Jerusalem City Gates Walking Tour, Jerusalem

Jerusalem City Gates Walking Tour (Self Guided), Jerusalem

Historians believe that the Old City of Jerusalem probably came into being more than 4,500 years ago. The defensive wall around it features a number of gates built on the order of the Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in the first half of the 16th century, each of which is an attraction in its own right. Until as recently as 1870, they were all closed from sunset to sunrise; nowadays, just the section between Lions’ Gate and the Dung Gate is closed to the public.

Begin your walk with Jaffa – the busiest of the seven Old City gates, and the main one for both traffic and pedestrians coming from modern West Jerusalem. The old road to the town started here, and today this large gate one is the best place for visitors to access the ramparts and walk along the city walls. After climbing the steps immediately inside and paying admission, the ramparts pass over the New Gate, added in the 1880s to allow pilgrims direct access to the Christian Quarter, and the Damascus Gate – the grandest of all the Old City gates, providing a sort of opening to a microcosm of the Palestinian world with all its flurry of daily activity.

Between the Damascus Gate and the Zion Gate, you’ll find the Christian and Armenian quarters, on the right, and on the left, the Muslim Quarter and then the Jewish Quarter. Occasional vantage points allow you to look out across the Hinnom Valley below to the red rooftops of the early Jewish settlement of Mishkenot Shaananim, while the final stretch affords wonderful views of the Arab village of Silwan.

Our self-guided walking tour will lead you gate to gate, revealing all the mysteries and curiosities along the way. Put on some good shoes, stay hydrated and take photos that will be much different from everyone’s usual travel photos!
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from iTunes App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Jerusalem City Gates Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Jerusalem City Gates Walking Tour
Guide Location: Israel » Jerusalem (See other walking tours in Jerusalem)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Jaffa Gate
  • New Gate
  • Damascus (Shechem) Gate
  • Herod's Gate
  • Lions’ Gate
  • Golden Gate
  • Huldah Gates / Triple Gate
  • Huldah Gates / Double Gate
  • Dung Gate
  • Zion Gate
Jaffa Gate

1) Jaffa Gate

The Jaffa Gate is one of the eight points of entry to the Old City Jerusalem, and was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century. It is also the only structural opening in the wall surrounding the city that is set at a 90 degree angle; no doubt, this was done as a defensive measure. Located on the western side, it faces in the direction of the eponymous town of Jaffa – hence the name.

The gate goes by several other different names as well, including “Sha'ar Yafo” in Hebrew and “Bab el-Khalil” in Arabic which means "the gate of a friend." The ''friend'' part refers to prophet Abraham, “the friend of God”. Legend has it that the prophet was buried here somewhere, and since Hebron was his hometown, another name for this place is the "Hebron Gate." It is also often referred to as the “prayer niche of David.” During the Crusader period, it was known as “David’s Gate” because of its proximity to the Tower of David.

It was also from this spot that the Biblical character Jonah embarked on a sea voyage, and pilgrims used to debark here on their trip to the Holy City as well. Even today, the old road starting from the gate is still in use, converted to a superhighway linking Jerusalem with Tel Aviv.
New Gate

2) New Gate

The New Gate is the newest and the only entryway in the wall of Jerusalem's Old City that is not part of the original 16th-century design. This arched crenelated gate was built in 1889 in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, and should not be confused with the New Gate of the Second Temple mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah that had served as entrance to the Great Sanhedrin's Hall of Hewn Stones, previously called the Benjamin Gate. Standing at 790 meters (2,590 ft) above sea level, it marks the highest point of the Old City wall.

The gate also goes by the name “Bab es Sultan Abd ul Hamid” that was used by the Arab workers for the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II who made the construction possible yielding to the request of the French Consul to provide access to the Old City from the Notre Dame Hospice completed in 1886, and also to allow Russian pilgrims, living at the Russian Compound (outside the Old City walls), direct access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter.

Throughout the 20th century, the New Gate saw repeated attempts to destroy or damage by belligerent parties. In 1929, an unprovoked Arab attack left several Jews killed between the New and Damascus gates. In 1945, the Israeli paramilitary group attempted to demolish part of the wall next to the New Gate using a massive device that luckily failed to go off. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Jewish demolition charge intended for the gate was detonated by a stray artillery shell that set the Arab wooden barricade in front of the New Gate on fire. Subsequently, the Jordanian occupation administration sealed off the gate, and it wasn't until 1967 that it was reopened again by the Israeli Army following the Six-Day War.

Nowadays, the gate is supervised by the Israel Antiquities Authority, while the land around it is largely owned by the Latin Patriarchate and the Franciscan Order which have refused to sell it to the Israeli authorities. In the current urban layout of Jerusalem, the New Gate provides the quickest route from the Old City to West Jerusalem.
Damascus (Shechem) Gate

3) Damascus (Shechem) Gate

One of the main entrances to the Eastern part of Old Jerusalem, this gate is named after the Syrian capital which lies some 135 miles (or 220 kilometers) up north. The structure has remained pretty much intact since the time it was built, between 1537 and 1542, under the reign and direct supervision of Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. The size of the gate, however, resulted from the work commissioned centuries before that by another ruler – Roman emperor Hadrian – and it was a column, owing to which is yet another name for this gate, “Bab al-Amud” (Gate of the Column).

Today, this is by far one of the busiest and most colorful spots in the Old City. In many ways, this gate symbolizes a sort of opening to a microcosm of the Palestinian world. Here, vendors heading to and from the Old City bring their goods, and the life boils with activity pretty much as it has done for centuries before.

A sign of modern day reality, however, is the presence of the Israeli soldiers standing guard on the steps of the nearby buildings. Still, the area is dominated primarily by the vendors offering herbs, fresh produce and other goods to the passers-by. Local women are distinctively famous for wearing embroidered dresses that are a part of their dowry and identity.

Why You Should Visit:
This is one of the Old City's prettiest gates with the castellated wall. Truly majestic!

The gate area is super busy, if not intimidating, towards the end of Ramadan. When it's Friday in Ramadan, DO NOT try to exit the gate, for it will be like swimming against the tide!
Right outside the gate there are few stalls selling all kinds of fruits and vegetables, as well as dry and canned goods and other household stuff. The prices here are quite affordable and the produce is always fresh.
Herod's Gate

4) Herod's Gate

Herod's Gate is part of the northern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem and connects the Muslim Quarter inside the Old City to the eponymous Palestinian district, Bab az-Zahra, located right outside.

Herod's Gate is the Christian name associated with the Bible, according to which Pontius Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, whose palace reportedly stood on the site nearby now marked by the Greek Orthodox Church of St Nicodemus. This church is built on top of another ruined Crusader temple, commonly known in Arabic as Deir al-'Adas, "the monastery of the lentils", suggesting it was once a kitchen feeding lentil soup to the poor. Another theory claims that here was a prison in which Saint Peter was held by Herod Agrippa, nephew of Herod Antipas. Bab az-Zahra is yet another Arab name for the gate and is due to the proximity of the Bab az-Zahra Palestinian neighborhood. In Hebrew, the gate is called Sha'ar HaPrakhim, which means "Flowers Gate", popularly associated with the blooming flower stone rosette adorning the gate tower.

Rather modest in appearance, this gate is one of the newest in Jerusalem. In 1875, in order to provide a passageway to the new neighborhoods emerging to the north of the Old City, the Ottomans opened a new gate (expanding an old wicket) in the northern, frontal wall of the tower, facing the Sultan Suleiman Street.

Often neglected by tourists, Herod's Gate is not too busy, although during the day it is practically hidden by stallholders. Those looking for a more authentic cultural experience are advised to visit the area inside the gate. There, instead of souvenir vendors you will find a proper market frequented by the locals for everyday shopping.
Lions’ Gate

5) Lions’ Gate

The Lions’ Gate takes its name after the pairs of stone animals carved into the design. Legend has it that sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who built the wall around Jerusalem in the 16th century, had a nightmare in which he saw lions about to devour him as he had failed to secure defenses for this part of the citadel.

Waking up, he ordered a wall to be built with the lions placed at the city gate. There are speculations as to whether the carvings are actually lions and not panthers, in which case they may depict animals from the crest of the Mameluke sultan Baybars, and thus be part of an older building.

Another name for this point of entry is “Bab Sitt Maryam” and it refers to Mary, mother of Jesus. Legend has it that she has been laid to rest somewhere around the Kidron Valley. In Christian tradition and lore, this gate is also known as St. Stephen's, the first Christian martyr who was stoned to death. On a Palm Sunday, there is a procession recreating the historical route of Jesus from Scripture, passing through the gate from the Mount into the Old City.

The Arabic name for the gate is "Meshikuli", which in more modern terms means “wicket” – a small opening in a wall – through which, back in the day, people could watch those approaching and, in case of attack, pour boiling oil or tar onto the enemies' heads.

Why You Should Visit:
Impressive and incredibly well-preserved historic sight, considering it has never been restored!

Can get crowded, especially on Fridays, because of the influx of Muslims coming for prayer at the nearby al-Aqsa Mosque.
Golden Gate

6) Golden Gate

The Eastern Gate of the Temple Mount, commonly known as the Golden Gate, is unique in terms of being the only eastern gate and one of only two gates that used to provide access into Jerusalem from that side. Reputedly, this is the oldest gate of the Old City with the times of construction varying between 520 and somewhere around 640 A.D. The double entrance with two vaulted halls was ultimately sealed shut in 1541 by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, prior to which it was closed in 810 (also by the Muslims), then reopened in 1102 by the Crusaders, and then walled up again by Saladin after defeating the Crusaders in 1187.

The gate holds historical and traditional significance for the Jews, primarily as an indicator of the Messiah meant to come, as it is prophesied that the Savior would enter Jerusalem through this gate. In Hebrew, it is called Sha’ar Harachamimi —“the Gate of Mercy” — for the direct access it provided to what used to be the Jewish Temple. For Christians this gate is important as the place where the parents of Mary met after the Annunciation thus symbolizing the virgin birth of Jesus, as well as for being the gate through which Jesus himself passed on Palm Sunday. The Muslims refer to it as Bab al-Dhahabi or Bab al-Zahabi (“Golden Gate” or “the Gate of Eternal Life”) believing this will be the site of Allah’s final judgment and future resurrection.

Because of all three religions placing such importance on the Golden Gate, it remains one of the most history-rich and controversial sites in Jerusalem. While the Jews insist that Suleiman sealed off the gate in a bid to prevent the Jewish Messiah from entering the city, the sultan may have taken this step purely for defensive reasons. Some even claim he did it to stop a false Messiah or "Antichrist" passing through, for which reason the Ottomans built a cemetery in front of it.

From the Golden Gate, you can traverse easily to the Temple Mount to get a magnificent view across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives. If you take a little hike into the lowlands, you will find the old trail to Bethany, or make way to the famous Garden of Gethsemane.
Huldah Gates / Triple Gate

7) Huldah Gates / Triple Gate

The Huldah Gates were once part of Herod's temple's main infrastructure and represent two sets of the now blocked gates – the so-called double- (western) and triple-arched (eastern) gates – in the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City. Both, the Double and the Triple gates are external elements of the expansion wall built by Herod around the original Temple Mount.

A monumental staircase was added hereto around the end of the 1st century BC to enable thousands of pilgrims to walk in and out of the Temple. During holidays and busy days, the eastern gates were used for entering, while the western only for exiting. The only exception was made for those in mourning, who were allowed to enter in reverse order, so that the public (exiting the Temple) would know about their loss and wish them well. The eastern (entry) side was narrower, in part, probably because the entrance was regulated, and the visitors had to purify themselves prior to entering God's place. For that purpose, there were dozens of ritual baths, called Mikveh, installed around the entry, after visiting which people would get a certificate. In quieter days, with fewer visitors, the entry was allowed only through the middle arch.

The 19th century excavations discovered an erratic series of passageways under the Triple Gate, some leading below the wall and beyond the Mount's southern edge. The passageways from both gates are now converted to mosques. The original Hulda Gates were north of the royal colonnade, an impressive large (15 meters in length) structure, which stood 6 meters above street level at the southern end of the Temple Mount during the end of the Second Temple era.

The gates are named after the prophetess Hulda who lived in Jerusalem in the days of King Yoshiyahu and is believed to have been buried in the City of David neighborhood (south of the Temple Mount), which in turn explains why the southern gates to the Temple are named in her honor.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Huldah Gates / Double Gate

8) Huldah Gates / Double Gate

Each arch of the Double Gate used to lead, via a passageway, to Solomon's Stables, a formidable (500 square meter) vaulted underground facility (with 12 rows of pillars and arches) located under the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount, 12.5 m (41 ft) below the courtyard. The enormous size of the stones it is built with forced many to believe, at the time, that Solomon created such a colossal structure with the help of a supernatural force. When the al-Aqsa Mosque was built, the old steps were blocked, and the eastern aisle lengthened so that new steps from its end would exit north of the Mosque.

Back in the ancient times, during holidays and busy days, the western (double) gates were reserved for solely exiting the Temple and, therefore, made a bit wider.
Dung Gate

9) Dung Gate

The Dung Gate is one of the gates in the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem built in the 16th century, situated near the southeast corner of the Old City, southwest of the Temple Mount. The ignominious “dung” word refers to the original Hebrew name – Sha'ar Ha'ashpot – which is more discreet and translates literally as the “Gate of Garbage” or “Ash Pot Gate” in a sense that when the First Jewish Temple was still in place, all the garbage and ash from sacrifices were flung out through this gate into the Valley of Hinnom to be burned.

That ancient "Dung Gate" however may not have been the same as the one built in the 16th century, which only got its name in the 19th century. The 16th-century gate was much smaller than it is today, more like a wicket, and was enlarged in 1952 under the Jordanians who took control over the Old City in 1948. After the Israelis captured it in 1967, they renovated the gate further.

The benefit of the Dung Gate is its proximity/convenient access to the Western Wall (entrance to the Western Wall Plaza is directly behind the gate), as well as to the City of David (and Hezekiah's Tunnel), as it serves as the main passage for vehicles coming out of the Old City and for buses heading to the Western Wall.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Zion Gate

10) Zion Gate

One of the eight gates built into the walls of the Old City, the Zion Gate – also called David's Gate – leads directly into the Armenian and Jewish Quarters, and if the legends are true about the famous Jewish king being buried here, then the name fits well.

Built by Suleiman the Magnificent's engineers circa 1540, it allowed direct access from the city to the holy sites on Mt Zion. In the 19th century, the area close to the gate became famous as a gathering place of lepers.

In 1948, during the Arab-Israeli War, this territory saw severe fighting when Israeli soldiers were desperate to breach the walls to relieve the Jewish Quarter under siege by Palestinian Arab forces. A testament to that event is the gate's exterior terribly pockmarked with bullet holes. A short distance to the west reveals conspicuous damage to the base of the wall where soldiers attempted to blast their way through with explosives.

When the last of the British troops left Jerusalem on May 13, 1948, the then president of the Old City's Jewish community, Mordechai Weingarten was presented with a key to the gate.

The Zion Gate retained its angular features designed to prevent invaders from entering – but you can come in the opposite direction and 'invade' the Old City 24 hours a day.

The walls along here are especially nice and make for some fine photos in the afternoon sun.

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