• Issue: April 1972
  • Designer: E. Weishoff
  • Plate no.: 351 - 354
  • Method of printing: Photogravure

Lions' Gate

The Lions' Gate is the only opening in Jerusalem's eastern ramparts. Its double-arched entry, with decorative stone medallions and fluted niches on either side, has a small tower above it and is flanked by two pairs of panthers - the emblem of the Mameluke sultan, Beybars. Believed to have been part of a Mameluke building, these were incorporated into the wall by Suleiman the Magnificent when he rebuilt Jerusalem's fortifications in the early sixteenth century.

Across the ages the Lions' Gate has been known by many other names. It is sometimes called the Gate of the Lady Mary and sometimes St. Stephen's Gate, for tradition holds that the Christian martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death nearby. During Byzantine times it was described as the Jericho Gate, for from it ran the road to Jericho, while the Crusaders referred to it as the Gate of Jehoshaphat, due to its proximity to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, or the Kidron Valley. Huge, metal-studded doors lead into a vaulted, roofed portico, with the Via Dolorosa, the most famous street in the whole of the Christian world straight ahead. Originally, this aperture was built up, and the way into the town was through a second gateway on the left, forming a right-angled or staggered entrance. The hollowed-out sockets for the bolts and pivots are still visible.

A simple gate at or near this spot seems to have existed in Second Temple days, some 2,000 years ago. Enlarged in the Roman era, when it was called the Porta Decumana, it has since been constantly in use under the often-changing rulers of the Holy City.

From the Lions' Gate a steep hill slopes down, providing extra defense against attack, and as a result, in all its long and checkered history, Jerusalem's conquerors have never succeeded in breaking in through this, the eastern border. In the Six-Day War of June, 1967, Israeli troops stormed the Lions Gate, capturing the Old City and regaining the precious heritage of the Jewish people.

top top

Golden Gate - Sha'ar Ha'rahamim

The Golden Gate - Sha'ar ha'Rahamim, or the Gate of Mercy - is perhaps the most beautiful in all Jerusalem. Believed to stand on the site of the ancient Shushan Gate of Solomon's Temple, and of Herod's Gate of Compassion, it is centrally placed in the eastern wall of the Temple enclosure. It overlooks the Valley of Kidron - sometimes called the Valley of Jehoshaphat - and the Mount of Olives.

Composed of a double-arched portal, now solidly sealed by stone masonry, an elaborate, twin-domed vestibule and an enclosed courtyard, the entire complex projects on to the Temple Mount. Inside the vestibule, which is reached by steps leading down from the Temple grounds, are tall piers and pillars with richly carved capitals, while decorative friezes edge the tops of the walls.

Consensus of opinion indicates that the Golden Gate in its present form was erected around the fifth century CE, possibly by the Byzantine empress, Eudoxia, who did so much to develop and expand Jerusalem. Restored and repaired time and time again, the Golden Gate is steeped in Jewish, Christian and Moslem folklore.

Jewish tradition holds that through this, the eastern gate, the Messiah will enter the Temple courts, and accordingly, pious Jews the world over chose to be buried on the Mount of Olives, to be ready for the day of Redemption.

The early Arab conquerors first blocked the Golden Gate in the ninth century CE. During the Crusader regime, the gate was kept closed except for the pilgrims' procession on Palm Sunday. A fifteenth century map still shows one of the two archways standing open, and it seems that the Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, permanently sealed the entry some hundred years later.

top top

Dung Gate

The Dung Gate, smallest of Jerusalem's main entrances, is nearest the Western Wall. Its broad, squarish aperture, ornamented by a fluted arch and a finely-carved rosette, can be efficiently, if not attractively, closed by modern sliding doors of stout metal sheeting.

As its name implies, the Old City refuse was formerly brought through the Dung Gate and thrown into the Valley of Kidron - the deep valley between Mount Ophel and the Mount of Olives. This practice went on for countless generations, for as early as Nehemiah's time - in the fifth century BCE - there existed a Dung Gate close to the present one, and it, too, fulfilled the same utilitarian purpose. Located on the eastern end of the city's south wall, the Dung Gate was called in Arabic Bab el Ma'arabin - the Gate of the Westerners - for around it lived Moslem Arabs from North Africa, Algeria and Morocco. Even today, the postern through the Western Wall into the Temple grounds is known as Sha'ar Ha'mograbim - the Gate of the Moors.

As it is closest to Silwan village and to the Spring of Shiloah in the Kidron Valley, the Dung Gate is sometimes referred to as the Gate of Shiloah. Throughout the ages, at the end of the summer months when the cisterns had dried up, donkeys with containers strapped across their backs would be driven down to the spring, and fresh water fetched to supply the needs of Jerusalem's citizens.

With the process of modernization, the piping of water into Jerusalem's homes, and more hygienic rubbish disposal, the Dung Gate, or the Gate of Shiloah, has lost its practical associations. As it is adjacent to the Western Wall and the world-famous archaeological excavations, and is the outlet for most of the Old City's wheeled traffic, the Dung Gate has become one of the busiest points along the ancient battlements.

top top

Zion Gate

Zion Gate - in Arabic, Bab el Nebi Daud, or the Gate of the Prophet David - pierces Jerusalem's southern wall. Opening on to Mount Zion, not far away from the traditional Tomb of David, it is the gate closest to the Coenaculum, or Hall of the Last Supper, and to the Dormition Abbey.

Although recently repaired, its ornate facade still shows traces of the shells and shrapnel rained upon it during the wars of 1948 and 1967. Decorated with fluted arches above the door and embrasures, it also has richly designed medallions and carved stone fragments set into the wall on either side of the entry. An inscription recalls the "Engineers' Corps of the Central Command, who opened the gate in June 1967."

Inside the porch, which has a right-angled entry into the town, a marble plaque commemorates the War of Independence of 1948. Through Zion Gate the survivors of the besieged Jewish Quarter were evacuated to safety, but the Old City fell to the Jordanians, in whose hands it remained for 19 years.

From the small roofed portico, steps ascend to the ambulatory along the city walls. Immediately beyond is the Jewish Quarter, with its narrow lanes, quaint dwellings and historic synagogues, now rebuilt and beautified.

For nearly 2,000 years - since Roman times - Jerusalem's southern entrance has been at or around the present position of the Zion Gate. Constructed in its existing form by Suleiman the Magnificent, the Turkish sultan who rebuilt Jerusalem's battlements in the sixteenth century, it has changed but little over the past 450 years.

Four centuries of Turkish rule, followed by three decades of the British Mandate, left few outward signs on the Zion Gate. The war of 1948, however, saw Jerusalem divided, the Jews expelled from the walled town and the Zion Gate closed, but since June 1967 it stands invitingly open, welcoming all races and creeds to the Holy City.

top top

Twenty-Fourth Independence Day