bethlehem jerusalem

Revered by Jews and Christians, Bethlehem lies 30-minutes outside Jerusalem, and is a major destination for religious travelers. The city has changed hands throughout history, belonging to the Samaritans as far back as 529 and to the British during World War I. Despite unsteady ownership in the past, Bethlehem has had relative stability since 1995, when the Palestinian National Authority gained control over the city.

The Church of the Nativity abuts Manger Square and is the city’s most visited site. According to the New Testament, Jesus was born in the cave below the church, the Grotto of the Nativity, which now holds a replica manger (lines can be hours long, so go with a guide or be prepared to wait). Despite its religious significance, the church is notably shabby, especially when compared to the stunning Franciscan Church of St. Catherine next door, which is worth a visit just to see the elaborate interior.

The site is deeply meaningful to many, so while it is interesting, non-religious travelers may feel out of place amongst the occasionally emotional crowd. What stands out regardless of religion is Bethlehem’s location in the West Bank, and status as a Palestinian city.

Written by Emma Pierce

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