Most tourists visiting the Old City of Jerusalem use the Jaffa Gate when entering by foot. What they don’t realize is during the time of the First and Second Temple there was no Jaffa Gate. We know there was a small inconspicuous gate here known as the Water Gate during Herod’s time. This allowed the people of Jerusalem to use the water from what is today called Sultans Pool. After the Romans conquer the City of Jerusalem in 70 CE the city goes through major changes. In 1099 the city is again captured, this time by the Crusaders.
Photo credit: AllAboutJerusalem.com
The walls we see around the Old City today were built during the Ottoman Period (1517-1917) under the rule of Suliman the Magnificent. Specifically, these walls were built between 1537 and 1540. Jaffa Gate is called by this name because it’s on the road that leads from the Port of Jaffa on the Mediterranean. The Port of Jaffa during the Crusader Period was called “The Port of Jerusalem”. The road allowing cars and buses was only opened in 1898 with the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. The German Kaiser suffered from polio as a child and as a result had deformed left arm. In order for the Kaiser to enter the city in style and take a proper salute he entered in a beautiful carriage drawn by a team of matched horses. There is also an Arab legend that if a foreign ruler rides into the city through Jaffa Gate, the city would fall to him. In opening the wall to the left of the original gate, everyone was satisfied.
Under Ottoman rule, the gates of the city were closed at sunset. At this time only four of the seven gates of the city were in use and Christian pilgrims coming to the city were only allowed through Jaffa Gate. The other gates are the Lions Gate, Damascus Gate, and Dung Gate. Today we also use Herods Gate, and the New Gate, but the seventh gate, the Gate of Mercy leading up to the Temple Mt. are still sealed. Jaffa Gate is also known in Arabic as Bab el Halil which means “The Friends Gate”. This is because it faces south in the direction of Hebron where the Patriarchs are buried. Abraham is known as a “Friend of G-d”. In Arabic the word friend is Halil.
When the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 they saw the remains of a tower built by Herod and thought this was the remains from King David and gave it its present name David’s Citadel. The Muslims believed that David would pray in the direction of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs so they called this gate Mic’rab Daud. In English David’s prayer site. As I already mentioned, during the 18-19 century this was where Christian pilgrims entered the city so this gate is also known as Pilgrims Gate. So here we have one gate known by four names . At Jaffa Gate at one time there was a clock tower, a large drinking fountain, a place where they held the vegetable market and much more, but those are a different story.
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Moshe Friedman is a professionally licensed tour guide and blogs about interesting sites for Travelujah. For touring inquiries please contact Moshe at firstname.lastname@example.org