This quaint town two kilometers west of Bethlehem is an old Canaanite city whose name in Aramaic means “grass carpet.” Today it is home to a theological seminary and several old churches and convents, the most famous of which is the Church of Saint Nicholas, with its square tower and golden dome. The Salesian Monastery of Cremisan, housing a school and a library, is at the edge of the town, and is reputed for its excellent wine. Beyond the Cremisan winery, Beit Jala is known for its first-rate olive oil.
Located along a steep hill, the town is cooler in summer than either Bethlehem or Jerusalem. The higher altitude and attractive scenery made it a popular summer resort.