Your homebase while participating in our programmes will be Bethlehem and Beit Sahour. These close neighbours receive the bulk of visitors to Palestine as the first port of call which has much to see, with something for everyone – hotels, restaurants, cultural and craft centres, historical sites, an old market and, of course, the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square. Since 2012, the site has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. First built in 336 AD, and after a fire in the 6th century, the site still retains artefacts and structures from the earlier period such as mosaics. The universality of the Christian religion is evident as the Church and grounds are home to Latin, Greek Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian convents and churches. Islam is also represented in the Square with the presence of the beautiful Mosque of Omar, the only mosque in the Old City of Bethlehem, built in 1860 on land donated by the Greek Orthodox Church – an enduring example of peaceful cohabitation between the great religions of the world.
Not far from Manger Square is the Milk Grotto – a beautiful, peaceful little church built in 1872 over the ruins of a 5th century Byzantine church. It is made from white rock with a Franciscan chapel built above it. The legend goes that it is the place where the Virgin Mary spilled a drop of breast milk as she and baby Jesus hid from King Herod after he ordered the slaughter of the innocence. Hence the white rock.
The great diversity of people attracted to Bethlehem can be observed over Christmas when an estimated 10,000 people from all over the world congregated in the Square on Christmas Eve last year to share in the celebrations with music and lights.
Descending from Bethlehem on the main road you will find the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour, where the famous Shepherd’s Fields can be found. Legend has it that in these beautiful, fertile fields shepherds witnessed the Star of the Nativity. Also located on the grounds of the fields is an ancient cave home which gives you an idea of how people lived during this early period.
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