“Walking Palestine” – 4 walks around Bethlehem

In the newly lunched  book “Walking Palestine”, Stefan Szepesi describes 4 walks around Bethlehem. The web address of the Visitor Information Center (www.palestine-vic.ps) is mentioned as the reference for the visitors. Unfortunately, we did not know that the author wishes to mention us in his writings, which is a very pleasant surprise :-) But … there is a little mistake regarding this link :-) We are actually using this blog: www.vicbethlehem.wordpress.com and we hope to be googled regarding the walks around Bethlehem :-)

The book “Walking Palestine” describes very beautiful paths for the walks in the natural areas around Bethlehem, which the VIC often offers to the visitors! That’s great to have now the walks well described and accompanied with the useful maps included in the book! Another really good thing is the community behind the book: www.walkingpalestine.org . The walkers could describe their own walks and recommend them to others! Perfect!

Let’s now take a look at the “Walks around Bethlehem” mentioned in the book:

1. Walk from Al-Khader village through the Salomon Pools to Artas

If you wish to get to Al-Khader from Bethlehem, simply take the service taxi (orange minibus for 7 persons) from Bethlehem’s Central Station, located in the lowest floor of the Bethlehem City Mall, to the direction of Hebron. While driving out from Bethlehem, you are going to pass the St. George Gate. Some meters later the taxi is going to turn left and there you are going to see the road leading to Artas, where you could get off. Enter the road and start to follow the walk described in the book, which is quite easy and will take you around 2 hours (both ways).

On your way you are going to see many interesting sights like:

  • Burak Castle (Castle of the Pools) – a small Turkish Ottoman fortress, built by the Suleiman the Magnificient in 1617. It was built to defend the water source and the commercial caravans between Jerusalem and Hebron. Notice the similarity of the ancient gate to the castle with the Ottoman gates of the Old City of Jerusalem.
  • Salomon’s Pools – their history goes back to the times of Herod the Great being part of an ancient waterway supplying water to his fortress and palace at Herodion (King Kerod’s fortress).
  • Hortus Conclusus Convent was finished in 1901 and funded by Catholics of Argentina and Uruguay. The convent was built in honor of the Virgin Mary (also called Lady of the Garden) and is use of a small community of nuns.
  • Old core of Artas village – notice the architecture of the old buildings existing in the village and imagine how it could look some years ago :-)

2. Walk from Mar Saba to Hyrcania

“Given the desert surroundings, this should be a very quiet walk. On Saturdays and during holidays, however, the odds are that you will encounter some motor bikes or quad bikes along the way but not in any great numbers” writes Stefan in his book.

The walk, through Jerusalem’s Wilderness, is described as a moderate. However, it could be a good idea to organize this 4-5 hours trip with an experienced guide, as the trail leads through the desert and is unmarked. You can always contact the VIC, if you would like to organize such a trip, we are going to find a guide for you or send you some info about upcoming trips.

There is no public transportation to Mar Saba, so you would need to rent a car, hire a taxi or join an organized trip. To get to the site of the monastery from Bethlehem, you need to drive all the time straight trough Beit Sahour, later through a village called Ubeydiya and following the same way (later quite curvy) for around 20 minutes you are going to reach the Mar Saba monastery.

On your way you are going to see many interesting sights like:

  • Mar Saba Monastery –  is a Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley. It was founded by Saint Sabas of Cappadocia in 483 A.D and today houses around 20 monks. It is considered to be one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world, and still maintains many of its ancient traditions. One in particular is the restriction on women entering the main compound. The only building that women can enter is the Women’s Tower, near the main entrance.
  • Waid Kidron (Kidron Valley) and old hermit cells – it runs along the eastern wall of The Old City of Jerusalem, separating it from the Mount of Olives. It then continues east through the Jerusalem’s Wilderness, towards the Dead Sea, descending 4000 feet along its 20 mile course.
  • Hyrcania (Kirbet el-Mird) – an ancient fortress in the desert, located on an isolated hill about 200 m above the Hyrcania valley, on its western edge. It is about 16 km east of Jerusalem. It was apparently built by Alexander Jannaeus or his father John Hyrcanus in the 1st or 2nd century BC.
The book also mentions a possibility of sleeping in the desert in a camp of Bedouins at Tel al-Qamar (Hill of the Moon). “The site is fitted with a basic kitchen, toilets and (cold) showers.” 
3. Battir to Wadi Maghrour

“A circle of concrete is closing in upon the ancient springs, canals and terraces of Battir.” As we can suppose the book is talking about the expanding Israeli separation barrier, which is also being built in the area of the village of Battir. Hopefully, the wall is never going to be built in this area, as it is planned… It would be a disaster for the the people of Battir, but as well for the villages nature!

Wadi Jama in Battir by Stefan Szepesi

Battir is a beautiful small village with historic valleys containing a lot of human heritage going back even 4000 years. Nowadays the Palestinian inhabitants of the village are living in anxiety of losing their beloved land. The expansion of the wall and illegal settlements is endangering the place. However, the inhabitants are working hard on keeping their village and are organizing many unique projects. Battir also won a UNESCO prize for its cultural landscape.

The book “Walking Palestine” offers the Court of the Seven Widows, located in the heart of the village, as the starting point of the walk. Later the path takes you to the beautiful Wadi Maghrour with pretty views over the surrounding landscape.

On your way you are going to see many interesting sights like:

  • Court of the Seven Widows – historic building in the village’s center.
  • Battir Craft Factory, which sells hand made gifts, souvenirs and antiques.
  • Byzantine/Roman age tombs carved into the rocks of Wadi Maghrour

4. Battir to Wadi Rama

On your way you are going to see many interesting sights like:

  • Islamic Shrine Shrine of Abu Yazeed Al Bustami.
  • Plenty of crops – Battir is famous for its eggplants :-) The village is celebrating a Eggplant Festival in October.
  • Wadi Battir – beautiful natural area of the valley of Battir.
  • Historic railway line connecting Jerusalem to Jafa. “Located below Battir village, the railway is on the Israeli side of the Green Line.”

Visitor Information Center wishes you a great time while “Walking Palestine” and definitely reccommends the book of Stefan Szepsi as your inspiration for interesting hikes in the area of Bethlehem and further West Bank.

VIC would like to help you in organizing the mentioned walks. Let us know in advance, if you wish to follow some of them, so we could inform others and make them join the tour :-)

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