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The Site of the Town of Bethlehem at Its Earliest Beginnings
submitted by Turathuna Bethlehem University

It is believed that Bethlehem was originally founded on the plateau of the mountain which overlooks the Church of the Nativity from the northern side at the curve of the road stretching from Qaus iz-Zarrarah (lit. the Arch of the Female Cornerer) until the Syriac Orthodox Church, that is between Star Street and the present market road.

Beside it ran the main road from Jerusalem leading to Beit Sahour, then on to Tekoa southwards and to Jericho and the Dead Sea eastwards.

There was another road joining it from the west of the crossroads of the Hebron Road, Beit Jala and Bethlehem, that is from Bab Izqaq passing eastwards to Al-Madbasah and into the town.

Its site overlooked parts of Jerusalem and its road as well as the eastern valleys, mountains and horizon. Building spread on two sides, the eastern and north-western on the upper side of the road. Building on the lower side of the road was difficult because of its severe steepness. Soon building rose up the mountain slope between the market road and the Najajrah Quarter, and Manger Square and the Fawagrah Quarter. Then it spread to the site of the present Municipal market. It became widespread in the site of Al-Batin, An-Najajrah, AI-'Anatrah Quarters and others.

Sheep folds were at a distance of two hundred and fifty meters from the city towards the east. Jesus Christ was born in one of them.

With the spread of Christendom, convents and churches spread on the two sides of the Church of the Nativity and in the low plain in front of the sheep - folds. The plain is the spot containing the entire present Manger Square, from the town centre and the Mosque until the Nave inside the Church of the Nativity.

With time, and because of the many wars, the destruction of churches several times, and people's treading over the ruins, the level of that low plain was raised about five meters and took the present level known as Manger Square.
This is verified by findings from digging the foundations of new buildings. Old church buildings, water wells, columns, stone baptism fonts and the like were left in their place, and the present buildings were erected on top of them. The following contains some of the evidence that supports this view:

1- The Grotto of the Nativity has two stairs, a southern one, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox, and a northern one, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox, Latins and Armenians. Approximately in the middle of each stair there is a fortified door two meters in height and sixty-five centimeters in breadth. The only old principal entrance to the cave was from the west. On the two sides of the cave there are other caves. On the north-western side there are the caves of St. Jerome whose entrance at present is from the inside of St. Catherine's' Latin Church. From the south-western part there is a cave containing many skulls. Its present perpendicular entrance is through St. Georges' courtyard and belongs to the Greek Orthodox Convent. Between this cave and the Nativity Grotto there are also buried caves. The land level of the western Grotto cave door was lower than the Grotto floor level.

2- The floor of the Nave was previously lower than the present floor. It was made of mosaics, parts of which are preserved until today.

3- In front of the Church and under the tiled Forecourt, water wells, columns and the like were discovered.

4- In the middle of the great asphalted yard, remnants of a church were found below the house of Musallam (previously).

5- Under every successive building there is a lower floor, such as the Armenian Convent and the shops belonging to it in the milk Grotto Street, the Municipal Commercial Building, the present Municipal Building, the Police Building and others.

6- Under the Mosque the remnants of St. John the Evangelist's Church and a baptismal font were found.

7- There is also a water canal which passes from the spring to Jerusalem inside a low ditch under the Nativity Forecourt, passing through the Greek Orthodox Convent land on the northern part under the gigantic new building which the Greek Orthodox are presently constructing. The depth of the ditch under the Nativity Forecourt is estimated to be ten meters and three meters under the Greek Orthodox Convent land.

Source: "Bethlehem, The Immortal Town" by Giries Elali

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