Thursday, January 13, 2011

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem....not so little

We spent the day in Bethlehem, which is a small city with a population of about 25,000.   Here's an areal shot of Bethlehem I found online:
Photo taken by Soman, May 2006.
Here's a photo of an interesting painting of Bethlehem done in 1892:
Painting by Vasily Polenov.
Bethlehem has been controlled by many different powers over the centuries:  the Crusaders in 1099, a couple centuries later by the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, later by the Ottomans, the British after WWI, an international zone under the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine, Jordan from 1948-1976, Israel from the 1967 Six-Day War, and since 1995 it has been governed by the Palestinian National Authority.  

I was interested to read that Bethlehem has 50 different sister cities all over the world, including Sacramento, California; Pretoria, South Africa; Athens, Greece; Florence, Italy; Concepcion, Chile; The Hague, The Netherlands; Cusco, Peru; Glasgow, Scotland; Cordova, Spain; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Rabat, Morocco.   

Since Israel's building of the wall a half a decade ago, this is what the main entrance to Bethlehem looks like:
Here's a map showing where Bethlehem is. 
We walked around Bethlehem for the afternoon and early evening following the church service.  The area around the Church of the Nativity is focused on tourism, with "Manger Square" being the hub of things.  
View of one corner of Manger Square.
The pedestrian street of shops off of Manger Square.
We had lunch with our friends at a restaurant across the square from the Church.  Here we all are:
Here's what I had for Christmas dinner.  It was quite tasty.
One of the things this section of Bethlehem is famous for is wood carvings (usually from olive wood) of manger figurines, often sold as a whole manger set with the stable included.   The carvings were so beautiful that I decided to splurge and by a set for our manger back home.   Here is a photo of one man carving manger figures:
Here's a photo of one of the shops near Manger Square.
We went to a site called the Milk Grotto, which was supposedly a cave where Mary and Joseph hid during Herod's killing of the babies (what's called the "Slaughter of the Innocents").  It's called the Milk Grotto because Mary is said to have nursed baby Jesus here.  The myth is that a drop of her milk fell to the floor of the cave and turned the rock white.  The cave is believed to have healing powers.  Here's a photo of the outside of the Milk Grotto, unfortunately it closed shortly before we got there.

I took these last couple photos in Manger Square as we were leaving.  It was very festive looking. Jeff was eager to get back to Jerusalem where we were staying since we didn't know how it would be to go through the checkpoint going back into Israel at night time.   

We took a cab to the border and talked to the Palestinian driver along the way.  He talked about how life was hard for him living in Bethlehem with costs being high and it being hard to make ends meet.  (We had found Israel, and Palestine to a slightly lesser degree, very expensive after coming from Cairo.  I wondered how lower income people could afford to live there.) 

We drove past The Wall on the way to the border.  Here is a photo of it.  (I'll be posting a blog entry about the wall soon.)

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