoyed a greater degree of autonomy than other sanjaqs under Ottoman control, probably because the city was the capital of a hilly region, in which there were no "foreigners" who held any military or bureaucratic posts. Thus, Nablus remained outside the direct "supervision" of the Ottoman government.[22]


Nablus in 1918

The Jordan Valley earthquake of 1927 destroyed many of the Nablus' historic buildings, including the an-Nasr mosque.[24] Though they were subsequently rebuilt by Haj Amin al-Husayni's Supreme Muslim Council in the mid-1930s, their previous "picturesque" character was lost. During British rule, Nablus emerged as a site of local resistance and the Old City quarter of Qaryun was demolished by the British during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine.[25]

Nasr Mosque was rebuilt in 1935 with a completely different structure

Jewish immigration did not significantly impact the demographic composition of Nablus, and it was slated for inclusion in the Arab state envisioned by the United Nations General Assembly's 1947 partition plan for Palestine.[26]

After Israel declared its independence in May 1948, Transjordan occupied Nablus. Thousands of Palestinian Arabs, fleeing towns captured by Israel, settled in refugee camps around Nablus and in Nablus itself. Three such camps still located within the city limits today are Ein Beit al-Ma', Balata and Askar. The Jordanian rule lasted until the 1967 war. The Six-Day War ended in a swift Israeli victory and the occupation of Nablus. Many Israeli settlements were built around Nablus during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Palestinian control

Jurisdiction over the city was handed over to the Palestinian National Authority on December 12, 1995, as a result of the Oslo Accords Interim Agreement on the West Bank.[27]

View from Nablus side of Huwwara Checkpoint, with people waiting to travel south

Nablus was a central flashpoint of violence between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian militant groups. The level of violence dramatically increased from 2000 at the start of the Second Intifada. The city and the refugee camps of Balata and Askar constituted the center of "knowhow" for the production and operation of the rockets in the West Bank.[28]

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 522 residents of Nablus and surrounding refugee camps, including civilians, were killed and 3,104 injured during IDF military operations against militants during the Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005. Israeli soldiers and settlers have also been killed by Palestinian militants from Nablus.[6] In April 2002, following the Passover massacre — an attack by Palestinian militants that killed 30 Israeli civilians attending a seder dinner at the Park Hotel in Netanya — Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, a major military operation in which Nablus was one of the main targets. At least 80 Palestinians were killed in Nablus during the operation and several houses were destroyed or severely damaged. The IDF also imposed a curfew on Nablus lasting between April 4 and April 22. IDF forces reentered Nablus during Operation Determined Path in June 2002, remaining inside the city until the end of September. Over those three months, there had been more than 70 days of full 24-hour curfews.[29]

According to Gush Shalom, IDF bulldozers caused damage to al-Khadra Mosque, the Great Mosque, al-Satoon Mosque and Greek Orthodox Church in 2002. Some 60 houses were destroyed, and parts of the stone-paving in the old city were damaged. The al-Shifa hammam was hit by three rockets from Apache helicopters. The eastern entrance of the Khan al-Wikala (old market) and three soap factories were destroyed in F-16 bombings. The cost of the damage was estimated at $80 million US.[30]


Section of topographical map of Nablus area

Nablus lies in a strategic position at a junction between two ancient commercial roads; one linking the Sharon coastal plain to the Jordan valley, the other linking Nablus to the Galilee in the north, and the biblical Judea to the south through the mountains.[31] The city stands at an elevation of around 550 meters (1,800 ft) above sea level,[32] in a narrow valley running roughly east-west between two mountains: Mount Ebal, the northern mountain, is the taller peak at 940 meters (3,080 ft), while Mount Gerizim, the southern mountain, is 881 meters (2,890 ft) high.

Nablus is located 42 kilometers (26 mi) east of Tel Aviv, Israel, 110 kilometers (68 mi) west of Amman, Jordan and 63 kilometers (39 mi) north of Jerusalem.[32] Nearby cities and towns include Huwara and Aqraba to the south, Beit Furik to the southeast, Tammun to the northeast, Asira ash-Shamaliya to the north and Kafr Qaddum and Tell to the west.[33]

Old City

In the center of Nablus lies the old city, composed of six major quarters: Yasmina, Gharb, Qaryun, Aqaba, Qaysariyya and Habala. Habala is the largest quarter and its population growth led to the development of two smaller neighborhoods: al-Arda and Tal al-Kreim. The old city is densely populated and prominent families include the Nimrs, Touqans, and Abd al-Hadis. The large fortress-like compound of the Abd al-Hadi Palace built in the 19th century is located in Qaryun. The Nimr Hall and the Touqan Palace are located in the center of the old city. There are several mosques in the Old City: The Great Mosque of Nablus, an-Nasr Mosque, al-Tina Mosque, al-Khadra Mosque, al-Hanbali, al-Anbia, Ajaj, etc.[5]

There are six hamaams (Turkish baths) in the Old City, the most prominent of them being al-Shifa and al-Hana. Al-Shifa Hamaam was built by the Touqans in 1624. Al-Hana in Yasmina, was the last hamaam built in the city in the 19th century. It was closed in 1928 but restored and reopened in 1994.[5] Several leather tanneries, souks, pottery and textile workshops line the Old City streets.[32][34] There are a number of historic monuments in the old city including the Khan al-Tujjar and the al-Manara Clock Tower built in 1906.[32]


The relatively temperate Mediterranean climate brings hot, dry summers and cool, rainy winters to Nablus. Spring arrives around March–April and the hottest months in Nablus are July and August with the average high being 28.9 °C (84 °F). The coldest month is January with temperatures usually at 3.9 °C (39 °F). Rain generally falls between October and March, with annual precipitation rates being approximately 23.2 inches (589 mm).[32]

Climate data for Nabulus
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 11.7
Average low °C (°F) 3.9
Precipitation mm (inches) 142.2
Source: The Weather Channel[35]


Manara clock tower in the Old City
Year Population
1596 20,300[17]
1849 40,000[36]
1860 55,000[37]
1922 77,947[38]
1931 89,498[38]
1945 135,250[39]
1961 195,773[40]
1987 233,000[41]
1997 250,034[42]
2004 (Projected) 256,521[1]
2006 (Projected) 320,830[1]

In 1596, the population was counted as consisting of 806 Muslim households, 20 Samaritan households, 18 Christian households, and 15 Jewish households.[17] Local Ottoman authorities recorded a population of around 20,000 residents in Nablus in 1849.[36] In 1867 American visitors found the town to have a population of 4,000 'the chief part of whom are Mohammedans', with some Jews and Christians and 'about 150 Samaritans'.[43] In the 1922 British census of Palestine, there was a total of 15,947 inhabitants, rising to 17,498 at the 1931 census of Palestine.[38]

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), Nablus had a population of 134,116 inhabitants in mid-year 2006.[1] In the PCBS's 1997 census, the city had a population of 100,034, including 23,397 refugees, accounting for about 24% of the city's residents.[44] Nablus' Old City had a population of 12,000 in 2006.[5] The population of Nablus city comprises 40% of its governorate's inhabitants.[1]

Approximately half of population is under 20 years old. In 1997, the age distribution of the city's inhabitants was 28.4% under the age of 10, 20.8% from 10 to 19, 17.7% from 20–29, 18% from 30 to 44, 11.1% from 45 to 64 and 3.7% above the age of 65. The gender distribution was 50,945 males (50.92%) and 49,089 females (49.07%).[45]


In 891 CE, during the early centuries of Islamic rule, Nablus had a religiously diverse population of Samaritans, local Muslims and Christians. Arab geographer Al-Dimashqi, recorded that under the rule of the Mamluk Dynasty (Muslim Dynsaty based in Egypt), local Muslims, Samaritans, Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Jews populated the city.[12] At the 1931 census, the population was counted as 16,483 Muslims, 533 Christians, 6 Jews, 7 Druses and 160 Samaritans.[46]

The majority of the inhabitants today are Muslim, but there are small Christian and Samaritan communities as well. Much of the local Palestinian Muslim population of Nablus is believed to be descended from Samaritans who converted to Islam. Certain Nabulsi family names are associated with Samaritan ancestry – Muslimani, Yaish, and Shakshir among others. According to the historian Fayyad Altif, large numbers of Samaritans converted due to persecution and because the monotheistic nature of Islam made it easy for them to accept it.[47]

In 1967, there were about 3,500 Christians of various denominations in Nablus, but that figure dwindled to about 650 in 2008.[48] Of the Christian populace, there are seventy Orthodox Christian families, about thirty Catholic (Roman Catholic & Eastern Melkite Catholic) families and thirty Anglican families. Most Christians used to live in the suburb of Rafidia in the western part of the city.[5]

There are seventeen Islamic monuments and eleven mosques in the Old City.[6][49] Nine of the mosques were established before the 15th century.[6] In addition to Muslim houses of worship, Nablus contains an Orthodox church dedicated Saint Justin Martyr,[5] built in 1898 and the ancient Samaritan synagogue, which is still in use.[49]


Ottoman era

A byway in the Old City of Nablus leading to and from the souk, 2008

The longevity and relative stability of Ottoman rule, as well as the broad political space it engendered, enhanced the advantages of Nablus' geographical location. Beginning in the early 16th century, trade networks connecting Nablus to Damascus and Cairo were supplemented by the establishment of secure trading posts in the Hejaz and Gulf regions to the south and east, as well as in the Anatolian Peninsula and the Mediterranean islands of Crete and Cyprus. Nablus also developed some form of trade relations with Aleppo, Mosul, and Baghdad.[34]

The Ottoman government vigorously ensured adequate safety and funding for the annual pilgrimage caravan (qafilat al-hajj) from Damascus to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina. This policy greatly benefited Nablus economically. From the very beginning of Ottoman rule, pilgrimage caravans became the key factor in the fiscal and political relationship between Nablus and the central government. For a brief period in the early 17th century, the governor of Nablus, Farrukh Pasha Ibn Abdullah, was appointed leader of the pilgrimage caravan (amir al-hajj), and he constructued a large commercial compound in Nablus for that purpose.[34]

In 1882, there were 32 soap factories and 400 looms exporting their products throughout the Middle East.[5][50] Nablus exported three-fourths of its soap — the city's most important commodity — to Cairo by caravan through Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, and by sea through the ports of Jaffa and Gaza. From Egypt, and particularly from Cairo and Damietta, Nablus merchants imported mainly rice, sugar, and spices, as well as linen, cotton, and wool textiles. Cotton, soap, olive oil, and textiles were exported by Nablus merchants to Damascus, from whence silks, high-quality textiles, copper, and a number luxury items, such as jewellery were imported.[34]

With regard to the local economy, agriculture was the major component. Outside of the city limits, there were extensive fields of olive groves, fig and pomegranate orchards and grape vineyards that covered the area's slopes. Crops, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and mulukhiyya were grown in the fields, vegetable gardens, and grain mills scattered across central Samaria.[34] Nablus was also the largest producer of cotton in the Levant, producing over 225,000 kilograms of the product by 1837.[23]


A panorama of the eastern part of Nablus with Mount Ebal on the left and Mount Gerizim on the right

Nablus has a bustling modern commercial center with restaurants, and a shopping mall.[51] Traditional industries continue to operate in Nablus, such as the production of soap, olive oil, and handicrafts. Other industries include furniture production, tile production, stone quarrying, textile manufacturing and leather tanning. The city is also a regional trading center for live produce. Most of these industries are centered in the old city.[32]

The Vegetable Oil Industry Co. is a Nablus factory that produces refined vegetable oils, especially olive oil, and vegetable butter from the factory is exported to Jordan.[32] The al-Huda Textiles factory is also located in Nablus. In 2000, the factory produced 500 pieces of clothing daily; however, production plummeted to 150–200 pieces daily in 2002. Al-Huda mainly imports textiles from China and exports finished products to Israel.[6] There are eight restaurants in the city and four hotels — the largest being al-Qasr and al-Yasmeen.[52] Nablus' once thriving soap industry has been largely isolated due to difficult transportation conditions stemming from West Bank closures and IDF incursions. Today, there are only two soap factories still operating in the city.[53]

Before 2000, 13.4% of Nablus' residents worked in Israel, with the figure dropping to 4.7% in 2004. The city's manufacturing sector made up 15.7% of the economy in 2004, a drop from 21% in 2000. Since 2000, most of Nablus' workforce has been employed in agriculture and local trade.[6] The city's unemployment rates have increased dramatically in recent years, rising from 14.2% in 1997 to an estimate of 60% in 2004. Unemployment in the old city and in the refugee camps is estimated to be as high as 80%. Due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Nablus has been closed off by the IDF. The city's encirclement with checkpoints is cited by the United Nations as a reason for high unemployment and a "devastated" economy.[54] Many businesses have either moved from or have been established outside Nablus, beyond the tight ring of closures around the city.[55]

Nablus is home to the Palestine Securities Exchange (PSE) — the only securities exchange in the Palestinian territories — and the al-Quds Financial Index. They are housed in the al-Qasr building in the Rafidia suburb of the city. The PSE's first trading session took place on February 19, 1997. In 2007, the capitalization of the PSE topped 3.5 million Jordanian dinars.[5]

Culture and arts

A Nablus costume on display. Note the brightly colored coat, probably made of imported Syrian satin which is draped over the head and shoulders and typical of the fashion in the Nablus-Tulkarm area
A siniyyeh of Kanafeh
Nabulsi soap stacked in the Touqan factory in Nablus

Nablus and its culture enjoy a certain renown throughout the Palestinian Territories and the Arab world with significant and unique contributions to Palestinian culture, cuisine and costume. Nabulsi, meaning "from Nablus", is used to describe items such as handicrafts (e.g. Nabulsi soap) and food products (e.g. Nabulsi cheese) that are made in Nablus or in the traditional Nablus style.

Traditional costume

Nablus costume was of a distinctive style that employed colorful combinations of various fabrics. Due to its position as important trade center with a flourishing souk ("market"), in late 19th century, there was a large choice of fabrics available in the city, from Damascus and Aleppo silk to Manchester cottons and calicos. Similar in construction to the garments worn in the Galilee, both long and short Turkish style jackets were worn over the thob ("robe"). For daily wear, thobs were often made of white cotton or linen, with a preference for winged sleeves. In the summer, costumes often incorporated interwoven striped bands of red, green and yellow on the front and back, with appliqué and braidwork popularly decorating the qabbeh ("square chest piece").[56]


Nablus is one of the Palestinian cities that sustained elite classes, fostering the development of a culture of "high cuisine", such as that of Damascus or Baghdad. The city is home to a number of food products well-known throughout the Levant, the Arab world and the former provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

Kanafeh is the most famed Nabulsi sweet. Originating in Nablus during the 15th century, by 1575, its recipe was exported throughout the Ottoman Empire — which controlled Palestine at the time. Kanafeh is made of several fine shreds of pastry noodles with honey-sweetened cheese in the center. The top layer of the pastry is usually dyed orange with food coloring and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. Though it is now made throughout the Middle East, to the present day, kanafeh Nabulsi enjoys continued fame, partly due to its use of a white-brine cheese called jibneh Nabulsi. Boiled sugar is used as a syrup for kanafeh.[57]

Other sweets made in Nablus include baklawa, "Tamriya", mabrumeh and ghuraybeh,[58] a plain pastry made of butter, flour and sugar in an "S"-shape, or shaped as fingers or bracelets.[59]


Nabulsi soap or sabon nabulsi is a type of castile soap produced only in Nablus[60] and made of three primary ingredients: virgin olive oil, water, and a sodium[61] compound.[62] Since the 10th century, Nabulsi soap has enjoyed a reputation for being a fine product,[63] and has been exported across the Arab world and to Europe.[62] Though the number of soap factories decreased from a peak of thirty in the 19th century to only two today, efforts to preserve this important part of Palestinian and Nabulsi cultural heritage continue.[62][63]

Made in a cube-like shape about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) tall and 2.25 by 2.25 inches (5.7 by 5.7 cm) wide, the color of Nabulsi soap is like that of "the page of an old book."[63] The cubes are stamped on the top with the seal of the factory that produces it.[64] The soap's sodium compound came from the barilla plant. Prior to the 1860s, in the summertime, the barilla would be placed in towering stacks, burned, and then the ashes and coals would be gathered into sacks, and transported to Nablus from the area of modern-day Jordan in large caravans. In the city, the ashes and coals were pounded into a fine natural alkaline soda powder called qilw.[63] Today, qilw is still used in combination with lime.

Cultural centers

There are three cultural centers in Nablus. The Child Cultural Center (CCC), founded in 1998 and built in a renovated historic building, operates an art and drawing workshop, a stage for play performances, a music room, a children's library and a multimedia lab.[65] The Children Happiness Center (CHC) was also established in 1998. Its main activities include promoting Palestinian culture through social events, dabke classes and field trips. In addition to national culture, the CHC has a football and chess team.[66] The Nablus municipal government established its own cultural center in 2003, called the Nablus Municipality Cultural Center (NMCC) aimed at establishing and developing educational facilities.[67]


the Nablus football stadium has a capacity of 8,000.[68] The stadium is home to the city's football club al-Ittihad, which is in the main league of the Palestinian Territories.[69] The club participated in the Middle East Mediterranean Scholar Athlete Games in 2000.[70]


The new clock tower at Ash-Shuhada Square in downtown Nablus

The city of Nablus is the muhfaza (seat) of the Nablus Governorate, and is governed by a municipal council made up of fifteen elected members, including the mayor.[71]

The two primary political parties in the municipal council are Hamas and Fatah. In the 2005 Palestinian municipal elections, the Reform and Change list representing the Hamas faction won 73.4% of the vote, gaining the majority of the municipal seats (13). Palestine Tomorrow, representing Fatah, gained the remaining two seats with 13.0% of the vote. Other political parties, such as the Palestinian People's Party and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine failed to gain any seats in the council, though they each received over 1,000 votes.[72]

Elected Candidates of the Nablus municipal elections of 2005[71]

Rank List Candidate name
1 Reform and Change (Hamas) Adly Yaish
2 Reform and Change (Hamas) Hafez Shaheen
3 Reform and Change (Hamas) Nihad Masri
4 Reform and Change (Hamas) Mahdi Hanbali
5 Palestine Tomorrow (Fatah) Yahya Arafat
6 Reform and Change (Hamas) Kholood Masri
7 Reform and Change (Hamas) Majeda Fadda
8 Reform and Change (Hamas) Rula Kanaan
9 Reform and Change (Hamas) Husam Eddine Kataloni
10 Reform and Change (Hamas) Anan Ghazal
11 Reform and Change (Hamas) Ghassan Johari
12 Reform and Change (Hamas) Mazen al-Sharif
13 Reform and Change (Hamas) Fayyad Aghbar
14 Reform and Change (Hamas) Abdel Jabbar Adel Musa "Dweikat"
15 Palestine Tomorrow (Fatah) Sa’id Hindiyyeh


Modern mayorship in Nablus began in 1869 with the appointment of Sheikh Mohammad Tuffaha by the Ottoman governor of Syria/Palestine. On July 2, 1980, Bassam Shaka, then mayor of Nablus, lost both of his legs as a result of a car bombing carried out by Israeli militants affiliated with the Gush Emunim Underground movement.[73]

The current mayor, Adly Yaish, a Hamas member, was arrested by the Israel Defense Forces in May 2007, during Operation Summer Rains, launched in retaliation for the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas.[74] Municipal council members Abdel Jabbar Adel Musa "Dweikat", Majida Fadda, Khulood El-Masri, and Mahdi Hanbali were also arrested.[71] He spent 15 months in prison without being charged.[75]

Elections for local council in Nablus are overdue, as the four year term of the council expired in December 2009. While elections in the West Bank were scheduled for 17 July 2010, they were canceled due to Fatah's lack of agreement on list of candidates. Nablus was one of the most important municipalities where Fatah failed to resolve internal conflict that could have resulted in two competing Fatah lists: one headed by Bassam Shaka and one headed by Amin Maqboul.[76]


According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), in 1997, 44,926 were enrolled in schools (41.2% in primary school, 36.2% in secondary school, and 22.6% in high school). About 19.8% of high school students received bachelor diplomas or higher diplomas.[77] In 2006, there were 234 schools and 93,925 students in the Nablus Governorate; 196 schools are run the by Education Ministry of the Palestinian National Authority, 14 by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and 24 are private schools.[78]

Nablus is also home to an-Najah National University, the largest Palestinian university in the West Bank. Founded in 1918 by the an-Najah Nabulsi School, it became a college in 1941 and a university in 1977. An-Najah was closed down by Israeli authorities during the First Intifada, but reopened in 1991. Today, the university has three campuses in Nablus with over 16,500 students and 300 professors. The university's faculties include seven in the humanities and nine in the sciences.[79]

Local infrastructure

A street leading towards the Old City. The minaret of An-Nasr Mosque can be seen in the backdrop. The man in the foreground is wearing a keffiyeh.

Fire department

Nablus is one of the few cities in the West Bank to have a fire department, which was founded in 1958. At that time, the "fire brigade" (as it was called) was composed of five members and one extinguishing vehicle. In 2007, the department had seventy members and over twenty vehicles. Until 1986, It was responsible for the all of the northern West Bank, but today it only covers the Nablus and Tubas Governorates. From 1997 to 2006, Nablus' fire department has extinguished 15,346 fires.[80]

Medical facilities

There are six hospitals in Nablus, the four major ones being al-Ittihad, St. Lukes, al-Watani(the National) and the Rafidia Surgery Hospital. The latter, located in Rafidia, a suburb in western Nablus, is the largest hospital in the city. Al-Watani Hospital specializes in oncology services.[6] The Anglican St. Lukes hospital and the National Hospital were built in 1900 and 1910 respectively.[32][81] In addition to hospitals, Nablus contains the al-Rahma and at-Tadamon clinics, the al-Razi medical center, the Amal Center for Rehabilitation and 68 pharmacies.[81] In addition to that, in 2001, Nablus Speciality Hospital was built, in which it is specialized in open heart surgery, angiograms and angioplasties.


In 1997, 99.7% of Nablus' 18,003 households were connected to electricity through a public network. Prior to its establishment in 1957, electricity came from private generators. Today, the majority of the inhabitants of 18 nearby towns, in addition to the city's inhabitants, are connected to the Nablus network.[82]

The majority of households are connected to a public sewage system (93%), with the reminaing 7% connected through cesspits.[83] The sewage system, established n the early 1950s, also connects the refugee camps of Balata, Askar and Ein Beit al-Ma'.[84] Pipe water is provided for 100% of the city's households, primarily through a public network (99.3%), but some residents receive water through a private system (0.7%).[83] The water network was established in 1932 by the British authorities and is fed by water from four nearby wells: Deir Sharaf, Far'a, al-Badan and Audala.[84]


In the early 20th century, Nablus was the southernmost station of a spur from the Jezreel Valley railway's Afula station, itself a spur from the Hejaz railway. The extension of the railway to Nablus was built in 1911–12.[85] During the beginning of the British Mandate, one weekly train was operated from Haifa to Nablus via Afula and Jenin. The railway was destroyed during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and never rebuilt.

The main Beersheba–Nazareth road running through the middle of the West Bank ends in Nablus. The city is connected to Tulkarm, Qalqilya and Jenin through western offshoots from the main road. The Israeli checkpoints of Beit Iba, at-Tur, Huwwara and Beit Furik around Nablus hamper the travel of residents to and from the city. The checkpoints were established by Israel after the signing of the Oslo Accords, which gave Palestinians complete authority over the city and its vicinity. Since January 2002, buses, taxis, trucks and private travelers are obligated to obtain a permit from the Israeli military authorities before leaving or entering Nablus.[6]

The nearest airport is the Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, Israel, but because of restrictions governing the entry of Palestinians to Israel, residents often travel to Amman, Jordan to use the Queen Alia International Airport. Taxis are the main form of public transportation within Nablus and the city contains 28 taxi offices and garages.[86]

International relations

Twin towns and sister cities

Nablus is twinned, or has sister city relationships with:[87]

See also




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External links

Panorama of Nablus
Picture showing to the right the mountain "Ebal" with the rock of "Sit Islamieh," and to the left the south mountain "Jirziem" with an IDF military post on the far left

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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