Ancient villas in Bethlehem | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Ancient villas in Bethlehem


Ancient villas in Bethlehem

Music from an old piano fills the rooms of this villa in Bethlehem, which are otherwise empty.

Aside from some other furniture, this is all that remains of the life of the Al-Ghazzawi Christian family of Bethlehem before they emigrated to the American continent at the end of the 1930's.

Bethlehem is full of gems like this one, villas that bring together ottoman style and exquisite European taste, built by wealthy families at the beginning of the 20th century. Many of the residences, some only steps away from the Church of the Nativity, were abandoned by their owners in the 1930's because of the economic crisis that led to the great emigration of Christians from Bethlehem.

Today a project is underway by the Center for the Conservation of Cultural Heritage with funds from the European Union is making a list of and establishing a management plan for the villas and the homes of the historical town center of Bethlehem.

Ghadeer Najjar is one of the architects, who, questionnaire in hand, is responsible for cataloguing the buildings in Bethlehem, house by house.


“We are making a list of all of the ancient buildings in the historical center of Bethlehem in order to know more about them, to have a register and a management plan for the ancient city of Bethlehem.”

The idea is that of setting rules to the current owners of the historical residences and avoiding their demolition or that additions be made to them without the proper care of architectural harmony experts. Up until today, unfortunately, since there was no previous legislation regarding these residences, the owners have savagely modified them.

Once the list is completed in 2013, the witness will go before the municipality of Bethlehem; the local administration will be in charge of making sure the owners respect the newly imposed rules—also by organizing “awareness days,” or encounters with the local population to whom the value of these historical buildings will be explained along with the importance of their conservation.

For these beautiful villas, the project also intends to promote restoration through financing by foundations or interested companies.

Engineer for the Municipality of Bethlehem

“We hope that with this project, these abandoned houses will be restored for various people or offices, or something along those lines, so that they in the meantime can maintain both the historical and the architectural value of the houses. Whereas, for the houses where people are still living that are still in use, we want to allow them to understand that they need to maintain what they have because in the future they could be priceless both culturally and financially.”