Bethlehem is in the Palestinian territories. Most famous is the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
Bethlehem is, in general, a rather ordinary Arab city with narrow streets and stone facades in the center and a little interesting development on the outskirts, not very well groomed and completely chaotic. It differs from other cities, firstly, in that the Christian population is a minority, but it is quite noticeable, and secondly, in the presence of the Basilica of the Nativity of Christ. Because of this, Bethlehem became the only city in the Palestinian Authority, the economy of which is largely dependent on tourism. Moreover, it is difficult to find ten square kilometers of land in Palestine without a pair of first-class archeological sites, and Bethlehem is no exception. The easiest way to visit Bethlehem is to arrive there early in the morning from Jerusalem and it is dark to return. The day will be long enough for the main sights, and the nightlife in the Palestinian Authority is unlikely to please you, although the city is generally quite safe and well separated from the really troubled Palestinian areas.
Bethlehem is first mentioned in Egyptian sources around 1350 BC. After that, it is mentioned in the Bible on several occasions: Here the forefather Rachel died, and there was the action of the Book of Ruth, from Bethlehem king David took place, in Bethlehem Jesus Christ was born, and the tetrarch of Judah Herod arranged here the Bethlehem beating of babies with the purpose of destroying Jesus, but his own As is known, the goal has not been achieved. Like the rest of Palestine, Bethlehem was part of the Roman Empire and was destroyed by the forces of Emperor Adrian when the Bar Kohba uprising was suppressed in 136. When Empress Elena visited Bethlehem during her trip to Palestine in 326-328, the city lay in ruins. Elena ordered to rebuild it and build the Basilica of the Nativity of Christ, which was done. However, the Basilica was severely damaged during the uprising in 529, and it had to be restored later. Since that time the church has remained practically unchanged. It was not destroyed under any authority, only new buildings were built from different sides.
In 614 Bethlehem came under control of Persians, and in 637 - Arabs. Finally, in 1099, Bethlehem, who had played no role in politics since King David and was little different from the neighboring settlements, was captured by the crusaders who strengthened him and built a monastery to the Basilica of Christmas, not forgetting to drive the Orthodox from there and replace them with Catholic monks. In 1100 Baldwin I, king of Jerusalem, was crowned in Bethlehem. Crusaders owned the city until 1187, when it was reclaimed by Saladin. For a short time in 1229 it was again handed over to the crusaders-founded kingdom of Jerusalem, but in 1244 the Arabs reclaimed Bethlehem. After 1250, Palestine fell under the Mamluk dynasty, which ruled from Cairo. Mamlyuki demolished the city wall and finally established joint control over the Basilica of the Nativity of the Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian churches, although conflicts between different faiths occurred periodically until the twentieth century. In 1517, the territory was brought under the control of the Ottoman Empire and, except for the period 1831 to 1841, when the city was ruled by the Egyptian dynasty Muhammad Ali, remained in the structure of Turkey until 1920. From 1920 to 1948, Bethlehem was part of British Mandate Palestine.
Under the 1947 United Nations partition resolution, Bethlehem and Jerusalem were included in a special territory that should have remained under direct UN control. As is known, the resolution was not implemented and during the 1948 war, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem were occupied by Jordan. Simultaneously, the city was flooded with mostly Muslim refugees, leaving the majority of Christians in Bethlehem. In the 1967 Six-Day War, Bethlehem came under Israeli control, but was not included in the state of Israel, remaining in a legally unclear state. In 1995, the city was transferred to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, which, however, can only be reached from Bethlehem through Israeli territory. The areas around Bethlehem are divided into three categories in a rather complex way. The city itself has entered zone A, which is considered the most dangerous, and where access to citizens of Israel is prohibited. In the second Intifada 2000-2005, the city suffered, though not very much, and then quickly a wall was built separating the Palestinian territories from Israel, and Bethlehem gradually got used to the roadblocks, which did not, however, prevent tourism as a foundation source of income.
How to get
If you are not in any special situation (you arrived in your car with no Israeli rooms, by tour bus or in the Palestinian territories), the only way to get to Bethlehem is by foot through the checkpoint. To do this, take a taxi from Jerusalem or walk to an Arab bus station near the Damascus Gate and take the bus to Bethlehem (Arabic Beit Lachem). There are no Latin inscriptions on the buses, and the numbers, if any, will not tell you anything, so ask the driver. If you choose the right bus, it will take you to the block by the wall 1 . It's still Israeli territory. The bus goes further to Beit Jalu, which also has a checkpoint 2 but from it a little further to the city center, and it is less clear how to go, so get out of the bus as soon as you saw the wall, and the bus on the big road turned right and stopped. Then it is necessary to walk to the checkpoint, to show the passport (citizens of Israel through the checkpoint will not pass, and others should have the document granting the right to stay in Israel, in most cases passports quite enough, stamps do not put), to pass through the metal detector and to be in the territory of autonomy. There, you're being attacked by taxi drivers. If your plans include taking a taxi to, for example, the monastery of St. Savva, the easiest way is to get in a taxi. If you first have to go to the city, then to the Basilica of the Nativity of Christ from the checkpoint of a kilometer and a half, and it makes sense to take a taxi only if you are afraid to get lost. If not, walk to the center, there will be signs from time to time. Main intermediate point - taxi parking in the center 3 . You will also come from Beit Jalah, also by signs (down the slope). From the parking lot you have to go a little forward, go to Pavel VI Street (part of it is arranged as a pedestrian), which will lead you to the Basilica of Christmas.
Only a taxi, the easiest way to walk around the city.
What to do
There is a large souvenir shop on Manger Square, and a number of small shops along the wall of the Christmas Basilica (from the square you have to go down the street to the right of the Basilica). Nothing supernatural is to be expected, but prices are low.
There are several places on Pavel VI where you can enjoy traditional Mediterranean food (meat-paste, salads, humus, etc.), freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee or tea with mint. Prices are about five times lower than Israeli prices. You can also buy some flatbread, enough shops where they are sold.
Where to stay
Bethlehem itself is a rather peaceful place, where tourism brings a substantial part of the income, and tourists there are not touched. Nearby attractions such as the monastery of St. Savva or the Herodion are also safe. However, the situation in the West Bank sometimes changes quite quickly, be sure to check the latest news. In addition, self-guided walks around the area are highly discouraged, and sometimes impossible - it is not known where you will go and for whom you will be accepted. For trips outside Bethlehem, use a taxi, it's cheap enough.
The only way to get to the places listed below is to take a taxi in Bethlehem or near the checkpoint. Be sure to make an agreement with the driver in advance on the price (in 2005 for 150 shekels it was possible to go anywhere). You will also need to agree on how long the driver will wait for you on the spot. If it takes you more time to visit the sights, be prepared for the price to increase, or even better, immediately put a realistic wait time.