I saw this building for the first time yesterday.
Located on An Najah street near the old city in Nablus, I suspect it was built in the late 1800’s or around the turn of the last century.
The building is very beautiful, especially the impressive arched doorway. The concentric semi-circles reducing as the door leads inwards is a feature of door architecture from the earliest times ( Roman Byzantine, the Notre Dame Paris, Norman churches in England) I have also seen this on doors of monasteries from the middle ages in Ireland ). The windows on the front side of the building to the left and right of the balcony are now rectangular (squared) however from the stonework I can see that the tops of the windows were semi-circular, and have since been filled in. In the extension to the right of the building, which may have been added later although it is beautifully integrated, the tops of the windows are more elliptical than semi-circular.
The bas relief carving in stone at the top of the door is beautiful and the capitals of the columns have a beautiful palm leaf and spirals design.
In 2016, the building is occupied by apartments and surrounded by shops and workshops, but I can imagine it as free standing, surrounded by gardens and orange trees as it surely once was.
So now I have the challenge to learn its history and its story.
The local shopkeepers told me that the building had been a palace for a very rich family in Nablus. They said that the family was named the “Nablusi Family” named for the city and they owned all the land around the city and had many hundreds of tenants. Their chief wealth came from the production of olive oil and the making of olive oil products such as soap, for which Nablus is still quite famous.
However, to me, the building looks to me like it was a place of worship – a synagogue perhaps ? but I have no reason to believe it wasn’t it just as the locals tell me, except that if it had been a synagogue the locals would be reluctant to admit that Nablus had been an important Jewish city in ancient history and that there was a vibrant Jewish community here before the division of Palestine into two states in 1948.
The Samaritans -an ancient Jewish sect- still remain in Nablus (Mount Jerzim) and have good relations with the local Muslim and Christian population. I hope to visit them in the near future and learn more about them.
Nablus was a very important city in the Bible it was called Shechem and it was said to be the place between two mountains where are the Ark of the Covenant was brought according to scripture and legend. It is also the site of Jacob’s Well and the site of the story of “the woman at the well” from John’s gospel – a story that has always intrigued me.What was really going on in her life ? and what an amazing and encounter she had with this young handsome young Jewish man and how much she revealed about herself to him!.
So if this building had been a synagogue I doubt very much that locals would have admitted it because, amidst the conflict, there is a tendency to try and erase the past the history of the other and to deny that the other had a legitimate and important place in this place.
The same thing happens in Israel where there is a genuine fear that the displace Palestinians will someday claim back what once was theirs. The collective Jewish heritage carries with it the ingrained fear of loss of possessions, but that fear should not extend to the Palestinians. When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 they were welcomed into the Ottoman Empire and allowed to practice their religion freely, which is more than we can say for Jewish history in Europe.
So, I will go to the library and see what I can find out about this building. Perhaps there is somebody in charge of Antiquities at City Hall that can help me, and I also know of an architect named Naseer Arafat who specializes in the restoration of heritage buildings, and perhaps he can give me more information.
I hope I will find out the history and learn more about the style and architecture – I would be interested to hear from any of you who have more knowledge than I do (which isn’t difficult!) Architects and historians, please contact me with your thoughts, or offer some suggestions in the comments!
Nablus Nov 2016