The open esplanade stretching from the Mosque of Omar to the Church of the Nativity constitutes Manger Square, the Tourist center of Bethlehem.
Lined with Souvenirs shops, restaurants and cafés, and two visitor information centers, the Square Underwent extensive renovation from1998-2000 leading up to the millennium Celebrations. Next to the Mosque of Omar is the Bethlehem municipality and the Bethlehem Peace Center. Beautifully restored old alleyways s and streets branch out from Manger Square such as the Milk Grotto street, or the Old Market (Souq).
Church of nativity
The Church of the Nativity lies in the center of Bethlehem in Manger Square. It is one of the oldest working churches in existence today. The first church was built by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century AD, over the Grotto where Mary gave birth to Jesus. Constantine and his mother Helena, built a magnificent and majestic church adorned with beautiful marble and mosaics. Later, during the sixth century, the Byzantine emperor Justinian built a new and even more intricate church on the same spot. During the Persian invasion in the seventh century the church was spared destruction. By the eleventh century, the Crusaders raised their flag above church of nativity Bethlehem the Basilica and renovated the church. The Church of the Nativity today stands in the middle of Manger Square and is essentially the same as when it was re-erected by Justinian with some additions from the Crusader period. Two sets of stairs lead down to the Grotto where there is a large fourteen pointed silver star marking the exact spot with the inscription: “Hic de Virgin Maria Jesus Christus Natus Est,” meaning “Here Jesus Christ was born by the Virgin Mary.” The guardianship of the church is shared by three Christian denominations: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian. Next to the Basilica lies the Basilica of St. Catherine, built on the foundations of the Crusader church, which was erected in the twelfth century. The church was dedicated to Saint Catherine who died as a martyr in Egypt during the fourth century. Just outside St. Catherine’s Basilica lies the Cloister of St. Jerome, best known for translating the Bible into Latin
Milk grotto church
Located a few minutes’ walk from the Church of the Nativity is the Milk Grotto Church, so called because of the white colored rock on the floor which, According to tradition, turned that color when a drop of Mary’s milk fell on it while she nursing Jesus as she hid before her escape to Egypt. Today a Franciscan Chapel surrounds the Grotto.
Located in the town of Beit Sahour a few kilometers southeast of Bethlehem Is Shepherds Field (known in Arabic as Haql al-Ru’ah) where according to tradition, the angel appeared to the Shepherds and informed them of Jesus’ birth. The Roman Catholic known as the Church of the Angels features a Franciscan chapel, built by architect Antonio Barluzzi in 1954, designed to resemble a shepherds’ tent. The acoustics inside the church are quite exceptional and provide a serene atmosphere for singing hymns. Beside the church are ruins of a Byzantine monastery, destroyed in the seventh century by the Persians. Many caves can be found in the area, still used by shepherds to this day.
Monastery of Mar Saba
The monastery of Mar Saba is located only six Kilometers from St. Theodosius and fifteen Kilometers from Bethlehem. Few of the Byzantine desert monasteries can match the serenity and beauty of this one. Clinging to the cliff face of the Kidron Valley, this immense and spectacular Greek Orthodox monastery evokes a thrilling shock when its first comes into view from the midst of a desert landscape. The monastery is named after Saint Saba (439-532 AD) who settled in a cave opposite the actual site in complete seclusion that lasted some five years. Built into the rock, Mar Saba represents a way of life unchanged since the time of Constantine. The body of Saint Saba can be seen in the principal church, while his tomb is paved in the courtyard outside. The first church founded by Saint Saba is marked by the Chapel of St Nicholas.
The old town and the bazar
In the center of Bethlehem is its old city, which consists of eight quarters, laid out in a mosaic style, forming the area around the Manger Square. Many of these old quarters have been beautifully renovated and rehabilitated, offering visitors an opportunity to wander these streets and alleyways and enjoy the many local shops and restaurants.
In 1883, the convent of Cremisan was founded in Palestine by Silesians on ruins of a Byzantine monastery from the 7th century. Its main purpose was to produce wine from local grapes. The convent is located just on the current border between Jerusalem and Beit Jala. Today, grapes are grown on hillsides between 600 and 930 m altitude, but only 2% the wine production (around 700,000 liters per year) is made from Cremisan›s own grapes. The rest comes mainly from Beit Jala and Hebron area.
Located some ten kilometers east of Bethlehem are the remains of the Magnificent palace of Herod the Great, named “Herodion” after its builder, Herod. The palace was built towards the end of the first century BC as a fortified palace with a castle inside. The Arabic name, Jabal al-Freidees is derived from the Arabic word “fardous” a word meaning “paradise,” referring to the magnificent garden that was built at the foot of the hill. It was lavish and luxurious palace in its day, a city of round walls and a fort enclosing apartments, baths and a beautiful garden.