Built along ancient footpaths, the little town where Mary and Joseph went for the census and returned with a son is one of the most continuously inhabited places in the world, with residents as far back as the Palaeolithic era. On record the town developed in the 14th century BC as a city-state named after the goddess Beit Lahmu, then donned the Old Testament name Ephrata. Three centuries after the birth of Jesus, the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion with the establishment of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In 638 the city was conquered by Muslims, but a treaty was signed guaranteeing Christians property rights and religious freedom. Bethlehem enjoyed exalted status both domestically and in Europe during the Crusader periods of 1099–1187 and 1228–1244. The city continued to prosper through ups and downs under Mamluk and Turkish rule. In the 19th century the British took an interest in the area while an Eastern European–led Zionist movement began to take hold in Palestine. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in WWI, Bethlehem bucked under the British Mandate, whose policies included revoking the citizenship of Bethlehemites abroad while granting citizenship to Jews after two years of residency. Today it’s a distinctly Christian town with Muslim and Christian Palestinian Arab residents.
Looking east towards Jordan, the graceful Bethlehem wilderness becomes an arid landscape of dusky sand-blanketed hills. Also called the Judean Desert, this retreat for the eyes has a secret backdrop: beyond the blue haze is a stupendous mountain range in Jordan that only emerges to the view seasonally.
Bethlehem destination guides
Christmas Eve in Israel: Jerusalem Sightseeing Tour from Tel Aviv with Dinner and Midnight Mass Viewing in Bethlehem
Spend Christmas Eve in the Holy Land on this full-day tour of sacred Christian sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem from Tel Aviv. See religious sanctuaries such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity with a knowledgeable guide.
Little Town of Bethlehem Half Day Trip from Jerusalem
Take a half day tour from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and discover the town famed as the birthplace of Jesus. Tracing the events of the Nativity, this comprehensive tour uncovers the highlights of this holy city for worshipers of all religions! Your day tour begins with an air-conditioned drive south-east from Jerusalem to the holy city of Bethlehem.