Jerusalem was built with high fortified walls surrounding the city for protection. The walls were built under Turkish rule in the 16th century. The way in and out of the city was through gates which were locked at night to protect the residents from marauders. Today the Old City of Jerusalem still uses these ancient gates to enter and exit the city, each gate has a distinct character, meaningful name and leads to a specific area within the Old City.
This gate is on the eastern end of the southern side of the city. Refuse and animal dung was thrown out of the city through this gate in years gone by, hence the name. In Arabic the Dung Gate is called Bab el Mugrabi (Gate of the Moors) as at one time there was a North African community just inside the gate in an area called Mugrabi. The Dung Gate leads into the Jewish Quarter and is the most convenient entrance to reach the Wailing Wall.
On the northern side of the city, it is named after Herod’s home which was thought to be in the area. The Arabic name for the gate Babe es Sahirah means Cemetery Gate because it faces a cemetery, but the name was changed to Flowers by changing one letter in the Arabic word for cemetery because people felt Cemetery Gate was too depressing. The gate leads into the Muslim Quarter. This is one of the plainest of the city gates and there is a small arched window just above the entrance.
This gate is on the northern side of the city and gets its name as the road from the gate theoretically leads to Damascus. In Hebrew it is called Shchem meaning Nablus, another prominent city from which roads lead to the gate. The Arabic name for the Damascus Gate is Bab el Amud – Gate of the Pillar after the Roman milestone from which all points in Judah were measured, this pillar stood just inside the gate. Although the current gate dates back to 1537 the remains of another gate were uncovered on this spot dating back to the 2AD. Stairs descend down to the entrance and two towers stand on either side. Within the Old City the gate leads into the market and stands on the line between the Christian and Muslim Quarters.
On the northern side of the city this gate was constructed in 1887 to allow Christians living outside the city walls convenient access to the Old City and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Over the years the gate has been sealed and reopened by different rulers. It is the newest of the gates leading into the Old City.
On the eastern side of the city this gate gets its name from the two creatures carved on either side of the entrance, the creatures could be lions representing a dream Suleiman the Magnificent had or they are tigers and were a 13th century heraldic symbol of the Sultan Beybars. The gate is also called Saint Stephen’s Gate, after the Christian martyr who was stoned in the nearby Kidron Valley. The Arabic name for the gate is Bab el Asbat – Gate of the Tribes as they believe that the tribes of Israeli entered through this gate. The gate is the beginning point of the Via Dolorosa and was also the entrance point for Israeli troops during the Six-Day War.
On the southern side the Zion Gate leads into the Jewish Quarter and Armenian Quarter within the Old City and on the outside of the city walls you face Mount Zion. In Arabic the Gate is called Bab a-Nabi Daud or “the Gate of the Prophet David” because the gate is near to the Tomb of David on Mt. Zion. It’s also been referred to as the Gate of the Jewish Quarter and was constructed around 1540.
This gate is on the western side of the city and leads into the Jewish and Christian Quarter The gate gets its name as pilgrims arrived here when coming from the port of Jaffa. Also called “The Gate of David’s Prayer Shrine” and “Porta Davidi”. The gate is also known as the Gate of Hebron, as the Hebron Road also leads to this Gate. It was through this gate that in 1898 Kaiser Wilhelm II entered the city and General Allenby entered on his arrival in 1917.
The Sealed Gates
There are several gates into the Old City which are not used as they have been bricked up. The Golden Gate (Shar HaRahamim/Gate of Mercy/Eastern Gate) on the Eastern side was sealed in 1541. The Single Gate, Double Gate and Huldah Gates on the southern side were all created in the Herodian Period and lead into the Temple Mount.