Suitcase and World: The Gates of Jerusalem.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Gates of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem’s Old City walls were built in the 16th century by the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. There are eight gates and all but one are still open. The walls stretch for approximately 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) and rise to a height of 5–15 meters (16–49 feet), with a thickness of 3 meters (10 feet). All together, the Old City walls contain 43 surveillance towers and 11 gates, seven of which are presently open.

I read somewhere that you can walk around the city ramparts. There's a tourist information center near the Jaffa Gate; I'll be heading there to get more information. Until then, here's what I've learned about the gates, starting with Jaffa Gate.

Jaffa Gate to the left, Tower of David to the right.  (Image by Yoninah)
Jaffa Gate:   Located in the western end of the Old City,
Jaffa Gate, known as Bab el-Khalil (Gate of the Friend) in Arabic is easily recognizable among the eight gates because it is the only one that is positioned at a right angle to the wall.

Jaffa Gate is named after the port city of Jaffa, from which the Prophet Jonah embarked on his sea journey and pilgrims debarked on their trip to the Holy City.

The Arabic name for the gate, Bab el-Khalil (Gate of the Friend), refers to Abraham, the beloved of God who is buried in Hebron. Since Abraham lived in Hebron, another name for the Jaffa Gate is *Hebron Gate*. The Arabs also called this gate Bab Mihrab Daud (Gate of the Prayer Niche of David), since King David is considered a prophet by Islam.

Jaffa Gate leads directly to the Jewish and Christian quarters, as well as to the to the Tower of David Museum, once Jerusalem’s citadel and now a showcase of its history.

New Gate (Image by Daniel Baránek)

The New Gate:  Known in Arabic as Bab ij-Jdïd, The New Gate was built in 1889 which makes it the only Old City entryway not part of the original design of the 16th-century walls. The gate was built to provide access to the Old City from the Notre Dame Hospice that was completed in 1886, and to provide Russian Christian pilgrims living at the Russian Compound (outside the Old City walls) direct access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter.

The arched gate is decorated with crenelated stonework.

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Jordanian occupation administration had the gate sealed off. It was reopened again by the Israeli Army in 1967 following the capture of East Jerusalem during the Jordanian campaign.

Damascus Gate (Image by Biosketch)
Damascus Gate: This most imposing of Jerusalem’s gateways and it is the main entrance to the Old City,  located at the edge of the Arab bazaar and marketplace.  Damascus Gate is so named because the highway outside it leads towards the capital of Syria, Damascus.

The gate was named Bab al-Amud (Gate of the Column) in Arabic, preserving the memory of a design detail of a gate dating to the time of the Roman rule of Hadrian in the 2nd century AD that was discovered and excavated in the 20th century.  In front of this gate stood a Roman victory column topped with the Emperor Hadrian's image  .On the lintel to the 2nd century gate, which you can walk under today, is inscribed the city's name under Roman rule, Aelia Capitolina.

Damascus Gate is flanked by two towers and in contrast to the Jaffa Gate, where stairs rise towards the gate, in the Damascus Gate, the stairs descend towards the gate.

In 1967, the crenellated turret, over teh gate, was damaged in the fighting that took place in and around the Old City during the Six-Day War. In August 2011, Israel restored the turret, including its arrowslit, with the help of pictures from the early twentieth century when the British Empire controlled Jerusalem. Eleven anchors fasten the restored turret to the wall, and four stone slabs combine to form the crenellated top.

Herod's Gate (Image by Herwig Reidlinger)
Herod’s Gate: Despite its name, the notorious Judean king had nothing to do with this gate. In both Hebrew and Arabic, this north-facing gate, which leads to the Old City markets, is called the Gate of Flowers. Some say the name derives from a rosette carved over it. However, in Arabic a similar word means “awakened,” and may refer to a nearby cemetery and the hope of resurrection.

This modest gate is one of the newest gates of Jerusalem. At the time when Suleiman the Magnificent built the wall, a small wicket gate was situated in front of the current gate, which was rarely opened. By 1875, in order to provide a passageway to the neighborhoods which were beginning to develop north of the Old City, the Ottomans made a breach in the northern part of the structure and closed the original opening.

In 1998 and during several subsequent excavation seasons (the latest in 2004), archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority dug in the eastern area of Herod's Gate. The digging focused on three separate areas adjacent to the wall, in which nine archeological layers were discovered – covering from the Iron age up through the Turkish period. Among the most significant discoveries were structures from the period of the Second Temple, a complete segment of the Byzantine-Roman wall, and remnants of massive construction underneath the wall. These remnants were identified as portions of a fortification from the ancient Muslim period and from the Middle Ages. These discoveries point out the importance which the rulers of the city gave to the fortification of one of its most sensitive places, the northern wall of Jerusalem.

Lion's Gate (Image by Pontificake)

Lion’s Gate: Located in the east wall, Lion's Gate marks the beginning of the traditional Christian observance of the last walk of Jesus from prison to crucifixion, the Via Dolorosa. Near the gate’s crest are four figures of panthers, often mistaken for lions, two on the left and two on the right. They were placed there by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent to celebrate the Ottoman defeat of the Mamluks in 1517.

Lion's Gate became famous during the Six Day War when Israeli paratroops from the 55th Paratroop Brigade came through this gate and unfurled the Israeli flag above Temple Mount.

Golden Gate:  Located in the middle of the eastern wall of Temple Mount, this gate has been blocked for centuries.

Golden Gate (Image by Wilson44691)
 It is said to be awaiting a miraculous opening when the Messiah comes and the dead are resurrected.

Golden Gate is the oldest of the current gates in Jerusalem's Old City Walls. According to Jewish tradition, the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) used to appear through this gate, and will appear again when the Messiah comes (Ezekiel 44:1–3) and a new gate replaces the present one.

Remains of a much older gate dating to the times of the Second Temple have found. The present gate was probably built in the 6th century AD, as part of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I's building program in Jerusalem, on top of the ruins of the earlier gate in the wall. An alternate theory holds that it was built in the later part of the 7th century by Byzantine artisans employed by the Umayyad khalifs.

The Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent sealed off the Golden Gate in 1541. While this may have been purely for defensive reasons, it has suggested that Suleiman the Magnificent sealed off the Golden Gate to prevent the Messiah's entrance. The Muslims also built a cemetery in front of the gate, in the belief that the precursor to the Messiah, Elijah, would not be able to pass through the Golden Gate and thus the Messiah would not come.

Dung Gate (Image by Berthold Werner)

Dung Gate: Set in the Old City's southern wall, this gate’s unusual name derives from the refuse dumped here in antiquity, where the prevailing winds would carry odors away.  It is the gate that provides the most convenient access to the Western Wall, and it is the only gate which leads directly into the Jewish Quarter.  The gate was widened by the Jordanians during their occupation of the Old City to accommodate vehicular traffic, one of only two such gates in the Old City.

Zion Gate (Image from

 Zion Gate:  Located in the south of the Old City, facing Mount Zion and Hebron, the Zion Gate leads into the Armenian and Jewish Quarters. Zion Gate is also known as David's Gate because the tomb of King David is believed to be on Mount Zion.

In the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Palmach gained control of the Jewish Quarter via the Zion Gate. The stones surrounding the gate were pockmarked by weapons fire and bullet holes that are still visible today. The last British troops leaving Jerusalem on May 13, 1948, presented Mordechai Weingarten with the key to the gate. The gate was under the rule of Jordan until the Six-Day War.

Both pedestrians and vehicles use the gate, although maneuvering is difficult due to the L-shaped passageway. Until recently, there was two-way vehicular traffic passing through the gate. Today cars can exit but not enter the Old City via this gate.
If I have a map of the Old City streets and ramparts, I think I can make my way around the walls to see each of the gates.  Now, I have to find that map!