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You're coming to the Holy Land and perhaps you aren't sure if you should visit Bethlehem. You've always wanted to go to Bethlehem and see the Church of Nativity but what else is there? Is it worth planning a a full day, or even two?
Yes. And to make it easy for you, Travelujah has created our own list of on and off the beaten path places you can visit during your next day or two day trip to Bethlehem. Below you'll find our top "must see" sites in and around this ancient city, revered worldwide as the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
The monastery, structured in the shape of a cross, is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world (constructed in 325 AD). It is a major Christian holy site, marking the traditional place of Christ's birth. Queen Helena built the Church of Nativity during the Byzantine Empire. Adjacent to this Church is the Church of St. Catherine.
2. Milk Grotto
The Milk Grotto is a place where the Holy Family took shelter during the Slaughter of the Innocents, hiding there from Herod's soldiers. Prior to going to Egypt, Mary nursed Jesus in this small grott. It is said that a drop of the Virgin's milk fell on the floor of the cave, turning the rock white and giving rise to the chalky white stone. People from around the world believe in the fertility powers of the chalky rock and many will travel to this cave simply to scratch of some of the residue, which is later consumed by the hopeful mother to be.
The Old City of Bethlehem is located in the center of this ancient city. A stroll within the narrow streets of ancient Bethlehem can be an interesting activity: its narrow, climactic streets take you into an ancient past. The old buildings, beautifully decorated with stone ornaments, are not just the architectural landmarks - they are also houses for many Bethlehemites.
Follow the Star Street - the ancient way followed by Joseph and the Virgin Mary to the Grotto of the Nativity. The street leads to King David Wells.
Shepherd's Fields are locatedin Beit Sahour, a small town east of Bethlehem. Sincee ancient times Shepherds Fields have been identified with the shepherds who saw the Star of Nativity and followed it to Bethlehem.
There are two places known as Shepherd's Fields. One is run by the Catholic Church - there you can see an ancient Byzantic stone mosaic and at the alternative site, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, there is a small Greek Orthodox Church. The walls of the Greek Orthodox Church are covered by icons showing lives of saints. The place appears like a fairytale. While you are there do not miss the olive trees, many are over 2000 years old!
Herodium is a volcano-like hill with a truncated cone located near the city of Bethlehem. Herod the Great built a fortress and palace on the top of Herodium, and recent archaeological findings indicated that he may have been buried there as well. Herodium is 758 meters above the sea level. The view from its top is amazing. The fortress is more than 2000 years old.
6. Mar Saba Monastery
Mar Saba is a Greek Orthodox monastery in the middle of a desert, east of Bethlehem. Founded by Saint Sabas of Cappadocia in 439, today it houses around 20 monks. One of monastery's traditions restricts women from entering the main compound. The only building that women can enter is the Women's Tower, near the main entrance.
7. Bethlehem Museums
• International Nativity Museum
International Nativity Museum of Bethlehem is one of the richest and valuable collections of cribs in the Holy Land. The Museum has a collection of over 200 Nativity representations of different styles and dimensions. It is located in the ground floor of the historical Salesian convent of Bethlehem. The variety of the cribs exposed, originating from all around the world, creates a rhapsody of customs, liturgy and rituality from all continents and ethnic groups.
• Olive Oil Museum
Al Bad Museum for Olive Oil production is situated in the Old City of Bethlehem. The building which houses the museum dates back to the 19th century. The museum houses many ethnographic and archaeological artefacts featuring the entire process of oil production. Furthermore, the exhibit highlights the many uses for oil such as lamps, medicine, food, soap and cosmetics.
• Palestinian Heritage Center
The Palestinian Heritage Center aims to preserve and promote Palestinian Cultural Heritage, especially the art of embroidery. The PHC has a great collection of traditional Palestinian dresses and antique items of everyday use. It also participates in fair trade of hand-made embroidery, crafted by women from villages and refugee camps around the city of Bethlehem.
8. Al Khader Village
The Al Khader Village (the village of St. George) is located about 4 km south of Bethlehem. There you can see the ancient Solomon Pools - consisting of three huge water cisterns made of stone, that have played a significant role in the area's water supply for centuries. Near the poolsis the al Burak castle, an Ottoman Turkish fortress dating back to the 17th century. In the center of the village there is beautiful Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, whose image connotes protection for Palestinian Christians.
Cremisan, a small vineyard of delicious grapes, located on the slopes of a hill, is situated in a beautiful region approximately five kilometers from Bethlehem. The vineyard is run by the order of the Salesians of Don Bosco. A bottle of Cremisan's wine makes a nice souvenir from a visit in Bethlehem.
10. Banksy Art
Banksy is a pseudonymous for an Bristol, England-based graffiti artist, political activist, film director, and painter famous around the world who has self published several books. In August 2005, Banksy painted couple images on the Israeli West Bank barrier, including an image of a Christmas tree surrounded by a wall in Bethlehem and many more. Tourists from all over the world see his artwork while visiting Bethlehem.
Photo credit: Travelujah
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Beata Michaelska works at the Bethlehem Tourism Office and blogs regularly for Travelujah on interesting sites and experiences in and around Bethlehem. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem two years ago.