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The Holy Land: Bethlehem
  The Nativity Church in Bethlehem was, along with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, another landmark for Christian pilgrimage. It was begun by Constantine I (326), and rebuilt by Justinian (after 560). The Constantinian building consisted of three main parts disposed axially: a large atrium; a five-aisled square basilica (26,5x26,5 m); and the martyrion proper, an octagon built over the Grotto of the Nativity. Within the latter was a smaller octagonal platform with a large circular opening, through which worshippers could gaze into the cave. The plan, a basilica intended for the meeting of believers, and an octagon containing the holy shrine, recalls the monumental mausoleums of the Roman emperors. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is basically of the same type, although an enclosed court separated the basilica from the shrine. When Justinian decided to restore the Nativity Church, he sent over a first architect, but is said to have rejected his work and had him beheaded. Initial plans to raise a dome over the octagon failed, because of the building's great proportions. The octagon was replaced altogether by a cloverleaf triple apse; the basilica and atrium were lengthened and a narthex created between the two. Justinian's builders used the columns and capitals of the old church and added ten new columns and four corner columns. A north and south entrance, shut by heavy bronze doors, led to the Grotto.

See also: Urban Planning; Pilgrimage centres