Everyone living in a Christian culture, regardless of the his/her actual religious background or beliefs has heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. Some traveller got robbed and beaten on the road and no one helped him except for the Samaritan passing by. It is so popular that even the word Samaritan itself has received the meaning of a good person caring for the others in need. But what is the actual meaning of the word, who are, in fact those people, where do they live and why was it so surprising that one actually helped the traveller?
The Samaritans are an ethno-religious group living in Palestine, that still exists today, but was much more numerous in the Biblical times. Their name comes from Samaria - the locality in Israel where the capital of the Old Israelite kingdom was situated. They claim to be the heirs of that kingdom and the true followers of the Israelite religion, from which Judaism separated. The divergence of the two religions made the conflict between the tribes in Israel even greater, so that is why the parable features a Samaritan - under the assumption that it is unlikely that a person of another faith hostile to the Judeans would offer help to his enemy.
Samaritans' religion is like a somehow outdated version of Judaism, they have different 10 commandments; do not accept the Talmud and practice animal sacrifice. Most importantly they consider Mount Gerizim near Nablus in Palestine as the place God has chosen for his temple, so it is holy for them. They were at times probably as numerous as Jews, but following a very unsuccessful uprising against the Byzantine empire (which outlawed Samaritanism and built a church on Mount Gerizim) in the years 529-531 they got scattered and most of them changed their religion and beliefs, and slowly merged with the predominantly Muslim population around the Middle ages. Today only around 750 people n the world consider themselves Samaritans by religion and ethnicity, half of them live in the village of Kiryat Luza at their sacred hill Mount Gerizim after recent military conflicts moved them away from their homes in Nablus.Both around Israel and Palestine they are considered a distinct ethnicity with its own minority rights and both countries issue them passports.
The hill is one of the highest mountains in Palestine, raising to 881 m (2295 ft) above sea level and is covered with shrubs. The northern side (facing Nablus) is especially steep; the Samaritan village is close to the top on the southern slope.
Coordinates: 32° 11′ 58″ N, 35° 16′ 22″ E
Wikipedia Article about Mount Gerizim (in English; the image is from the Hebrew Wikipedia)
Wikipedia Article about Samaritans
Wikipedia Article about the Parable