Gates To The City
Jerusalem’s Old City has been enclosed in strong, decorative walls since the 16th century — capped with crenellations, floored with machicolations, and fortified against marauders and crusaders.
Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, a brilliant military strategist as well as a cunning politician and eloquent poet, was having a very bad night. He tossed and turned, dreaming that lions had chased him in a field and greedily fed upon his body. Waking up in a sweat, he called frantically for his advisors. “What does it all mean?” he asked shakily. “You must do a good deed,” he was told. “Why not rebuild the crumbling walls of the Holy City of Jerusalem?”
Scholars have a different explanation for the Turkish walls that have surrounded Jerusalem since 1538 and which have never been breached. Some say that Suleiman heard rumors of a new Crusade in the making — and that’s why he decided to fortify Jerusalem. Others think he repaired the walls to ward off Bedouin marauders.
Whatever the reason, the Old City of Jerusalem has been completely enclosed in strong, decorative walls since the 16th century. Four kilometers in length, the walls are 12 meters high, studded with towers and topped by tooth-like projections called crenellations.
Bustling Damascus Gate market offers everything from tennis shoes to electric teapots. This area is the hub of East Jerusalem commerce, and Damascus Gate is the loveliest of all entrances to the Old City. And while the walls are almost always capped with crenellations, it is only at Damascus Gate that these are replaced by decorative statuettes.
Called Sha’ar Scechem in Hebrew, the gate faces north, and, in the past, a road led directly to Nablus (Shechem) and from there to Damascus. In Arabic, it is known as Bab el Amud – Gate of the Pillar — because in Roman times a giant column topped with a full statue of the Emperor Hadrian stood in the center of its inner plaza. During the Byzantine period, this was called St. Stephen’s Gate for, according to one Christian tradition, the martyr Stephen was dragged out of the city through this gate and stoned to death somewhere on the other side of today’s road.
Five different parapets are built into the walls and towers as a defensive measure. Their floors contain machicolations, openings from which soldiers could dump boiling oil or hot tar on an enemy invader beneath the walls.