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The fertile valley of the Maluti Mountains inspired settling wheat farmers to name the new town Bethlehem - from Beit Lechem, Hebrew for "house of bread".
Appropriately named, it has grown from strength to strength and is now the commercial centre of the Eastern Free State and is still growing.
The Gerrand, Athlone and Saulspoort dams provide water to the region, which produces 65percent of South Africa's wheat crop.
Bethlehem lies on the banks of the Jordaan River against the backdrop of the Maluti Mountains. The town is situated 35km east of Paul Roux along the N5.
Bethlehem was founded in 1860 on the farm Pretoriuskloof, yet was only proclaimed in 1884. It became a municipality in 1902.
Bethlehem has links to the South African (Anglo-Boer) War because it was briefly the seat of the fugitive Free State Republic.
Arts and Culture:
Visitors looking to find out more about the history of the town and its culture will find the numerous museums interesting.
At Baartman House, exhibits of wagons and horse carriages, period furniture and farm implements give the viewer an idea of the lifestyle of the people venturing into the hinterland.
The history of the town is well documented by wagons, furniture, horse carriages, farming implements and an old steam locomotive.
Nazareth Mission Church
A noble church storing local costumes, needlework, furniture and porcelain. An outstanding collection of exhibits including war memorabilia is at the Museum of Cultural History housed in the former church.
The town contains some of the finest sandstone buildings in the country, and many are now provincial heritage sites. Many buildings in town are superb examples of sandstone architecture.
Science and Nature:
There are two nature reserves in the area for travellers to visit.
Wolhuterskop Nature Reserve
A pleasant reserve of wide open spaces and abundant animal life. Wolhuterskop Nature Reserve is 5km outside of Bethlehem and is home to a wide variety of buck.
Pretorius bird sanctuary
Many local species can be seen here, just south of town.
Loch Athlone Dam on the Jordaan River hosts regular regattas, while offering entertainment for the whole family, including a heated swimming pool and a supertube for the kids.
A popular horse-riding trail, about 10km long, starts at the entrance to Wolhuterskop Nature Reserve.
Did You Know?
There is a cairn about 8km from town that was built by thousands of miners from Lesotho who would place a stone on a pile on their way to and back from Johannesburg.
This together with a prayer to the ancestors would ensure protection from accidents at work on the mines. On their way back home, they would place another stone to thank their ancestors for a safe journey. - Wikipedia