Attractions of Artas
Contributed by Artas Folklore Center on 28.09.2006:
Of the villages surrounding Bethlehem, Artas is the ideal rural tourist destination to develop. It is at once typical of Palestinian villages, making it of interest to foreigners, while it also enjoys the distinction of many unique physical and socio-cultural features, which make it attractive and interesting to Palestinians from other areas. Artas is easily reached from Bethlehem, the major tourism and pilgrimage destination in Palestine, by foot or taxi. While physically very close to the town, it offers the visitor the completely different experience of the Palestinian countryside. Aside from its proximity to Bethlehem, the village of Artas has the following advantages which strongly enhance its tourism potential, both domestic and international.
Nature, Scenery, Agriculture
A lushly green valley fed by many springs set among four mountains, Artas not only expresses the atmosphere of the Palestinian countryside with its fields and orchards, but enjoys a unique ecosystem, presenting a startling contrast to the desert just beyond. The Artas Folklore Center organizes hikes highlighting the rich natural and cultural heritage, enlivening them with folktales linked to the flora and fauna en route. Locals and foreigners can see the agricultural traditions and practices, some ancient, some introduced by missionaries, and interact with farmers.
Flora and Fauna
The Artas Valley enjoys a great diversity in flora and fauna, which can be enjoyed in a number of ways. Visitors can join hikes which bring out the rich body of folklore based on its natural environment as well as figures shared by the three monotheistic religions. The Palestinian Wildlife Society conducts hikes to allow people to enjoy bird watching and to learn about the flora and fauna of the valley. The Artas Folklore Center and the Palestine Wildlife Society often work in cooperation.
Archeological Sites at a Crossroads of Civilization
Thanks to its location at an important crossroads of civilization, Archeological remains from different periods including Iron Age, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Arab and the Ottoman period abound. These include the now-drained Solomon’s Pools, an Ottoman Fort, the biblical Etam, a convent and others. Furthermore, the Roman water system, which starts near El Arroub a bit further south, and which used to serve as a water source for Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Herodium, is an important reminder, in this day of physical separation of the area from Jerusalem, of the millennia-old hidden links in Palestine, which are being erased at ground level. These sites can be experienced hikes organized by the Artas Folklore Center
Village Core/Preserved Architecture
The village itself features several preserved buildings in the old core, including the former guest house and the tabboun oven, the jail, as well as the Artas Spring. One of these buildings houses the folklore museum, with a stunning view of the Artas Valley and the lovely Convent of the Hortus Conclusus across the valley. This tangible heritage is an intriguing and evocative setting for visitors to eat a Palestinian meal or enjoy a folklore show.
Eventful History and Fascinating Folklore
The village of Artas has a very interesting history from ancient times to the present. Almost every period has left some trace. Some of this history is embellished through its rich body of folklore. (See Of Memory and Magic, Missionaries and Museums: More than Meets the “Eye” in Artas in articles list)
Special Tradition of Hospitality
While all Palestinians, as well as Arabs in general, are famed for their hospitality, Artas is distinguished for having been host to a large number of memorable foreign residents, visitors and scholars since the 1840’s, who have become incorporated into their own history and lore. What is interesting and appealing to the visitor is the extent to which Artas residents welcome them or take their presence in stride, while keeping their own traditions and customs. Since the foundation of the Artas Folklore Center by the local teacher Musa Sanad in the mid 1990s the village has continued to receive many thousands of visitors. Artas is a logical major attraction for guests at the soon-to-open Solomon Pools Resort with its conference center. (See Of Memory and Magic, Missionaries and Museums: More than Meets the “Eye” in Artas in articles list)
There is enormous body documentation about Artas, not only due to foreign residents and researchers, but also to Palestinian researchers, such as Tawfiq Canaan and Stephan Stephan who left their mark early in the 20th Century. Studies continue to be conducted by foreign researchers and Palestinians right to the present day. Recent studies include one about the Jinn in Artas and another by RIWAQ on the development of the cultural landscape in Artas—particularly the water system. Studies in progress include one on changes in the Cultural Landscape in Artas and one on the collective memory of Artas. The extensive documentation of customs and stories as assembled throughout the 20th century by various anthropological and folklore researchers make Artas “the most studied Palestinian village.” Artas has a modest but important collection of these works, which it hopes will serve as the nucleus for a Folklore Research Center, and which can serve as the basis for developing the tourism program.
Village of Jinn and the “Politics of Possession”
Artas is famous for jinn, drawn by its abundant water and caves. It is they who are said to have built the pools at the order of King Solomon, escaping from their labors to the village when they discovered his death. Cases of jinn and their treatment persist to this day and were the subject of a recent study called the Spirits of Palestine. These beliefs and practices related to mental illness are interesting to compare and contrast with those related to St. George, just across the Hebron Road in el Khader
One interesting feature about the history of Artas is the large number of foreign women who have lived in it or studied it from the mid 19th century until the present day. To their numbers are added two women of Palestinian background currently conducting studies in the village. Not only do their studies or activities offer a different angle, but the fact of women’s continuous presence may be worthy of study in itself! Furthermore, there is a women’s organization in the village, which offers a point of contact for other women’s organizations.
Muslim/ Christian Heritage
Though the village is entirely Muslim, it considers the Church of the Hortus Conclusus in its midst as part of its own heritage, and offers a convenient starting point for those interested in exploring how Muslims and Christians share their environment. The Artas Lettuce Festival, for example, has traditionally been held in the Garden of the Convent. There are many visitors to Artas during the Feast of the Hortus Conclusus as well, which is part of the experience of the villagers.
The village has a prize-winning Folklore Troupe, which recently participated in the Mediterra Festival in Crete. Its youth troupe performs at weddings, festivals and other occasions, and wrote and performed an agricultural play for the 2006 Lettuce Festival.
The Annual Lettuce festival, established in 1994 the first agrarian festival to be held in the Bethlehem area normally held in April each year, gives visitors a chance to experience the rich natural and cultural heritage of Artas.