Many myths surround the walls and the eight gates of Jerusalem’s Old City – one tells of the Ottoman caliph, Suleiman the Magnificent. One night in a dream the four lions that had guarded the throne of Kings David and Solomon came to savage him, as punishment for the heavy taxes he’d imposed upon the city.
Waking in a sweat, he cancelled the tax and ordered a two-and-a-half mile limestone wall to be built around Jerusalem instead. Where the work began in 1538, Suleiman erected a gate adorned with four lions, in memory of his dream.
This is the legend of the Lions’ Gate, although another version sometimes ascribes it to Sultan Baybars, the 13th century founder of the Mameluk State. The Gate is also called St. Stephen’s after the first Christian martyr who was stoned to death here, Acts 7.
The Zion Gate is the entrance to the Jewish Quarter. It is called Bab el Daoud, in Arabic – David’s Gate – after the king whose tomb is on Mount Zion opposite.
Taking its name from the garbage that Christians used to throw on the ruins of the Temple in Byzantine times, the Dung Gate leads to the Western Wall. Near Herod’s Gate, Crusader siege towers breached the walls of the city in 1099. It is the entrance to the Moslem quarter.
The most ornate example of Ottoman design is the Damascus Gate, built where the Roman Emperor Hadrian opened a northern entrance nearly 2,000 years ago. Still visible today, his Triple Gate once led onto the city’s main thoroughfare.
A Moslem tradition says that a destroying conqueror will one day enter the city through the Golden Gate – thus the gate is blocked and is guarded by a cemetery. The Jews believe that the Messiah will enter Jerusalem from here.
For Christians it marks the place where Jesus Christ indeed entered the Temple Mount. Standing above the Susa Gate, the entrance to the area called Solomon’s Porch in Acts 3:11, it is where early Christians gathered to meet.
The only gap in Suleiman’s wall is one facing west, where the Jaffa Gate was widened in 1889 for Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II to enter the city in his carriage. At the same time the New Gate was opened to give access to the Christian Quarter.
*I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand in thy gates, Oh Jerusalem. Psalm 122
This page is part of the book The Holy Land of Jesus
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