Revered as the hometown of King David, the site of the Muslim prophet Al Khider’s teachings, and the supposed birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem has long been a tourist attraction for Jews, Muslims, Christians, and the culturally curious from all over the world.
Despite the fact that the town is largely ignored in most major religious texts, its place in the annals of popular myth, song, story, and legend have ensured that it is visited regularly by the faithful.
During the buildup to millennial celebrations in 2000, significant investment and efforts were undertaken in an attempt to raise the area’s profile up to the level of nearby Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Sadly, clashes between Palestinian protesters and the Zionist Israeli military undermined these efforts. Since that time, conflict has diminished and the area is once again a more viable destination.
Upon entering the town (usually via an Israeli military checkpoint at the so-called “Rachel’s Crossing”), most visitors proceed from Rachel’s Tomb at the end of Manger Street toward Manger Square, the Church of the Nativity, and the Mosque of Omar.
Other sites of particular interest include Shepherd’s Field, where the mythical shepherds supposedly received news of the birth of Jesus, and the Church of St. Catherine. St. Catherine’s was constructed in the early 1880s, and is the community’s official Roman Catholic parish church.
Also strongly recommended are hikes through the nearby Artas Valley and the Orthodox Christian monastery just outside of town, both of which are accessible by taxi.