The Old City Walls

Sunday 6th July 2014

As a “farewell” to Jerusalem, today I walked around the outside of the walls of the Old City, visting each of the gates along the way. But first, an introduction to the Old City.

The Old City (Hebrew: העיר העתיקה‎, Ha’Ir Ha’Atiqah, Arabic: البلدة القديمة‎, al-Balda al-Qadimah, Armenian: Երուսաղեմի հին քաղաք, Yerusaghemi hin k’aghak’) is a 0.9 square kilometers (0.35 sq miles; roughly 220 acres) walled area within the modern city of Jerusalem. Until 1860, when the Jewish neighborhood Mishkenot Sha’ananim was established, this area constituted the entire city of Jerusalem. The Old City is home to several sites of key religious importance: the Temple Mount and Western Wall for Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, and the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List in 1981.

Traditionally, the Old City has been divided into four uneven quarters, although the current designations were introduced only in the 19th century. Today, the Old City is roughly divided into the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. The Old City’s monumental defensive walls and city gates were built in the late 16th century by the Ottomans. The current population of the Old City resides mostly in the Islamic and Christian quarters. As of 2007 the total population was 36,965; the breakdown of religious groups in 2006 was 27,500 Muslims, 5,681 Christians, 790 Armenians and 3,089 Jews.

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Old City was captured by Jordan and Jewish residents were evicted. During the Six-Day War in 1967, which saw hand-to-hand fighting on the Temple Mount, Israel captured the Old City along with the rest of East Jerusalem, subsequently annexing them as Israeli territory and reuniting them with the western part of the city. Today, Israel controls the entire area, which it considers part of its national capital. In 2010, Jerusalem’s oldest fragment of writing was found outside the Old City’s walls. The Jerusalem Law of 1980, effectively annexing East Jerusalem to Israel, was declared null and void by UN Security Council Resolution 478 and East Jerusalem is regarded by the international community as part of occupied Palestinian territory.

As well as the “open” gates that are in use today, for the sake of completeness I have added the “closed” gates as well. I note that the original gates were all angled, some at 90 degrees. This was a defence strategy. It ensured that horses could not do a straight charge through the gate, but had to wheel around. Cars and small buses today still find the manoeuvre challenging!! Also, the short turning space meant that attackers could not use long battering rams to knock the doors down. And while the enemy were milling around below, the defenders could fire arrows, take potshots and tip boiling oil on them from the ramparts above. The walls and gates of Jerusalem have been brought down and re-built many times. They are a very significant witness to the checkered history of Jerusalem.

Here is an account of my farewell pilgrimage around all these gates. I have cut and pasted brief accounts of each of the open gates from the goisrael website: In addition, I have sometimes added my own comments in the first person. Let’s do the circuit together!

I left Ecce Homo and headed north to the nearest gate and then went anti-clockwise from there around the Old City.

Herod's Gate

Herod’s Gate

Herod’s Gate: Despite its name, the notorious Judean king had nothing to do with this gate. In Arabic and Hebrew this north-facing gate, which leads to the Old City markets, is called the Flowers Gate. 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.

I add that across the road is the site of The Garden Tomb (see previous post). It was just across the road from Herod’s Gate that I caught the bus to Bethany and will catch the bus tomorrow to Amman, Jordan.

Damascus Gate

Damascus Gate

Damascus Gate: This most imposing of Jerusalem’s gateways also faces north and is named for the grand city from which Jerusalem’s rulers once came. It is always a busy thoroughfare, thanks to the bustling markets within. Below the 16th-century gate, archaeologists have uncovered part of the entryway built by Emperor Hadrian in the second century CE.

This is the gate I have used for nearly all my personal outings, except those into the Old City itself. It is also where we were dropped off on our return from all of our group bus excursions.

Damascus Gate is on the north of the Old City and gives access to the main road which runs north-south for Jews to the Western Wall and for Muslims to the Temple Mount. A block or two down it is transversed by the east-west Via Dolorosa, the route of the Stations of the Cross for Christians. So you can imagine that when religious feast days or religious celebrations coincide (Friday Stations of the Cross and Friday prayers at the mosque), the road can be quite hectic!! In addition, it is also a suq or market street, so is always busy during trading hours.

The New Gate

The New Gate

The New Gate: This is the only Old City entryway not part of the original design of the 16th-century walls. It was breached in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire to allow Christian pilgrims quicker access to their holy places within the ramparts.
The Jaffa Gate

The Jaffa Gate

The Jaffa Gate: This was the destination of Jewish and Christian pilgrims disembarking at the Jaffa port, hence its name. It led (and still leads) directly to the Jewish and Christian quarters, as well as to the most popular parts of the market, and to the Tower of David Museum, once Jerusalem’s citadel and now a showcase of its history.

I add that the actual “gate” is a 90 degree turn inside the stone tower building on the left of the photo. The roadway on the right through which traffic is passing is not a gate but a “breach” made in the walls by the Ottomans in 1898 to enable Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany to enter the city without having to dismount from his carriage.

The Hidden Gate

The Hidden Gate

The Hidden Gate:
Along the western walls, about halfway between the Jaffa Gate and the Zion gate, I saw a sign which explained that at that spot there was a hidden gate. It was from an early period. The only indication that it ever existed is the remnants of the stairs leading up to the wall at that point.
The Zion Gate

The Zion Gate

The Zion Gate: Bearing Jerusalem’s earliest biblical name in Hebrew and English, this gate’s Arabic name is the Gate of the Prophet David, as the Tomb of King David, on adjacent Mount Zion, is only a few steps away. Zion Gate leads directly to the Armenian and Jewish quarters.

I went through Zion’s gate many times. St Peter in Gallicantu, the Dormition Abbey, The Cenacle (Upper Room), David’s Tomb and Oskar Schindler’s grave are all in that vicinity.

I note that the pockmarks on the stonework all around the gate are holes made by bullets and shelling during the 6-day war when Israel captured East Jerusalem. With this victory, Jews were again able to access the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, from which they had been excluded for the previous 15 years.

On one of my visits to the Zion Gate, I photographed the “hole” in the wall of the gate with what I consider to be spectacular effect. It looks like a gleaming white “stone statue” shimmering in the sun, but is in fact the sun shining on the white stone wall on the far side of the road which runs on the other side of the gate.

Stunning visual effect of the hole in the wall of the Zion Gate

Stunning visual effect of the hole in the wall of the Zion Gate

Excerpts from Torah Scroll in the Stonework of the Zion Gate

Excerpts from Torah Scroll in the Stonework of the Zion Gate

I had noticed a guide pointing out an item on the wall and others inspecting and touching it so went to investigate. I thought it looked like a “missile” and wondered if it was a relic of the war? As I was pondering, a passing Jewish man noticed my interest and explained that it was a case or container with some texts from the Torah (a mini Torah scroll), that it was Jewish custom to put these on the doorposts of Jewish homes. I looked it up later on Google:

Mezuzah: God’s Word on the Doorpost
What is a Mezuzah?

A mezuzah (from the Hebrew for “doorpost”) is a small parchment inscribed with short Torah passages in Hebrew. The parchment is rolled up, placed in a decorative case, and attached to the doorpost of Jewish homes.

The word “mezuzah” technically refers to the scroll only, but in common usage it means either the scroll, the case, or both together. Because the first passage written on the mezuzah is the Shema (“Hear O Israel…”), the mezuzah itself is sometimes also referred to as the Shema.

The practice of hanging mezuzot (the plural of mezuzah) on doorposts is mandated in the Torah and is observed by most Jewish families, even those who are not otherwise very observant or traditional.

In Deuteronomy, after receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai, Moses tells the Israelites:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. … Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-6,9)

The primary purpose of hanging a mezuzah is to fulfill this biblical command. The mezuzah also serves as a reminder of God’s laws and presence and is a symbol of Jewish identity.

For the rest of the information on the mezuzah see the following website from which the above text is copied:

The Tanner's Gate

The Tanner’s Gate

The Tanner’s Gate
This is not on the traditional list of current city gates. However, archaelogical explorations have determined that it is an old gate from fortifications from a much earlier period, which were built over when the current wall was erected. in fact, just outside this area, archaeological excavations were taking place as I passed by.

Next to the Dung Gate is a new pedestrian gate called Tanners Gate. It’s actually an old medieval gate which was uncovered during excavations in the 1980s. During the 1990s and the millennial year, we had so much traffic entering and exiting the city from the Dung Gate, the municipality decided to restore the medieval gate for pilgrims. This gate is not yet well-known. In Hebrew it’s called Sha’ar HaBurskai, which was apparently its name during the Crusader period when it must have been an industrial area for tanners. Whoa – block your nose – tanning was a smelly business. (Remember when Peter was staying in the house of Simon the Tanner, he had to go up on the roof-top for fresh air. Acts 10)

The Dung Gate

The Dung Gate

The Dung Gate: This gate’s unusual name derives from the refuse dumped here in antiquity, where the prevailing winds would carry odors away. Nehemiah 2:13 mentions a Dung Gate that was probably near this one. This gate leads directly to the Western Wall and the Southern Wall Archaeological Park.
Walled-up Gate to Herod's Temple

Walled-up Gate to Herod’s Temple

Walled-up Gate to Herod’s Temple
I note that this gate does not appear on the traditional list of city gates, probably because it is not from the Suleiman city walls, but is much earlier, from the Herodian Temple. Now bricked up, it is one of the southern access/egress gates for Jewish pilgrims going in/out of the Temple.

The Dome and east wall of the al-Aqsa Mosque are seen above the old Temple wall.

Main Entrance/Exit Gates to Herod's Temple

Main Entrance/Exit Gates to Herod’s Temple

Main Entrance/Exit Gates to Herod’s Temple
Like the gate featured above, these triple gates were the main entrance/exit gates for Jewish pilgrims going to/from the Temple. The purification baths were in to the south in the valley below what was once King David’s city. The gates are from the Second Temple period, the temple of King Herod the Great.
Walled-up Gate in Temple Esplanade

Walled-up Gate in Temple Esplanade

Walled-up Gate in Temple Esplanade
I noticed the brick archway in the wall, so this must have been a gate at some stage. The esplanade of King Herod’s Temple was above. It is now the esplanade for the al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Golden Gate, also known as The Mercy Gate

The Golden Gate, also known as The Mercy Gate

Gate of Mercy: This gate, in the eastern Temple-Mount wall, may be the best-known of them all. Also called the Golden Gate or the Eastern Gate, it has been blocked for centuries, and is said to be awaiting a miraculous opening when the Messiah comes and the dead are resurrected.

I also heard and read that it was the Ottomans who blocked it. Jewish expectation is that the Messiah will come through this gate. So the Ottomans had it bricked up, an act of one-Messiah-upmanship, that the Jewish Messiah not come, but that the Muslim Messiah would come instead!! One sometimes wonders if anything has changed much at all!?!?

There is a Muslim graveyard along the wall. There are Christian and Jewish graveyards in the area too, particularly to the east across the Kidron Valley and much of the way up the Mount of Olives. Being close to the arrival point of the expected Messiah was considered a propitious place to be buried. Presumably, on the general resurrection, one would be first in the queue!!

In the Muslim graveyard I happened to notice a sign pointing to the grave of a “Companion”. This refers to a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad, therefore, one of the first generation of Muslims. They are highly regarded as having been the ideal Muslim community and worthy of emulation, in much the same way that the early Christian community is considered an ideal for Christians.

The Lion's Gate

The Lion’s Gate

Lion’s Gate: This portal is named after a pair of ferocious-looking animal carvings that flank it. They are actually tigers, the heraldic symbol of the 13th-century Sultan Beybars. It is also called St. Stephen’s Gate, after the first Christian martyr, who tradition says was stoned nearby. Lion’s Gate, which leads to the Pools of Bethesda, the Via Dolorosa, and the markets, became famous during the Six Day War.

This was my access gate to Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives. Also, we boarded the bus for all our group excursions on the road outside Lion’s Gate.

I continued around to Herod’s Gate and completed the circle of the Old City. I had kebab in pita bread for lunch. After a brief wander around the market I came back to Ecce Homo to do some preparations for travelling tomorrow.

For more information on the gates see:

Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!


One thought on “The Old City Walls

  1. Josie

    Hi Patrick, when you come back and come for a meal, have a look at my front door and all the ones inside besides the bathroom. All have Mezuzahs . I hope you publish your blog, it’s been great.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s