Gordon Tours Israel Blog

Discover Bethlehem: Where Ancient History and Modern Life Intertwine

Icon December 26, 2019
Icon By Shai Navon
Icon 0 comments

To many travelers who have only encountered tales of Bethlehem in the Bible, it may be a shock to actually walk the streets of the Middle Eastern town, which continues to thrive to this day. Modern Bethlehem represents a truly mesmerizing mix of ancient and modern, where everyday markets and cafes live in the shadow of Biblical ancients and archaeological wonders.

Bethlehem Church Of Nativity
Church of the Nativity of Jesus Christ

Bethlehem is most famous, of course, for being the birthplace of Jesus Christ. This fact is still present and celebrated in Bethlehem, where the Church of the Nativity is located.  Underneath the altar of this church is the Grotto of Nativity- thought to be the actual site of Christ’s birth. 

The Church of the Nativity is located in Manger Square, so named for the manger in which Joseph and Mary took shelter for Jesus’s birth.  Manger Square is the site of a marvelous Christmas Market every year, which includes fantastic light displays and a Christmas parade.

Solomon's Pools
Solomon's Pools

Though Christ is foremost on most people’s minds when they think of ancient Bethlehem, the city is also home to several other incredibly holy Biblical sites.  For example, Bethlehem is the home of Rachel’s tomb, revered by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. The matriarch Rachel- wife of Jacob, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin.  For the devout, a visit to Rachel’s tomb is said to help with fertility problems. 

The realm of ancient wonders continues in the form of several more Biblical sites in Bethlehem- you can visit Solomon’s Pools, three gorgeous reservoirs that the wise king built for his wives nearly one thousand years before the birth of Christ. It was here that he was said to have composed his famed ‘Song of Solomon.’  And just outside of Bethlehem, you can visit the Field of the Shepherds- a gorgeous Middle Eastern vista where the three shepherds were heralded by the angel foretelling Christ’s birth.

Shepherds Field Church
Shepherds Field Church

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Bethlehem Market
Bethlehem Market

With all of these revered sites of a bygone era, it’s pretty easy to get a static and historical picture of Bethlehem in your head- but Bethlehem isn’t stuck in time at all! Visitors to the city today can experience a piece of vibrant Middle Eastern culture.  The Bethlehem market (shuk/souq) is not to be missed, with vocal peddlers of fruits and vegetables hawking their wares left and right. Spices are piled high and you’ll see many vendors sipping coffee, talking to their neighbors, and playing Sheshbesh (backgammon), one of the oldest games in the world.

Bethlehem has its share of vibrant, youthful life too- the Singer Café is one center of it.  Founded by an international couple (Dutch and Palestinian), the Singer Café boasts healthy meals, wine and beer, and an astounding rooftop view.  Join the hipsters of Bethlehem for a hearty breakfast or an early evening cocktail and see the city through youthful eyes.

Christmas in Israel

Finally, the internationally renowned (and notoriously mysterious) street artist c has a well-known outpost in Bethlehem- stop by his “Walled-Off Hotel” to get a glimpse of a functioning hotel that is literally a work of art. Banksy confronts some challenging realities about the Middle East with his typical tongue-in-cheek humor and eye for the aesthetic. 

Bethlehem is a one-of-a-kind location- a fascinating window into a world filled with the ancient and modern, where sacred sites rest side-by-side with the bustling activities of a living city.  A visit here is like nothing else- a chance to experience the mystical settings of the ancients and the living reality of Middle Eastern city life.

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