Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus Christ

Sunday, 25 December 2011 - 01:20 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, UNESCO World Heritage, Union for the Mediterranean
Reading Time:  7 minutes

Church of the Nativity © flickr.com - Neil Ward/cc-by-2.0

Church of the Nativity © flickr.com – Neil Ward/cc-by-2.0

Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank in Palestine and approximately 8 kilometers (5.0 mi) south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism. The New Testament identifies Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth. The town is inhabited by one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, although the size of the community has shrunk due to emigration.

The city was sacked by the Samaritans in 529 AD, during their revolt, but was rebuilt by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. Bethlehem was conquered by the Arab Caliphate of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb in 637, who guaranteed safety for the city’s religious shrines. In 1099, Crusaders captured and fortified Bethlehem and replaced its Greek Orthodox clergy with a Latin one. The Latin clergy were expelled after the city was captured by Saladin, the sultan of Egypt and Syria. With the coming of the Mamluks in 1250, the city’s walls were demolished, and were subsequently rebuilt during the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The Bethlehem agglomeration includes the towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, as well as the refugee camps of Dheisheh, ‘Aida and ‘Azza. Bethlehem’s chief economic sector is tourism which peaks during the Christmas season when Christian pilgrims throng to the Church of the Nativity. Bethlehem has over thirty hotels and three hundred handicraft work shops.

Bethlehem and Church of Nativity from North © Wknight94 Residence of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Betharram © Croberto68/cc-by-sa-3.0 © flickr.com - Lux Moundi/cc-by-sa-2.0 Bethlehem skyline from Church of the Nativity © Daniel Case/cc-by-sa-3.0 Church of Nativity - Altar above Jesus birthplace © Darko Tepert/cc-by-sa-2.5 Church of the Nativity © flickr.com - Neil Ward/cc-by-2.0 © flickr.com - someone10x/cc-by-2.0 Jacir Palace Hotel © Tiamat/cc-by-sa-3.0 Manager Square with Christmas tree © flickr.com - Grant Barclay/cc-by-2.0
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Residence of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Betharram © Croberto68/cc-by-sa-3.0
Shopping is a major sector in Bethlehem, especially during the Christmas season. The city’s main streets and old markets are lined with shops selling handicrafts, Middle Eastern spices, jewelry and oriental sweets such as baklawa. The tradition of making handicrafts in the city dates back to its founding. Numerous shops in Bethlehem sell olive wood carvings – for which the city is renowned – made from the local olive groves. The carvings are the main product purchased by tourists visiting Bethlehem. Religious handicrafts are also a major industry in Bethlehem, and some products include ornaments handmade from mother-of-pearl, as well as olive wood statues, boxes, and crosses. The art of creating mother-of-pearl handicrafts was introduced to Bethlehem by Franciscan friars from Damascus during the 14th century. Stone and marble-cutting, textiles, furniture and furnishings are other prevalent industries. Bethlehem also produces paints, plastics, synthetic rubber, pharmaceuticals, construction materials and food products, mainly pasta and confectionery.

Tourism is Bethlehem’s main industry and unlike other Palestinian localities before 2000, the majority of the working residents did not work in Israel. Over 25% of the working population was employed directly or indirectly in the industry. Tourism accounts for approximately 65% of the city’s economy and 11% of the Palestinian National Authority. The Church of the Nativity is one of Bethlehem’s major tourist attractions and a magnet for Christian pilgrims. It stands in the center of the city – a part of the Manger Square – over a grotto or cave called the Holy Crypt, where Jesus supposedly was born. Nearby is the Milk Grotto where the Holy Family took refuge on their Flight to Egypt and next door is the cave where St. Jerome spent thirty years translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Latin. There are over thirty hotels in Bethlehem. Jacir Palace, built in 1910 near the church, is one of Bethlehem’s most successful hotels and its oldest. It was closed down in 2000 due to the violence of the Second Intifada, but reopened in 2005.

Read more on Bethlehem Municipality, Bethlehem University, The Walled Off Hotel by Banksy, Arab News, 21 December 2019: Scar of Bethlehem: Banksy unveils dark nativity in Israeli-occupied West Bank, Times of Israel, 21 December 2019: Banksy unveils dark nativity scene at his Bethlehem hotel, The Guardian, 22 December 2019: Banksy’s nativity – with bullet hole in place of star – unveiled in Bethlehem, Haaretz, 22 December 2019: Banksy Unveils ‘Scar of Bethlehem’ Nativity Scene in West Bank Hotel, Jerusalem Post, 22 December 2019: Banksy unveils ‘Scar of Bethlehem’ nativity scene ahead of Christmas, CNN, 22 December 2019: Banksy unveils ‘modified nativity’ scene in Bethlehem, Israel Hayom, 23 December 2019: Banksy takes politically charged Nativity scene to Bethlehem, Times of Israel, 24 December 2019: Thousands arrive in Bethlehem as Christmas festivities begin, Jerusalem Post, 24 December 2019: Not-so-merry Christmas for some Bethlehem Christians, Palestine Chronicle, 24 December 2019: Palestinian Christians Celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem, despite Israeli Occupation, HuffPost, 25 December 2019: Banksy Unveils Poignant ‘Scar Of Bethlehem’ Nativity Scene For Christmas, Al Arabiya, 26 December 2019: Palestinians in Bethlehem spread Christmas cheer with tradition, music, prayer, Haaretz, 20 December 2021: This Christmas, Bethlehem Is Preparing for a Very ‘Silent Night’, DW, 21 December 2021: Despite COVID, Christmas in Bethlehem brings back joy in troubling times, Reuters, 22 November 2021: Last Christmas was grim, Bethlehem hopes this year will be better, France24, 24 December 2021: Bethlehem subdued for second pandemic Christmas, Palestine Chronicle, 24 December 2021: Palestinians in Bethlehem Celebrate Christmas, Despite Covid Pandemic, Arab News, 24 December 2021: Restoration of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity uncovers long hidden treasures, The Algemeiner, 25 December 2021: Bethlehem Celebrates Muted Christmas with Few Pilgrims to Bring Cheer, Wikivoyage Bethlehem, Star of Bethlehem and Wikipedia Bethlehem. Learn more about the use of photos. To inform you about latest news most of the city, town or tourism websites offer a newsletter service and/or operate Facebook pages/Twitter accounts. In addition more and more destinations, tourist organizations and cultural institutions offer Apps for your Smart Phone or Tablet, to provide you with a mobile tourist guide (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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