The destruction of the ancient biblical kingdom of Sebastia
The ancient town of Sebastia , located in the northern West Bank, holds immense historical significance. The 3,000 year old Holy Land was once home to biblical kings, ruled by Roman conquerors, and a pathway for crusaders. It served as the capital of the biblical Kingdom of Israel under the name of Samaria in the eighth and ninth centuries B.C., and Alexander the Great, King Herod and Medieval Islamic rulers have all left their marks. According to tradition, the town is also the burial place of John the Baptist.
The site has long been recognised as an area of immense archaeological importance – excavations of the site began in the 1960s by the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, when the site was under Jordanian rule and two major archeological digs were conducted in Sebastia in the early 20th century, when the site was controlled by the Ottomans and later British authorities.
However, today, there is little remaining of the once glorious town of Sebastia – weeds, rubbish and graffiti pollute the ancient holy city, Roman tombs have been smashed and abandoned and looters have taken off with priceless artifacts. The remains of a Crusader cathedral, an ancient Roman city boasting a forum, a colonnaded street and a temple to Augustus, and the remains of the palace of Omri, the ninth century ruler of the Kingdom of Israel, all virtually lie in ruins.
"In this period really Sebastia is suffering a lot because a lot of illegal excavations have happened in this area," said Osama Hamdan, a Palestinian architect who has co-ordinated the restoration works of Crusader-era buildings. "A lot of destruction of cultural heritage in this area has happened." Statues, vases, coins and glass have all been taken by looters.
The problem lies in the fact that the ancient site is caught between the conflicting Israeli and Palestinian jurisdictions - part of the site falls under Israeli control, while some areas remain under Palestinian civilian control – and sadly, the result is the degradation and destruction of a once vibrant and glorious town.
"Sebastia, the archeological site, is abandoned without any control from 2000. It's 13 years," said Hamdan. Nowadays, there is little supervision or care given to the site “due to the change in the security situation”.
Modern mankind tends to see itself as ‘more civilized’ than our ancient ancestors, but when we look at the transformation of Sebastia, it is difficult to see any evidence of a more civilized humanity…