As you probably know, due to the difference in the Julian and Gregorian calendriers, there are two Christmases with a two weeks gap between them. One is celebrated by Catholics, Protestants and more or less by the whole Christian world on the 25th of December. Orthodox Christmas on the other hand is celebrated on the 7th of January.
To mark this, I’ve prepared a blogpost on Bethlehem, the real city where Jesus Christ was born according to the New Testament. Whether you’re religious or not, you can’t deny the historical importance of this place. Many thanks to Zoya, our guide, who made your tour rememberable!
Scroll below to learn more! Important: I’m not diving into the politics in this post and am solely sharing my travel experience.
What is Bethlehem
Bethlehem is located in the West Bank on the Palestinian territories, and it took us a not very long ride from Jerusalem. Note that there is a border you have to cross and present your passports, and plus we had a guide with a car that was allowed to enter the territory.
The city is mentioned in the Old Testament but for centuries it’s been most well known as the place of Jesus Christ’s birth. Unsurprisingly, it became a place of pilgrimage from the 2 century AD.
Church of the Nativity
The church of Nativity is undoubtedly the most important landmark of Bethlehem and a UNESCO protected site. It’s built above the place where Jesus was born and it is proclaimed to be the oldest church that has been functioning non stop. The church of Nativity was founded by Constantine the Great and his mother Helena in the 4th century AD and had quite a rough history of being destroyed and rebuilt numerous times.
The Grotto of the Nativity with the 14 point silver star is the exact site which is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus – just note how tiny is it!
The interior of the church is quite remarkable as well having the 4th century mosaics and bearing the sights of Crusades and ancient pilgrimages.
St. Catherine’s Church
The St. Catherine’s Church is located literally next door to the church of Nativity by the Franciscans and is worth a visit too.
Mosque of Omar
Opposite to the Church of the Nativity is located the Mosque of Omar right across the Manger square. It’s the most important mosque in Bethlehem built in the mid-19th century and named after Omar (Umar) ibn al-Khattab (581–644).
If you’re interested in Palentinian culture, you can visit the Palestinian Heritage Center of Bethlehem.
The Separation wall
Sadly, one of the main historical landmarks of Bethlehem is the Separation wall, or the West Bank barrier, marking the border of Palestine and Israel the first section of which was erected in 1994.
Separation wall and many houses in Bethlehem are decorated with graffiti – and not just graffiti of an artist with an unfamiliar name but with Banksy’s works such as the one above with two cherubs trying to tear the wall apart. It’s worth noting that some of the graffiti just copy Banksy’s style and don’t belong to him.
The Walled-Off Hotel
Talking about Banksy. You won’t believe that but in 2017 he opened a hotel in Bethlehem! The name is the Walled Off hotel facing the Separation wall and that is said to be decorated by him and other graffiti artists on the inside.
Streets of Bethlehem
I must confess that I loved the streets of Bethlehem not much less than its sacred locations. Have a look of how pretty they are!
Another important Christmas-related location not far from Bethlehem is Shepherd’s field. It is believed that the shepherds were announced that Jesus Christ was born while they were around this area with their flocks, and after that they hurried up to Bethlehem.
There are a few possible sights where according to the archeological discoveries this announcement could have been made around the Beit Sahur village. Above one of them the catholic church with Chapel of the Angels has been erected, the second one is around the Protestant Shepherd’s Field, and we visited the third one – the Orthodox greek church called the Church of the Shepherds.
It is believed to be founded by Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, and you can spot the ancient crypt where the shepherds were buried, the mosaics of the 4th century in St George’s church in the cave, the modern church and the olive trees that are said to be preserved since biblical times.
Hope you enjoyed my blog!