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artas500

Artas is a Palestinian village located four kilometers southwest of Bethlehem in the Bethlehem Governorate in the central West Bank. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the town had a population of 3,663 in 2007.

Archeological sites and historic remains dating from the Iron Age to Ottoman times are located in the village. Until the 19th century, the Artas' residents were responsible for guarding the Solomon's Pools, a unique water system conducting water to Bethlehem and Herodium and the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem. The village had a tradition of hosting foreign and local scholars, not a few of whom were women.  As a result, there is a great body of work on all aspects of the village.

In the mid-19th century, James Finn, the British Consul of Jerusalem (1846-1863), and his wife Elisabeth Ann Finn, bought land in Artas to establish an experimental farm where they planned to employ poverty-stricken Jews from the Old City of Jerusalem. Johann Grossteinbeck (grandfather of the author John Steinbeck) and his brother Friedrich, settled there under the leadership of John Meshullam, a converted Jew and member of a British missionary society. Clorinda S. Minor also lived in Artas in 1851 and 1853.

In the 1870s the Palestine Exploration Fund and Claude Conder visited the village and remarked that it was "a small village perched against hill-side...with a good spring behind it whence an acqueduct led to Jebel Furedis...remains of a reservoir Humman Suleiman."

Foreign missionaries as well as local and foreign scholars continued to come to Artas. One of the best known of the latter was the Swedish-Finnish anthropologist Hilma Granqvist who arrived at Artas in the 1920s as part of her research on the women of the Old Testament. She "arrived in Palestine in order to find the Jewish ancestors of Scripture. What she found instead was a Palestinian people with a distinct culture and way of life. She therefore changed the focus of her research to a full investigation of the customs, habits and ways of thinking of the people of that village. Granqvist ended up staying till 1931 documenting all aspects of village life. In so doing she took hundreds of photographs." Her many books about Artas were published between 1931 and 1965, making Artas one of the best documented Palestinian villages.

Just across the valley from the village is the Convent of the Hortus Conclusus. The Artas Folklore Center was established in 1993 by Musa Sanad to document, preserve and share the rich heritage of the village. The village has a small folklore museum, a dabka and a drama troupe. The Artas Lettuce Festival has been an annual event since 1994. Artas is a popular destination for visitors to Bethlehem who want to experience traditional Palestinian life and groups interested in ecotourism.

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