In 2009, CBPPP sponsored an exhibition of historic images of Bethlehem paired with contemporary photographs reflecting current realities. The exhibition, titled “Views of Bethlehem, Then and Now,” was on view at the Stebbins Gallery of First Parish in Cambridge.

The historic images were made available for the exhibition by Jeff Spurr, former Islamic and Middle East Specialist and photo archivist at Harvard’s Fine Arts Library, who chose from among the many images of Bethlehem in the collections he managed.

The youth photography program at the Al-Rowwad Cultural Center in Aida refugee camp agreed to try to duplicate the perspectives of the historic images with 2009 photographs, in line with the Project’s mission “to foster deeper and wider awareness of the situation facing Greater Bethlehem through people-to-people contacts and exchanges.”

BethlehemThen-Top of Page

Bethlehem, c. 1880 – photochrom, Photoglob Zurich
(Courtesy of the Fine Arts Library, Harvard College Library)



8aUnidentified photographer, “Main Street in Bethlehem,” postcard, photogravure, c. 1900

Paul VI Street, named for the first pope to visit Bethlehem (r. 1963-1978), is lined with fine old stone-masonry residences in this photo, the awnings in the background indicating the presence of shops. Though narrow, it is described as the main street since it was the principal trading street of the town, running in a southeasterly direction, culminating at Manger Square. A woman in characteristic local dress, with the high support for her headscarf, is posed in the center of the image.






Al-Rowwad, Contemporary photograph, 2009

Paul VI Street today. It has changed little, save for the addition of sheet metal awnings over the doorways, and the presence of projecting balconies, evidence of an openness to the world that would not have obtained in former times. The striking difference is that the street was dramatically expanded at some point to accommodate the automobile. The double line in the pavement seems to mark the original southern edge of the street as well as demarcating lanes.






Unidentified photographer, “Gate of Bethlehem,” gelatin silver print, c. 1910

An atmospheric composition, capturing its human subjects in the midst of action, light revealing the old stone masonry facades beyond, and the staircase in right middle ground.






Al-Rowwad, Contemporary photograph, 2009

But for the absence of human subjects, the modern scene is strikingly similar to the early one: all major features, archway, bastion at left, staircase at right, and all of the facades in view, remain the same. The differences are less obvious although expressive of the passage of time: carefully squared stones rather than cobbles for the roadbed, a modern drain added under the arch, rather antique looking street lamps added beyond. The ceiling of the arch is now whitewashed, perhaps to enhance vision, and the doors to the houses are bright blue and green.




Photos are Courtesy of Special Collections, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University