It’s a town known the world over, immortalized in Christmas carols, depicted in art, and dramatized on television programs and films. And while Bethlehem is celebrated by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, many people don’t know much about the city itself.
Located only six miles south of Jerusalem, under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, Bethlehem carries a great spiritual legacy. Widely known for the biblical birth narrative of Jesus, the city of Bethlehem (or Beit Lechem meaning “house of bread” in Hebrew) sits atop a hill at the edge of the Judean desert. David, Israel’s second king, was also born here and spent his formative years as a shepherd until the prophet Samuel anointed him as king.
Bethlehem houses one of the oldest Christian communities in the world and is home to the largest Palestinian Christian community in the Middle East.
With Bethlehem’s proximity to Jerusalem, it draws over one million tourists yearly. It’s a small town of around 25,000 residents. Anytime, and all the time, is a wonderful opportunity to visit, particularly during the Christmas and Easter seasons.
The Church of the Nativity and Manger Square
Built by Constantine the Great in 330 AD, the Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest existing churches in the world. Built atop the Holy Crypt, the location where tradition holds as the actual birth site of Jesus, the church is visited by many thousands of believers each year, making it one of the foremost destinations for tours to the Holy Land. Non-believers visit the church because of its historical and religious significance.
The Church of the Nativity contains two cathedrals, administered by the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic denominations working incooperation.
The iconic Manger Square plaza, the site of the town’s annual Christmas Eve celebrations, is a natural tie-in with the church’s entrance, standing prominently as Bethlehem’s city center. Manger Square’s main streets and side streets are also popular dining and shopping destinations, particularly for handmade items made from olive wood, and jewelry.
Milk Grotto and Shepherd’s Square
Visitors can also see the Milk Grotto, where Mary is said to have nursed Jesus when the family fled Bethlehem, as well as Shepherd’s Fields, a rotunda-topped, round building established to honor the shepherds who left their fold to find Jesus.
Just outside Bethlehem proper lies Rachel’s Tomb. This sacred site is considered the burial place of the biblical Jewish matriarch, Rachel.
A visit to Bethlehem is a captivating once-in-a-lifetime experience. With so much to do and see, a one-day’s visit may simply not be enough!