The Nativity Trail, one of the most famous of the bible’s epic journeys, is the trek that Joseph and Mary took from Nazareth to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. According to the biblical account, as it appeared in Luke 2:1-7, Joseph was forced to travel to his hometown to register in a Roman census conducted for tax purposes. Although some historians are skeptical of Luke’s account, under the premise that Roman law required individuals to register in their place of residence not their place of origin, an entire faith has adopted this journey as factual.
The trail received renewed attention in the year 2000 as part of a larger initiative to renovate Christian sites in the Holy Land for the millennium. However, due to the second Intifada or Palestinian uprising, the trail was inaccessible between 2002 and 2008. Since then, a steady stream of pilgrims, hikers, and visitors who are curious and bold enough to discover an alternative Palestine have taken interest in the Nativity Trail. The hike loosely follows the biblical account, but is not meant as an attempt to replicate it. Nonetheless, it takes travelers through lands and scenery that to this day evoke tales and narratives symbolic to so many across the world.
In addition, the journey exposes visitors to the lives of those who have called these lands home for centuries. Besides the well-known sites, the trek includes stops in towns, villages, refugee camps, and Bedouin settlements that are not average tourist destinations, exposing them to the daily struggles of people who are striving to preserve their identity, heritage, and way of life.
Below are four articles written by Zina Hemady and photos by Norbert Schiller. The articles, which cover different segments of the trail, feature comparative views showing present day images alongside photos taken in the nineteenth and early twentieth century of many of the sites and landscapes located along the trail.
The historical images were taken by Bonfils, Zangaki, Frank Mason Good, Francis Frith, Karl Gröber, Underwood & Underwood, American Colony Jerusalem, Luigi Fiorello, and W. Hammerschmidt all of whom traveled extensively through the Holy Land in the mid to late 1800s.
Unless otherwise noted, the contemporary photographs were taken with a Leica M6 camera and Kodak Ektar 100 ASA color film.