On the path of the Magi. On the path of Culture

Amy Rodriguez9 July 2021

A lady looks from afar: four scout boys are moving colourful chairs and some musicians are extracting their instruments from the cases. Perplexed, she’s asking herself how she will be able to move her car with stalls and a stage blocking the way. 

Waving Vincenzo asks her to come over. “There is a music night and an exhibition opening in a few minutes, Mrs Maryam”, he explains before shouting out to one of the guys to help the old lady maneuvering her car. 

“Will you come?”, he asks her. Vincenzo is the head of Pro Terra Sancta projects in Bethlehem. “Maybe”, answers Maryam with a smirk on her lips. “Here in the middle of the road?”, she asks. “Here in the middle of the road”, answers Vincenzo laughing, “that’s right!”. 

Culture invading the Star Street

The cultural festival that has invaded Star Street is a mini one: it will be two weeks long and it’s hosted in the gorgeous but small spaces of the Mosaic Centre of Bethlehem, a shop and a lab hosted in an old restored bakery with a giant hoven. 

Star Street is the oldest road entering the Old city of Bethlehem”, explains the Mayor. The street was named after the comet guiding the Magi and many pilgrims followed the same path to get to the church of the Nativity. 

Once, this neighbourhood was animated by workshops of all kinds: some masters specialized in making objects out of olive tree wood, some created artworks in nacre, some were silversmiths and there was also a printing press. 

Then time passed, aesthetics changed, the economic recession came and Covid gave the final strike to the scene: the once lively street is now empty and there are no shops left. 

A fresh take on the same old place

Here today, in the lovely stone houses with lilac, turquoise and yellow gates, an aesthetic intervention made by the Municipality a few years ago in order to start a recovery of the neighbourhood, only old people are staying. 

The most fascinating views of the street are their faces, their houses interiors, storages, old crafshops and palaces: all the subjects of Elias Halabi pictures. His exhibition, titled “veins” revolves around the road animated by people walking by, by the stories and identities of the inhabitants of Star Street. 

We wanted the people living here to be the protagonist of this event”, explains Vincenzo, “and we liked the idea of making it on the street: that’s what we need to look at the places we already know with a new gaze”. 

Culture outside your balcony 

The festival is promoted by the Municipality and the Fondation Assistance Internationale. It was welcomed with curiosity and interest but a bit of shyness: people are not used to exhibitions and live music to highlight the beauty, the history and the culture of a neighbourhood. 

Culture is perceived as elite. If people are not used to leaving their home, though, it’s going to be us bringing culture to their home. Actually, outside their balcony!”, adds Vincenzo. 

“We want to reclaim these spaces and see them alive again. We want cafes, shops, live music spaces… In the Old city there are none, due to the lack of parking spots. Young people usually reach the outskirts of the city in order to pass their time together”, says Issa. 

Issa Babish is in charge of the management of our guesthouses and the cultural and touristic valorization projects. “We want to have fun in Bethlehem”, he says, “in particular after a year and a half of economic uncertainty and sanitary crisis”.  

The path of the Magi brings to the Community Home 

This evening was a great test for Bethlehem and Pro Terra Sancta: the number of people that visited the exhibition, the Mosaic Centre and stopped by for the concert has exceeded expectations. 

Soon the Dar Al Majus Community Home will be open. It’s going to be a place where the local community will be able to find financial and social support, job formation and job placement.

Not only solidarity: the old restored palace will host an exhibition space for the historical and religious heritage of Bethlehem. This heritage will be proposed to pilgrims and locals through a visual and virtual immersive experience. 

“The inflow of people, the energy and their willingness to help… how grateful they are. Everyone that is here tonight is encouraging us to keep on following the path of the Magi in spite of difficulties and being tired”, confesses Vincenzo. 

At the end, Mrs Maryam came: first she peeped out of her balcony and then we spotted her sitting between many people in front of the stage. They all were listening to Lina, a young singer from Bethlehem that, before Covid, was working in Dubai. 

Tonight she is accompanied by mandolin, qanun (a sort of cithara), double bass and percussion. The repertoire is focused on old folk songs inspired by the historical memory of the city. She sang about joy, friendship and solidarity: everything that Star Street is for Bethlehem