Jerusalem’s Temple Mount
Ancient cities were often constructed more like fortresses than cities, and that’s what impresses you when you see Jerusalem for the first time with her massive walls and gates. In antiquity, the perimeter of a city consisted of a stone wall with wooden gates to permit or prevent the entry of people and animals.
In war, enemy forces often concentrated their attacks on these gate openings, typically the weakest part of the city wall; so the gates were strategic and usually built in such a way that they were flanked by, or actually part of, one or more adjoining defensive chambers or towers. If the gate was breached, reinforcements could be dropped into the gateway from these rooms, and bottle up the invaders.
Jerusalem’s Old City has had numerous gates over the many thousands of years of Bible history. In times of peace, the gates were used for judgments and business transactions. Leaders sat in the gates. It was an important spot, as evidenced by more than 300 references in the Bible.
Today you can walk through some of them, while others have been sealed at one time or another, and although still impressive, these Old City walls are not from the time of Jesus. The Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent built the walls and most of the gates in the 16th century, but one prophetic gate remains sealed of – the Eastern Gate.
The Beautiful Gate (where the Messiah will enter)
The Eastern Gate, also known as the Beautiful Gate (sometimes the Golden Gate because of Jerome’s New Testament translation error from Greek to Latin), was sealed up by the Muslims for hundreds of years to prevent the Messiah from returning (Ezekiel 44:1-3). It is reserved for the Messiah’s entrance in the future and thousands of graves on the slopes face it with the hope that they will be the first resurrected upon the Messiah’s arrival. To prevent His arrival, the Muslims in 1541 established a cemetery to stop His path to the gate and sealed it to be certain. This is the gate that Jesus entered on Palm Sunday from the east (Mark 11) and where Peter later healed a beggar (Acts 3).
Most people don’t realize that below the present Eastern Gate is an ancient gate that was most likely built by Solomon and discovered by James Fleming in 1969 when he fell through the rain-soaked ground into a mass burial pit!
The bullet-scarred Zion Gate
The Zion Gate is located on the southwest side of the old city and one of the gates that leads to the Jewish section, David’s Tomb, and the Upper Room. It is also unique in that it is pitted with bullet holes from the 1948 and 1967 wars.
The Dung Gate leads to the Western Wall and the Temple area today, but it was once the primary trash removal gate where residents dumped their rubbish into the valley to burn, most likely due to the direction of the wind that carried smells away (Nehemiah 2:13).
The Lion’s Gate is so named for the two sets of twin lions carved on the northeast entrance and is the usual exit to the Garden Tomb and Gethsemane areas, and the traditional spot of Stephen’s stoning in Acts 7 (in the Kidron Valley below). During the Six-Day War Israeli soldiers entered through this gate to capture the Temple Mount.
The Lions Gate
Herod’s Gate (Flowers Gate) leads right into the Muslim quarter. According to tradition Jesus was led to Herod’s palace through this gate and a wall did not enclose it during Herod the Great’s reign.
The Damascus Gate is probably the most beautiful entrance into the Old City’s market. It marked the beginning of the Damascus Road and now serves as the primary entrance into the Arab sector. The pillars under this gate date to the time of Christ, and most feel Jesus went through this gate to his death.
Inside The Jaffa Gate (David’s Tower)
The Jaffa Gate is on the west side of the city and the most used gate into Jerusalem. Fortified by David’s Tower, it was the starting point for the road to Jaffa, a three days walk. Today it is a hub for tourists.
The New Gate is situated on the northwestern side of the old city and first opened in 1887 to allow easier access for Christian pilgrims from their monasteries to the Christian quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Southern Steps and a partial gate archway in the corner
The Huldah Gate is also sealed and situated on the southern wall area. Named for the prophetess in 2 Kings 22:14, her entrance is actually two sets of gates, one a double gate and the other a triple gate.
The Huldah Gates (sealed up)
Understanding the current gates and their locations allows you a point of reference to grasp the overall layout of Jerusalem, which can be confusing with all of the multiple wars and reconstruction activities, as with Nehemiah. Take some time to acquaint yourself with them and you’ll be able to find your way through Jerusalem easily.