General Information

2015-03-30 12:59:58

People & Houses

Behind its often dilapidated facades, Bethlehem conceals a precious heritage. Apart from the many impressive religious buildings, churches, schools and convents, the town still retains a number of magnificent centuries-old houses, some architectural features of which may date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader, Turkish and British remains and monuments intermingle with European architecture and blend with the local Palestinian style to form a unique and challenging heritage. Bethlehem's historic residential quarters developed through the ages represent part of the cultural heritage of Bethlehem. The quarters came together like a mosaic to form the corps around Manger Square.

 

Bethlehem today is more of a bustling tourist resort than the holy place one would expect. It is full of souvenir shops and restaurants which are part of the services that mark the city. Bethlehem and its satellite towns, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala have many churches, convents, schools, hospitals and charitable societies. There are also a number of mosques; the most prominant one is the Mosque of 'Umar across the square from the Church of Nativity. The visitor finds numerous foreign institutions in the town; some are of a religious nature. Among them are the Holy Family Hospital that belongs to the Knights of Malta, Efeta Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, The Children's Village S.O.S., Caritas Children's Hospital, SIRA (a Swedish Institute for the Handicapped), the Salisians' Technical School and many others.

 

The area of Bethlehem has a population of 61,000 half of whom are Moslems and half are Christians. The town of Bethlehem has 27,000 inhabitants, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, the two neighboring sister towns, have respectively 13,000 and 12,000 inhabitants. Christians constitute the majority only in the two towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. Among Christians, the Orthodox denomination is the largest.

 

Bethlehem suffered a migration drain through the twentieth century. Owing to several cruel events that befell the region since the beginning of the century, many of its inhabitants emigrated. The first strong wave of migration took place after the First World War and many left to Latin America. The continuous economic difficulties forced this migration to continue until today where we find close to 60% of the local Christians residing in the Diaspora within prosperous communities

Streets & Squares

Quarters Of Bethlehem

Bethlehem's historic Residential Quarters (Harat) developed through the ages and represent Bethlehem's living history - that is the history of its people. Every quarter had a yard (guest-house) where the men of the quarter gathered together to discuss the affairs of their livelihood, their business and private matters. The different quarters represent part of the cultural heritage of Bethlehem. The quarters came together like a mosaic to form the corps around Manger Square.

Located west of Manger Square is the first of Bethlehem's historical Residential Quarters, Harat al-Najajreh. According to local folklore residents of this quarter are descendents of the Ghassanites, who were the first Christian tribes of the region. The Ghassanites came from an area, which today is in Northern Yemen, in a region known as Najran. The Najajreh tribe joined another grouping of families known as Ghathabreh, who had come to Bethlehem in early Christian times from Greece.

 Located northwest of Manger Square, along the ancient Star Street is Harat al-Farahiyeh. Named after the Christian Patriarch Farah (Joy), who like the Najajreh was a descendent of the first Christian tribes, the people of this quarter came in early Christian times from Wadi Musa on the eastern side of the Jordan River. With the coming of the Crusades, a third quarter just north of Manger Square was established in Bethlehem Harat al-Tarajmeh (or Quarter of the Translators) was named after the Italian founders (almost all men) who had married Arab Christian women and worked as translators for Franciscan priests and pilgrims.

During the Ottoman Period (early 16th Century) three additional "tribes" established quarters in Bethlehem. The tribe, which established Harat al-‘Anatreh, just south of the Nativity Basilica came from Antar (meaning Brave), near Herodium.

Another tribe came from Tekoa and settled south of Manger Square to build Harat al-Qawawse. Residents of Harat al-Hraizat, to the north of Manger Square came from a village south of Jerusalem called Um Tuba. In 1780 the first Muslim Quarter was established when a group of Muslim villagers joined hands with the Christians of Bethlehem in refusing to pay the Ottoman Sultan taxes. Harat al-Fawagreh, on a hill to the west of the city, was thus established by these Muslims who had migrated from a nearby village called Faghur which was close to Solomon's Pools.

 Manger Street

The Manger Street on the left, leads to the town center, the Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. All along Manger Street, are numerous large souvenir shops in which you find various kinds of artistic crafts such as mother-of-pearl and olive wood, as well as embroidery, religious post cards and others, along with leather, silver, brass, golden items, diamonds and jewelry. You will also see various kinds of restaurants, cafes and bars.

  Going up Manger Street from Manger Square to Rachel's Tomb, you see the following places: After leaving Manger Square, there is a road to the right leading to the town of Beit-Sahour and the Shepherds' Fields. St. Joseph's Secondary School for girls is on the left. The next road on the right leads to the S.O.S village. Farther along the road is the Syriac Catholic church and Saint Joseph's Home. As you round the corner on the left side of the road is the American Christian Mission with a hospital. Along Manger Street, not far from the Church of Nativity, there is a monument created by Franco Lezzi entitled 2000 & Beyond. This monument symbolizes efforts toward peace and tolerance among peoples. Its dimensions are about 5|3 m.   Going up Manger Street you pass through the shopping area. After leaving the shopping area another road on the right leads to the S.O.S Village and another road on the left goes up the hill to al-Azah refugee camp and Bethlehem University. Farther over, on the right (200 meters before the end of the street) a road on the left leads to the Antonian Home for Aged Women run by the Sisters of Artas; next you will see the First Baptist Church and Mar Andrea (Bethlehem University Residence). Farther over on the hillside is the Caritas Baby Hospital run by the sisters from Padova. Passing the Caritas Hospital we find a road on the left that leads to the monastery of the Emmanuel Sisters. Going back to Manger St. you find the Paradise Hotel at right and al-'Azah refugee camp on the left. The next road on the right before the end of Manger St. is Caritas St. and leads to the Applied Research Institute.

Hebron Road

 

The Hebron Road on the right branch of the fork mentioned above, nearly separates the boundaries of the town of Bethlehem and Beit-Jala and leads to the town suburbs. Following the Hebron road from Rachel's Tomb to the south, you find on the right the former Secondary School for girls in Dar Jacir one of the most beautiful buildings of Bethlehem. Shortly after, there is the Bethlehem Bible College and exactly at the cross roads, the  House of St. Teresa (a university residence for girls). The road on the left leads to the higher part of town and to Bethlehem University, and the one on the right leads to the Governorate of Bethlehem and to Beit-Jala. Following the Hebron road, on the right hand is the House of Hope for the Blind and the Mentally handicapped, and on the left is the Jerusalem Open University. On the left hand corner of the crossroad is the Institute for Deaf and Dumb run by the Sisters of St. Dorothea. This crossroads is known as Bab-Izqaq (Gate of the Alleys). To the left, Paul VI St. leads to the center of the town of Bethlehem, and as-Sahel St. to the right leads directly to the town of Beit-Jala. Hebron road passes by the Presidential Palace, Bethlehem District Military Headquarters, the Heliport of Bethlehem, Dehesheh refugee camp, al-Khader village, Solomon's Pools and leads to the city of Hebron at a distance of 25kms (15.5 miles).

The Dehesheh refugee camp was established in 1949, after the war of 1948 which led to the flight of many Palestinians from their homeland. Its population is estimated to be 9000.

The length of Bethlehem in the direction of Hebron Road between Rachel's Tomb and Dehesheh region is 3 kms (1.8 miles), and its breadth between the borders of Beit-Jala and Beit Sahour is 2 kms (1.2 miles). Its area within the Municipality borders is about eight square kilometers.

Manger Square

Manger Square is the town's central area. Until recently, it has been used as a bus and car parking lot. On the Eastern part of the Manger Square, you can see the Armenian Convent. Behind it, there is the Milk Grotto Street with its numerous souvenir shops that sell mainly hand made crafts: crucifixes, medals, rosaries, figurines and boxes carved in olive wood and mother-of-pearl, and silver jewelry. The work is done in small workshops and executed in mother-of-pearl and olive wood. This has been the chief industry of Bethlehem for several centuries. To the right of the Milk Grotto Street, a steep road leads down to the Qawawsah Quarter, to al-'Ain (the spring) which was the town's water reservoir, to the Italian Tourist Information Point and to Mar Sharbel Convent on Wad Ma'ali Street.

 

An arched building of three floors stretches along the southern side of the square. Mainly souvenir shops occupy the ground floor and other offices and a small hotel are in the upper floors. On the western side you see the Bethlehem Municipality built in 1975. The post office occupies underground floor, the Cairo-Amman Bank, and St. George Restaurant occupy the ground floor. You also see the lofty minaret of the mosque of 'Umar, rebuilt in 1954. Between the two buildings is a road that leads to the Najajrah Quarter and the Municipal Market, then to the Fawaghrah Quarter and al-Madbassah Square. Beside, to the right of the Mosque there is Paul VI street. On the northern side there was a police station.

 

Paul VI Street

As souvenir of the pilgrimage of Paul VI, the first Pope who came to Bethlehem, the main trading street which crosses the town from the east to the west, from the Manger Square to the crossroad Bab-iz-qaq was given his name. On entering the street at a distance of a few meters from the Mosque, you will find a museum of traditional clothes and heritage items, belonging to the Arab Women's Union, called Our Old Bethlehem Home. As you head out from the Museum, al-Manara Square will be very close. On going up the stairs from al-Manara Square you will find the Market (Souq) on your left and the Syriac Orthodox Church on the right. This market was once in the Manger Square, and used to attract a lot of peasants and Bedouins from all around the region, but in 1929 it was transferred to this place. At the end of the stairs, the street narrows to three meters wide (10 feet), and continues until it reaches an intersection, where one will find al-Fawaghrah Quarter on the left, and to the right the Salesian Street leading to the International Nativity Museum and the Salesian's Convent. On going up 50 meters (150 feet), you find on the next intersection the Cave Museum and the Lutheran Church on your left, and the Salesian Technical School on your right. Continuing on your walk, you will pass al-Madbassah square then al-Bandak's building housing the Grand Hotel. At that point another street intersects with Paul VI St. leading to Star Hotel, St. Joseph's Nuns' Convent and girls' school, and to Bethlehem University. If you continue your walk in the main street, you reach another intersection known as Cinema Square. On the right, a one way road leads to the Arab Women's Union Society. On the left, Nasser street leads to the Shepherd Hotel, the Monastery of Betharram Fathers, the Carmelite Sisters' Convent, College des Frères and the new Rosary Sisters' Convent. Walking down Paul VI street, on your right is the Holy Family Hospital and church run by the Sisters of Charity. Beside the Hospital there is a Créche, which usually has some 90-100 orphans and straight ahead you reach the cross-road known as bab-iz-qaq. Walking through Paul VI street is enjoyable for visitors and shoppers of all tastes for they can find a variety of items.

 

The Star Street

Star Street begins at al-Manara Square, two minutes away from Manger Square, and continues to the site of the Wells of David. Leaving Star Square, you turn to the right through the old town and continue through Qaus Az-Zararah, known as the oldest principal gate to the town. Below you on the right is St. Joseph Secondary School for girls (1883). On the left there is the Greek Catholic Church. The stairway leads up to the International Nativity Museum. Continuing on, you pass on the left the Convent of the Rosary Sisters, founded in 1893. This part of town is called Ras Efteis. A road on the right leads into the Catholic Action Club and the Wells of David. Below, on the Manger Street there are the Church and school of the Syriac Catholics now run by the Dominican Sisters of Catherine of Siena. On the left the road leads to the shopping area of Manger Street.

 

Al-Madbassah Square

Al-Madbassah Square in the Old City of Bethlehem is near the Lutheran Church and in front of the Salisian convent. The Square lies on top of a hill, which constitutes the western gate or entrance to the old city of Bethlehem. In the old days, the square was the site of a molasses mill, where Bethlehemites came to make dibis (molasses) out of their grapes.

 

The Old Center

If one scans Bethlehem's horizon, there is an unusual array of towers and belfries, domes and spires, houses of worship of all kinds, redtiled roofs of monasteries and convents. Along its steep streets and lanes flows the daily life; the market place, the little retail shops, the children pouring out of school, and the cafes where the men haggle and gossip over little cups of Turkish coffee.  The narrow Bethlehem roads were paved with stone. Some were topped by rocky arches supported by the house walls from two sides, bearing houses and windows which give you a charming idea about the art of architecture in those days. It cannot be denied that the impressions left with visitors when touring the old city with its unique architectural styles and the strong oriental presence, will never be forgotten.

UNESCO has worked together with the Municipality of Bethlehem to put together the elements for a plan of preservation and enhancement of the old center of the town, to recover its old charm, restore its architectural pattern, and save the Palestinian cultural heritage of this historic town on the eve of the twenty first century. The project is intended, in particular, to rehabilitate certain public areas of the old town center. UNESCO took the initiative to organize a roving photographic exhibition “ Bethlehem 2000” which offers a compendium of 80 images of today's Bethlehem to raise the awareness of the public and donors.

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