Hebron (Khalil Ar-Rahman)

Hebron is one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in the world, its Arabic name, Khalil al-Rahman, means ‘The Friend of God.’ Ancient Hebron was situated on Jebel Ar-Rumeideh (the Rumeideh hill), located southwest of the current historic town. Archaeological investigations show several layers of habitation, dating from the Chalcolithic period (circa 4500-3200 BC) down to the Umayyad period (661-750 AD). 

The city has always been known as the burial place of the prophets Abraham/Ibrahim, Isaac, Jacob and their wives. During the Roman period, Herod the Great (73-4 BC) built a massive wall to enclose the cave of the prophets’ tombs. After the conquest of Hebron by the Crusaders (1099), this enclosure was turned into a church, and subsequently, after Saladin’s retaking of the city in 1187, into a mosque. Inside it, a walnut-wood carved minbur (pulpit) stands near the prayer niche. It was brought by Saladin from Egypt and is believed to be among the oldest wooden Islamic pulpits.

With the Arab-Muslim conquest, Hebron became the fourth sacred city of Islam after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, and was visited by Muslim pilgrims from all over the world. The town and the mosque were honoured and sanctified by the rulers of successive Muslim states, the Islamic leaders, and by the public. During Mamluk rule (1250-1516 AD), Hebron flourished and became a famous Sufi centre. Hundreds of Islamic religious and historical monuments were built close to the enclosed tombs. During Ottoman rule (1517- 1918 AD) the town witnessed a period of expansion, giving the old city its present-day shape and boundaries.

Still dominated by Mamluk-style architecture, Hebron is one of the few Islamic cities that has preserved its authentic set up, visible in its urban fabric and prestigious architecture, corroborated by its particular craftsmanship (the famous pottery and glassware of Mamluk origin) and its traditional life.

The Old Town of Hebron
One of the oldest towns in Palestine, its market, (souq) has striking arched roofs and a maze of alleys that are definitely worth exploring. The shops and stalls sell everything from pottery, olivewood, blown glass, to a wide array of aromatic spices and dried fruits.

Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi (The Ibrahimi Mosque)
Known locally as Al-Haram (the sanctuary), the mosque and its surroundings house the tombs of the monotheistic patriarchs and their wives, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives Sarah, Leah and Rebecca.

Oak of Ibrahim
An oak tree 2km west of Hebron marks the legendary site where Abraham (Ibrahim) pitched his tent. Excavations in 1926-28 revealed a Herodian enclosure with a well in its south-western corner. Until recently, pilgrims would peel pieces of the trunk for good luck. Now, however, the Russian Orthodox Church that owns the site and the nearby monastery has wrapped the trunk with steel braces for protection.

Haram al-Rama (Mamre)
It lies halfway between Halhoul and Hebron. The site was discovered during archaeological excavations in 1920s and 1980s.  According to religious traditions the site might be the place where Abraham received the three Angles who informed  him that his barren wife Sarah would give birth to his son Isaac. Christian traditions also identify this place as a resting place of Joseph and Mary on their way to Egypt. In the Roman period, Herod the Great built an impressive enclosure complex (49X65m) with statues to  Edomite deities. After the first century AD, the site became one of the main market fairs in Palestine. In the fourth century AD, a church was built inside the enclosure, which is depicted on the Madaba Map, the site was reused during the medieval period. The site was rehabilitated by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities as an archaeological park.

A beautiful and fertile village, Halhoul lies 5km north of Hebron. Abundant vineyards dot the area, producing Hebron’s renowned grapes. The Mosque of Nabi Yunis lies just outside the town. According to Muslim tradition, the mosque was built over the grave of the Prophet Jonah.