Jaffa Gate Jerusalem
Jaffa Gate dates back to the 16th century when it was built as part of Jerusalem’s Old City walls during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The gate is named Jaffa Gate or Sha’ar Yafo because the gate faces towards Jaffa Port which was the main access point for pilgrims and merchants arriving by sea. In Arabic, the gate is called Bab el-Khalil, Gate of the Friend, or Hebron Gate in reference to Abraham, who is traditionally buried in the city of Hebron (el-Khalil). Today Jaffa Gate is the main pedestrian entrance used for visitors to the Old City. It opens onto the Armenian Quarter and leads straight to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Temple Mount. Nearby is David’s Tower and leading to the gate is the Mamilla open-air shopping center built in 2007.
The L-Shaped Jaffa Gate
The gate tower or gatehouse has an L-shape so that visitors enter the gatehouse on one flank and exit from an adjacent flank, having to turn at a right angle instead of simply continuing through the gatehouse in a straight line. This L-shape was typical of Medieval gate entrances designed to slow down attacking forces. Originally the gateway chamber would have had heavy iron-plated wooden doors that would have been locked at night to protect residents. The impressive gate entrance is 6m-high and the gatehouse continues another 6m above. To one side of the gate tower are steps leading up to the ramparts.
Early History of Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem
The first walls built in this area were in the 2nd century BC by the Hasmonean kings. In c.37-34 BC Herod added three towers and a small Water Gate where people could go to fetch water from Sultan’s Pool. Following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, a fortress was built by Muslims in the 7th century AD. Crusaders arrived in 1099 and built a gate behind the site of the present gate. The Crusaders thought the remains of Herod’s tower was from King David and named it David’s Tower and the gate, David’s Gate. The walls and gate were destroyed and rebuilt several times over the next few hundred years as leaders came and went.
The Ottoman Gate
The Ottoman Turks took Jerusalem in 1517 and remained in control for the next 400 years. It was in this time that the city walls, including the Jaffa Gate, were built in 1538 out of pale Jerusalem stone. At the foot of the gate are the graves of Suleiman’s architects who designed the walls. Legend holds that the Sultan had the architects executed for not including Mount Zion within the city walls or because he did not want them to build a similar wall elsewhere. Under Ottoman rule, Christians were only permitted to enter through Jaffa Gate and it became known as Pilgrims’ Gate.
The Jaffa Gate Vehicle Entrance
In 1898 an opening was made south of the gate to allow Wilhelm II of Germany to make a ceremonious entrance to the city. Local leaders also preferred the Kaiser not to enter through the gateway as an Arab legend held that if a foreign ruler entered through Jaffa Gate, he would take the city. Today the 1898 opening is used for vehicles entering the city as they wouldn’t be able to negotiate the awkward L-shape of the gatehouse.
Modern-Day Jaffa Gate
Following WWI, the British expelled the Ottomans from Jerusalem and were awarded a mandate over Palestine by the UN. Following Israel’s independence in 1948, a war ensued in which Jordan took Jerusalem and held the city for the next 20 years. You can still see the bullet holes from the conflict in the walls surrounding the gate. During Jordanian occupation, Jaffa Gate was sealed and was reopened in 1967 when Israel reclaimed Jerusalem in the Six-Day War. The gate has been renovated and is now the Old City entrance most used by tourists. It is conveniently placed close to David’s Tower, the Old City markets, and many Old City landmarks. Pedestrians enter through the L-Shaped gatehouse while vehicles can enter on the road through the adjacent opening in the walls.