The Golden Gate
Jerusalem’s Old City is enclosed by massive 16th-century walls built during the reign of the Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. There are eight gates in the Old City walls but only the Golden Gate is sealed. The Golden Gate is also known as the Gate of Mercy, Sha’ar HaRachamim, and in the Mishnah, it is referred to as the Shushan Gate as it faces the ancient Persian city of Shushan. The Golden Gate is the only Jerusalem Old City gate on the eastern side of Temple Mount facing the Mount of Olives. It is a unique, mysterious gate shrouded in legend and religious prophecy. Looking at it you probably wouldn’t guess that this gate is the most important Old City gate in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths.
The Golden Gate features two openings blocked with stonework and separated by a column. Each sealed opening is almost 4m wide and framed by a semicircular arch with a decorated frieze. The gateway’s rectangular tower stands out about 2m from the walls. On the interior side of the gate, the entrance opens into two vaulted areas.
Jerusalem’s Golden Gate in Jewish Tradition
The Gate of Mercy would have given visitors the most direct access to the Jewish Temple. During the Crusader period, when Jews were denied access to Temple Mount they would come to this gate to pray and ask for mercy, hence the name in Jewish tradition – Gate of Mercy. According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah will enter the city through the Eastern Gate. Another Jewish tradition holds that on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) a messenger was sent through the gate from the Temple to the desert with a sacrificial lamb.
The Golden Gate in Christian Tradition
According to some Christian literature the Golden Gate was where Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim met following the annunciation when Mary learned of her future son. From this, the gate became a symbol of Mary’s miraculous conception. Some Christian writings say that this was the gate where Jesus entered the city on Palm Sunday. This could be true as we know Jesus came down from the Mount of Olives, which stands opposite the gate, and it is the gate nearest to the Temple site where Jesus was probably heading.
The Gate of Eternal Life in the Islamic Tradition
In Muslim tradition, each of the gate’s two openings has a name – the southern opening is known as Bab al-Rahma (Gate of Mercy) and the northern one as Bab al-Taubah (Gate of Repentance). In Arabic, the complete gate is called Bab al-Zahabi or Bab al-Dhahabi (Golden Gate) as well as Gate of Eternal life. Muslims consider Jesus a prophet and Messiah and support the Christian belief that Jesus entered the city through this gate. The gate is believed by some to be the site of the final judgment and the site of the future resurrection. This has led to many Muslims being buried in the Muslim cemetery immediately outside the gate. The gate leads to the al-Aqsa compound on Temple Mount where the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque stands.
Why is the Golden Gate, Jerusalem so Special?
The Golden Gate is thought to be the oldest of the city’s eight gates; it may have been constructed in c.520 AD, although the exact date is unknown. Several times the gate was sealed and reopened by different rulers throughout the years- it was closed in 810 by Muslim rulers and reopened in 1102 by the Crusaders. In 1541 the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman ordered the gate sealed for the final time. Suleiman may have sealed the gate to better defend the city or because he wanted to prevent the fulfillment of the Jewish prophesy of the Messiah’s return through the Golden Gate. The Golden Gate holds an important place in Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions, and in all three religions, the gate is associated with the coming of the Messiah.