by: Kathy DeGagne, BFP Staff Writer
From an alcove nestled into one of Jerusalem’s gateways, passersby hear the strains of a violin echo off the ancient stones. At another gate, a marketplace hums with merchants peddling their wares; and at yet another, an exuberant bar mitzvah procession winds its way toward the Western Wall. These are the gates of Jerusalem. More than just a means of entering and exiting the Old City, they represent the heart of a vital community.
Most of the present-day gates and walls were built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century, some on the foundations of their ancient counterparts. Legend has it that Suleiman, enraged that the residents of Jerusalem were defaulting on their taxes, decided to punish them. That night, he dreamed he was attacked and devoured by lions. Fearful, he sought the counsel of a sage who advised him that attacking the Holy City would displease Allah. Instead, Suleiman needed to protect Jerusalem. He decided then to rebuild the city walls. Set into those newly-built walls were eight large gates, each with its own intriguing story.
The Lion’s Gate is situated in the eastern wall of the Old City, leading into the Muslim Quarter.
Suleiman had four lions carved on the walls flanking the portal to commemorate his dream. Some sources say they are panthers, leopards or tigers, but a Jerusalem gate carved with lions seems more fitting as lions are the symbol of the biblical kingdom of Judah and present-day Jerusalem.
Paratroopers entered this gate during the Six Day War, which culminated in the liberation of Jerusalem.
The double-arched Golden Gate (Eastern Gate) is the oldest gate, built around AD 640. Situated on the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, it faces the Mount of Olives.
The Golden Gate is the only ancient gate not built by Suleiman. However, he did have it walled up, and it has remained sealed for centuries. Legend has it that he sealed the gate to prevent the Jewish Messiah from entering the Temple Mount. The Bible predicts the glory of the Lord will come “into the temple by way of the gate which faces toward the east” (Ezek. 43:4).
An accidental archaeological discovery indicated that a much earlier gate is buried directly beneath the present one.
Dung Gate is located in the southern wall of the Old City and is the closest gate to the Western Wall.
Nehemiah 2:13 speaks of a Dung Gate or Refuse Gate which was likely near the present one. Through this gate, the city’s garbage was taken and dumped into the Hinnom Valley. Early Jewish sages described the valley as “the gates of hell,” perhaps because the constantly smoldering refuse was considered a picture of eternal punishment.
Zion Gate is on the southwestern wall and leads to the Armenian and Jewish Quarters of the Old City.
A legend tells of Suleiman’s two hapless city architects, beheaded for failing to include Mount Zion and the traditional tomb of David within the protective confines of the city walls.
The battle-scarred face of Zion Gate is witness to the ferocity of Arab attacks on the Old City during the War of Independence. For 19 years, between 1948 until 1967, the Jordanians kept the doors of Zion Gate closed to prevent Jews from praying at the Western Wall.
The gate took its name from Jaffa port. Pilgrims disembarked at Jaffa, travelled to Jerusalem and used this west-facing gate to access the Christian and Jewish Quarters of the Old City.
Jaffa Gate was locked every night well into the 20th century to keep out hyenas, jackals and other undesirables. Residents who arrived after the gate was shut were hoisted over the walls by rope, or spent the night outside the gate.
In 1898, a road was cut into the city wall next to the gate to allow the procession of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany to enter the city without having to dismount.
In contrast, British General Allenby, fresh from his victory over the Ottomans in 1917, dismounted and entered through Jaffa Gate on foot to show respect for the Holy City and its inhabitants.
New Gate, as its name suggests, is a relatively new gate and was constructed in the late 1880s. Christian pilgrims can enjoy easy access from this Old-City entrance to all their holy sites.
Damascus Gate faces northward and is considered the most elaborate of all the city’s gates, featuring towers flanking a central gate and architectural embellishments on its ramparts. The slits in the walls were used to fire at the enemy, and the central window above the gate was used to pour boiling oil onto attackers below.
Beneath the present gate, archaeologists unearthed a triple-arched gate dating from the second century AD. The gate leads to the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and today its plaza features an Arab market.
Also facing north is Herod’s Gate, originally called Flowers Gate. The gate was renamed Herod’s Gate in the 16th century because pilgrims believed Herod Antipas’ palace was located nearby.
The Bible says that the Jerusalem of the future will have 12 gates, one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel, and each gate will be made of a single pearl. One day those gates shall be open continually and they will no longer be needed for defense, for peace will reign over the land. And the Messiah, the King of glory, will enter the city He loves, where no sealed gate will ever keep Him out.
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