Damascus Gate is the largest and most impressive of the eight gate entrances in Jerusalem's Old City walls. The gate, also known as the Pillar's Gate, Bab el-Amud, Shar Shchem, and the Nablus Gate, openings through the northern wall of the Old City into the Muslim Quarter. The road through the gate leads to the city of Nablus and continues to Damascus.
The Roman Damascus Gate
The present Damascus Gate structure was built as part of the 16th-century Ottoman city walls but the gate foundations date back to the Romans. The Roman gate spanned the road connecting the Roman city of Neopolis (present-day Nablus) to the Roman Cardo, a thoroughfare through Jerusalem. Excavations uncovered part of the Roman gate and a Roman plaza. The Roman gateway would have consisted of three arched openings with the central one being twice as wide as the side arches. Inscribed above the gate is the city's Roman name "Aelia Capitolina." Only the eastern archway has survived and can be seen below the present gate. Other excavated remains include watchtowers flanking the gate. The 40-foot tall eastern tower has been preserved and stairs connect it to the ramparts.
Engraved in the Roman plaza paving are games perhaps scratched into the stone by bored Roman soldiers on duty. A Roman milestone once stood in the plaza and would have been 72-foot high and topped with a statue of Emperor Hadrian. The milestone or victory pillar features on the 6th century Byzantine Madaba Map of the Middle East and gives the gate its Arabic name – Bab el-Amud or Pillar's Gate. The Roman entrance to the city was used throughout the Early Muslim and Crusader period with the Crusaders adding several extensions. Christian tradition places the martyrdom of Saint Stephan outside the gate, and the Crusaders gave it the name St. Stephan's Gate.
The Ottoman Damascus Gate
Between 1537 and 1540 the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent restored the city walls and the Damascus Gate was the first of the city gates to be reconstructed. The gate was again restored by the British during the British Mandate. In the 1970s the Jerusalem Foundation funded a restoration project that addressed issues such as parking facilities, poor access, and general neglect. The entrance plaza was reconfigured into an amphitheater that leads down to the gate. In 1985 work was done on the remains of the Roman gate and they were opened to the public as part of an archaeological garden.
Features of the Damascus Gate
Approaching the gate from outside the Old City the semi-circular amphitheater stairs lead down to the gate entrance. The gate is perhaps the most decorated of the eight Old City gates. The surrounding defensive walls are topped with crenelated battlements. The towers on either side of the gateway have arrowslits, where archers could have shot through at approaching enemies and machicolations openings where hot liquid could have been poured on attacking troops. Once through the gateway in the Muslim Quarter you can look down onto the Roman remains and ancient Roman gateway and plaza below.