Bethlehem is located in the Palestinian Territories. Best known as the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Bethlehem is, in general, a fairly ordinary Arab city with narrow streets and stone facades in the center and uninteresting buildings on the outskirts, not very well maintained and completely chaotic. It differs from other cities, firstly, in that the Christian population here, although a minority, is quite noticeable, and, secondly, in the presence of the Basilica of the Nativity. Because of this, Bethlehem has become the only city in the Palestinian Authority whose economy mainly depends on tourism and pilgrimage. In addition, it is difficult to find ten square kilometers of land in Palestine without a couple of first-class archaeological sites, and Bethlehem is no exception. The easiest way to visit Bethlehem is to arrive there early in the morning from Jerusalem and return before dark. A day will be enough for the main attractions, but you are unlikely to enjoy the nightlife in the Palestinian Authority, although in general the city is quite safe and well separated from the truly problematic Palestinian areas.



Bethlehem was first mentioned in Egyptian sources around 1350 BC. After this, it is mentioned in the Bible on several occasions: the foremother Rachel died here, the Book of Ruth took place here, King David came from Bethlehem, Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, and the King of Judea Herod I the Great ordered the slaughter of forty thousand Bethlehem babies, trying to destroy a contender for the throne, but, as is known, did not achieve his goal. Like the rest of Palestine, Bethlehem was part of the Roman Empire and was destroyed by the troops of Emperor Hadrian during the suppression of the Bar Kochba revolt in 136. When Empress Helena visited Bethlehem during her trip to Palestine in 326-328, the city lay in ruins. Helena ordered that it be rebuilt and the Basilica of the Nativity built above the Nativity Scene, which was done. The basilica, however, was severely damaged in 529 during an uprising, and then had to be restored. Since that time, the church has remained virtually unchanged. It was not destroyed by any authorities, only new buildings were added on different sides.

In 614, Bethlehem came under the rule of the Persians, and in 637 - the Arabs. Finally, in 1099, Bethlehem, which since the time of King David had played absolutely no role in politics and differed little from neighboring settlements, was captured by the crusaders, who fortified it and added a monastery to the Basilica of the Nativity, not forgetting to drive out the Orthodox monks from there and replace them with Catholic. In 1100, Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem, was crowned in Bethlehem. The Crusaders controlled the city until 1187, when it was recaptured by Saladin. It was briefly handed over again to the Crusader-founded Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1229, but the Arabs retook Bethlehem in 1244. After 1250, Palestine came under the rule of the Mamluk dynasty, ruling from Cairo. The Mamluks demolished the city wall and finally established joint control of the Basilica of the Nativity by the Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian churches, although conflicts between different faiths arose periodically until the 20th century. The area came under Ottoman control in 1517 and, with the exception of a period from 1831 to 1841 when the Egyptian dynasty of Muhammad Ali ruled the city, remained part of Turkey until 1920. From 1920 to 1948, Bethlehem was part of British Mandatory Palestine.

According to the 1947 UN resolution on the partition of Palestine, Bethlehem, along with Jerusalem, was included in a special territory that was to remain under direct UN control. As is known, the resolution was not implemented, and during the 1948 war, Bethlehem, along with East Jerusalem, was occupied by Jordan. At the same time, a stream of refugees, mostly Muslim, entered the city, as a result of which Christians ceased to constitute the majority in Bethlehem. During the Six-Day War of 1967, Bethlehem came under Israeli control, but was not incorporated into the State of Israel, remaining a territory with a legally unclear status. In 1995, the city was transferred to the Palestinian Authority, located in Ramallah, which, however, can only be reached from Bethlehem through Israeli territory. The areas around Bethlehem were divided into three categories in a rather complex way. The city itself fell into zone A, considered the most dangerous, and where access to Israeli citizens is prohibited. During the second Intifada of 2000-2005. the city suffered, although not very badly, and then a wall was quickly built separating the Palestinian territories from Israel, and Bethlehem gradually got used to the checkpoints, which, however, did not interfere with tourism as the main source of income.


How to get there

Unless you are in some special situation (you came in your car with non-Israeli license plates, on a tour bus, or you live in the Palestinian Territories), the only way to get to Bethlehem is on foot through the checkpoint. To do this, you need to take a taxi in Jerusalem or go to the Arab bus station located near the Damascus Gate and take a bus going to Bethlehem (Bayt Lakhm in Arabic). There are no Latin signs on the buses, and the numbers, even if there are numbers, won’t tell you anything, so ask the driver. If you chose the right bus, it will take you to the checkpoint at Wall 1. This is still Israeli territory. The bus goes further to Beit Jala, where there is also a checkpoint 2, but from there it is a little further to the city center, and it is less clear how to go, so get off the bus as soon as you see the wall, and the bus turns right along the main road and has stopped. Then you need to walk to the checkpoint, present your passport (Israeli citizens will not be allowed through the checkpoint, but the rest must have a document giving the right to stay in Israel, in most cases a passport is enough, they don’t put stamps), go through a metal detector and find yourself in the territory autonomy. Taxi drivers will get attached to you there. If your plans include traveling somewhere by taxi, for example, to the Monastery of St. Sava, then the easiest way is to get in a taxi right there. If you first need to go to the city, then the Basilica of the Nativity is about a kilometer and a half from the checkpoint, and it makes sense to take a taxi only if you are afraid of getting lost. If not, walk to the center; from time to time you will see signs. The main intermediate point is the taxi rank in the center 3. You will also come there from Beit Jala, also following the signs (down the slope). From the parking lot you need to walk a little forward, exit onto Paul VI Street (part of it is designed as a pedestrian street), which will lead you to the Basilica of the Nativity.


Local transport

Taxi only; the easiest way to get around the city is on foot.



1 Basilica of the Nativity of Christ (كنيسة المهد) (Paul VI Street faces Manger Square in front of the basilica). By far the main attraction of Bethlehem. The basilica is part of a fairly large complex that includes several churches. The first basilica was built on this site (arbitrarily chosen by Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, and indicated by her as the birthplace of Jesus Christ) in 339, but was destroyed in the 6th century during the suppression of some kind of uprising, which happened with enviable regularity in Palestine . In 565, under Emperor Justinian, the basilica was restored. During the Crusades, the coronations of the kings of the short-lived Palestinian monarchies took place there; at the same time, the crusaders in the 12th century thoroughly restored and expanded the church complex. In 1244, the Turks captured Palestine and caused severe damage to the church, which was repaired in 1480 by the joint efforts of several European states. In the 1830s, the church was badly damaged by earthquakes, lay in ruins for a long time, was looted, and in the 1850s even caused a diplomatic conflict between France (which wanted control of the church) and Russia (which did not want any French participation) , which became one of the reasons for France's entry into the Crimean War. In the 1930s, the church was finally put in order. In 2002, an incident occurred when a group of Palestinian militants took monks hostage inside the church. Israeli troops did not storm the building, and after 39 days the negotiations were successfully completed and the hostages were released. Currently, the basilica is jointly administered by the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic churches. In the middle of the complex there is, in fact, a 6th-century basilica, into which a very small door leads from the square. A person of average height must squeeze through it with his head bowed. The basilica itself is five-nave, with four rows of columns, and mosaics are laid out on the walls. The mosaic floor has been partially preserved. To the left of the basilica is the complex of the Catholic Church of St. Catherine (1852), where the bas-relief “Tree of Jesse” by the modern Polish sculptor Czeslaw Dzwigay was recently installed. From the apse of the basilica, a staircase leads down to the nativity scene indicated by Helen as the birthplace of Christ. The place itself is marked with a metal star. All pilgrims go there immediately, try to choose a moment when there are fewer visitors in the den.
2  Rachel’s Tomb  (from the Palestinian side of the checkpoint). One of the most famous places of pilgrimage for Jews. A certain tomb at this place has existed for more than 2000 years; it is traditionally believed that the foremother Rachel, the second wife of Jacob, is buried here. The modern building was built in the 1620s and was used for some time as a mosque, so a Bedouin Muslim cemetery was formed around it. It is now surrounded by a wall (so that Israeli citizens have access) and is used as a synagogue.
3  Omar Mosque (مسجد عمر) (Manger Square, at the junction of Paul VI Street). Bethlehem's only historic mosque was built in 1860. The mosque with a high minaret looks interesting from the outside, but there is nothing special inside. If you find yourself in Bethlehem during Friday prayers, pay attention to the fact that musallins (prayers) that do not fit in the mosque are arranged with brought rugs on Paul VI Street.



There is a large souvenir shop in Manger Square, and a number of small shops along the wall of the Basilica of the Nativity (from the square you need to go along the street to the right of the basilica). You shouldn't expect anything extraordinary, but the prices are low.



There are several places on Paul VI Street that will serve you traditional Mediterranean food (meat pita, salads, hummus, etc.), freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee or mint tea. Prices are about five times lower than Israeli prices. You can also buy flatbreads; there are plenty of stores that sell them.


Precautionary measures

Bethlehem itself is a fairly quiet place where tourism brings in a significant portion of the income, and tourists are not bothered there. Nearby attractions, such as the Monastery of St. Sava or Herodium, are also quite safe. However, the situation in the West Bank sometimes changes quite quickly, be sure to check the latest news. In addition, independent walks in the surrounding area are highly discouraged, and sometimes impossible - it is unknown where you will wander and who they will take you for. To travel outside Bethlehem, use a taxi, it is quite cheap.


Physiographic characteristics

Geographical position

Bethlehem is located in the Judean Mountains at an altitude of about 775 meters above sea level, 2 km south of Jerusalem. Nearby cities are Beit Safafa and Jerusalem in the north, Beit Jala in the northwest, Husan in the west, al-Khadr and Arthas in the southwest, and Beit Sahour in the east. Beit Jala and the latter form an agglomeration with Bethlehem. The Aida and al-Azza refugee camps are located within the city.

In the center of Bethlehem is its old city, consisting of seven mosaic blocks that form the space around Manger Square - Christian an-Najajra (النجاجرة‎), al-Farakhiya (الفراحية‎), al-Anatra (العناترة‎), at-Tarajma ( التراجمة‎), al-Kawawsa (القواوسة‎), al-Kharaizat (الحريزات‎) or Kharaizat and al-Fawagra (الفواغرة‎) is the only Muslim quarter. Most Christian neighborhoods are named after the Ghassanid Arab families who settled there. The el-Kawawsa quarter was formed in the 8th century by Arab Christian emigrants from the nearby city of Takua. There is also a Syrian quarter outside the old city, whose inhabitants come from the Turkish cities of Midyata and Omerli. The total population of the old city is 5,000 people.



Bethlehem has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, wetter winters. Winters from mid-December to mid-March are cool and rainy. The coldest temperatures in January are 1...13 °C. Sometimes there are frosts, the temperature drops to −7 °C. In winter there is occasional snowfall, usually one day per month in December, January and February. From May to October the weather is warm and sunny. The highest temperatures are in August - a maximum of 30 °C. Bethlehem receives an average of 700 millimeters of rainfall, 70% of which occurs from November to January.

The average annual relative humidity in Bethlehem is 60% and is highest from January to February. In May, humidity levels are lowest. Night dew occurs 180 days a year. The city is influenced by the Mediterranean breeze, which occurs somewhere in the middle of the day. Bethlehem is also affected by annual waves of hot, dry sandy and dusty khamsin winds from the Arabian Desert in April, May and mid-June.