In Bethlehem or nearby:
Church of the Nativity
This is the oldest church in the Holy Land still in use.
The original church was constructed under the patronage of Constantine’s
mother, Helena, who came on a pilgrimage to Palestine in 325 AD to investigate
the sites associated with the life of Jesus Christ which had been revered
since the early days of Christianity. Helena chose to the Grotto of the
Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, as the site for the huge
basilica which was completed in 339 AD.
Inside the Church, two sets of stairs on either side of
the altar lead down into the Grotto, the site where Jesus was born. A
silver star embedded in white marble and bearing the Latin inscription
“Here of the Virgin Mary Christ was born” marks the site.
According to tradition, the Milk Grotto is where Mother Mary nursed baby
Jesus while hiding there from Herod’s soldiers before going to Egypt. Located
southeast of the Basilica, it is an irregular Grotto hewn out of soft white
rock. It is believed that some drops of Mary’s milk trickled, turning
the rock white. Revered by Christians and Muslims alike, the milk-white rock
is famous for its healing powers and reputed ability of making nursing easier
This vast esplanade between the Mosque of Omar and the Church of the Nativity
constitutes the tourist centre of Bethlehem. The square as well as much of
the Old city underwent renovation from 1998 to 2000. Many events throughout
the year take place here, culminating in Christmas Eve, or eves, since the
birth of Jesus is celebrated three times: on December 25 by Catholics,
January 7 by the Orthodox, and January 19 by Armenians. There are frequent
cultural exhibitions, concerts and conferences at the Bethlehem Peace Centre at the square
(Tel: 02-276 6677 ww.peacecenter.org) and at the nearby International Centre
of Bethlehem (www.annadwa.org, Tel: 02-2770047)
just off the square, housing the Al-Kahf Gallery and the Dar Annadwa Arts
& Crafts Centre (open daily except Sunday 9:30-19:00) which are well
worth a visit. The Tourism Office (Tel: 02-276 6677) and a bookshop (most
books in English) also selling some
souvenirs are on the ground floor of the peace centre.
It is located in the town of Beit Sahour 2km east of Bethlehem. This is the
site where the angel of the Lord appeared before the shepherds bringing them
the good tidings of the birth of Jesus, joined with a multitude of heavenly
hosts, who sang ” Glory to God In the Highest and on Earth, Peace among men”.
St. Saba Monastery
A drive of about 6 kilometers east of Shepherd’s Field down a winding road
takes you to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Mar Saba. Built into a cliff, it
has a spectacular view overlooking the gorge of the Kidron Valley and was part
of the grand tour of Palestine during the 19th century. The founder, St.
Saba, came from Cappadocia in the fifth
century. There are legends about St. Saba having lived in a cave with a lion
for many years. St. Saba died at age 94, and his corpse is still preserved in
the Church at the monastery. The monastery has 110 rooms, though today there
are only a few monks residing in it. The monks are friendly and hospitable, but
long-established tradition prevents the entry of women, who must enjoy the
scenery from outside.
Built in a circular shape on top of a hill 6km southeast of Bethlehem, this
fortress includes the remains of a huge palace built by King Herod for his
wife in 37 BC. The palace contained luxurious, round walled buildings,
fortified chambers, and baths and terraced gardens. Fort Herodion hill
dominates the landscape and offers an impressive view of the Dead Sea.
Rachel’s Tomb – Belal’s Mosque
This small building marks the traditional Tomb of Rachel, Jacob’swife. It is
considered holy to Christians, Muslims, and Jews. The present sanctuary and
mosque were built during the Ottoman period and are situated on the
Jerusalem-Hebron Road near the northern entrance of Bethlehem.
Hidden among very tall pine trees in a small valley 4km south of Bethlehem,
Solomon’s Pools consist of three huge rectangular reservoirs of stone and
masonry that can hold 160.000 cubic meters of water. Although tradition
attributes these to King Solomon, the pools almost certainly date from the
time of Herod, and may have been conceived by
Pontius Pilate. In the past, the reservoirs collected spring and rainwater
and pumped it to Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Qalat al-Burak, an Ottoman fortress dating back to the 17th century is located
near the pools. The fortress was built to protect Solomon’s Pools water
St. George’s Church– Al-Khader
Every year on May 5, there is a pilgrimage to theal-Khader Church, which was
built in 1600 AD and rebuilt in 1912. The pilgrimage is in honor of Saint
George (in Arabic al-Khader), the soldier monk who slew the dragon; he is
venerated for being able to ward off the evil eye. Islamic tradition has it
that he left his native Lydda, where he was born, and settled here in this
village which bears his name. Muslims and Christians come together annually on
this day to celebrate their common protector, to whom many different
blessings are attributed. Saint George is also the patron saint of farmers,
travelers and the mentally sick. According to a popular belief, lunatics were
chained to a ring in the walls of the courtyard here in order for them to be delivered
from their insanity due to the intervention of Saint George.
(Jerusalem-Hebron Road, al-Khader Gate; Tel: 02-274 3233,
daily8:00-12:00 and 15:00-19:00. Free entry).
Approximately two kilometers west of Bethlehem is Beit Jala, a town set among
olive groves and vineyards with stunning stone masonry and a spectacular view
of Jerusalem. The town’s unique location and moderate weather make it a
popular summer destination for visitors in search of a clean, peaceful
environment and beautiful scenery. In recent year, Beit Jala has become well
known for its modern hotels and good restaurants, which offer a variety of
food to please different tastes.
Olive oil is one of the town’s main products. It has a unique taste characteristic
of the trees in the area. One of the most important sights in Beit Jala is
the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, established in 1925 and named for the
patron saint of Beit Jala.
Beit Sahour is located southeast of Bethlehem. It is the scene of the fields
of olives, well-known as Shepherd’s Field, the place where the angel
announced to the shepherds the birth of Jesus Christ. There are two points of
interest here: a Franciscan chapel, and a Greek Orthodox church that was
built over a cave in the fifth century. There also are some exceptionally old
olive trees in the field. While in the town, be sure to ask about the Beit
Sahour Municipality Folklore Museum.
Tomb of Moses/ Maqam
an Nabi Musa
This Muslim monument to Moses is originally thought to have been built as a
site to view the traditional burial spot of Moses on Mount Nebo from Jericho.
However, local Palestinian Muslim folklore later on attributed the site in
Jericho as the actual resting place of Moses who's remains were brought
across the Jordan River from Mount Nebo by Salahaddin during the Crusades.
The complex is open to the public and contains a coffin decorated in
colourful carpets that is said to hold the remains of Moses. Local Bedouins call
the rocks surrounding the complex Moses rocks (Arabic: احجار موسى,
ihjar Mousa) and make them into protective amulets to sell to visitors.
Mountain of Temptation.
Hike up to or take the cable car up to the mountain believed to be the site
where Jesus was tempted by the devil. On the top of the mountain is an
ancient Greek Orthodox Monastery.
Jesus' Baptismal site/
Located nearby Jericho on the Jordan River is the site where Jesus was baptised
by John in the Jordan River (this site in Jericho is recognized as the
authentic site as opposed to the fake, touristy one set up in Northern Israel
at Yardenit). It is also believed to be the spot described in the Old
Testament where the Israelites crossed the river to enter the Land of Canaan.
Monastery of St. Gerasimus
(Deir Hajla) (Southeast
of Jericho, along road #90).
The Greek Orthodox monastery of Deir Hajla near Jericho commemorates St.
Gerasimus, whose lavra was nearby. Gerasimus left his family wealth and
worldly affairs to become a monk. He departed for the region Thebaid in the
Egyptian desert later again returning to his native Lycia. About the middle
of 5th century Saint
Gerasimus went to Palestine
settled in wilderness near the Jordan River. There he established a monastery
and became known for his righteous life of asceticism and prayer. The story
of Gerasimus and the lion, when the saint tamed the animal by removing a thorn
from its paw and taught it obedience, became widely known in the Christian
world. He is reputed to have attended to the Fourth Ecumenical Council at
Chalcedon in 451.The history of the monastery is also linked to another
narrative. Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus were said to have found refuge
in a cave here during their flight from Herod. An underground chapel was
built on the spot where the Holy Family is believed to have spent the night.
The crypt floor also contains the bones of monks who were massacred during
the Persian conquest of the Holy Land.
Sycamore Tree of Jericho (city-centre).
This tree is referenced in the Bible due to it's association with Jesus'
visit to Jericho: "Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. Now
a man named Zacchaeus was there; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.
He was trying to get a look at Jesus, but being a short man he could not see
over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see
him, because Jesus was going to pass that
way" (Luke 19:1-4, NET Bible).
sources: OrthodoxWiki, Wikipedia,
"Sacred Destinations"and travel sites