The City of Bethlehem - Bethlehem
Bethlehem is thought to have been inhabited since the Stone Age, although its origins have been lost to history. The first historical reference to it is in the Tell Al-Amarna Letters of the fourteenth century B.C. Bethlehem did not, however, gain the importance it holds today until the Edict of Milan of 313 A.D., by which the emperor Constantine legalised Christianity. During the Byzantine period, Bethlehem was a walled city with two towers. It figures in the famous map of Madaba, a sixth-century Byzantine map in mosaic representing the Holy Land, and in the accounts of early pilgrims. By 600 A.D., many monasteries and churches had been erected in the then flourishing town.
During the Moslem period, the sites revered by Jews and Christians were protected. In 638, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab prayed in the southern apse of the Church of the Nativity. The Mosque of Omar, with its fine minaret, opposite the church commemorates this gesture. With the Crusader invasion of 1099, Bethlehem was captured by Tancred. It became the site for the crowning of Crusader kings and enjoyed royal favours. Salah Al-Din’s forces recaptured Bethlehem in 1187, but the Ayubid Sultan Al-Kamil surrendered the city to the Crusaders in 1229, who held it until they were finally ousted from the country by the Mamluks in 1291.
Bethlehem was always an important pilgrimage site. The city witnessed the start of its "renaissance" in 2000. Major projects were under way, promising to turn the city into an important cultural hub. Unfortunately this was not to be, as the second Intifada stymied most of these plans.