Old City section of Jerusalem is the original ancient city of Jerusalem, while the rest of Jerusalem is the modern city which has spread far and wide outside the cities walls.
The modern sections of Jerusalem are due to Sir Moses Montefiore’s efforts to settle outside of the protective Old City walls. The first neighborhood was Mishkenot Sha’ananim.
Today, the Old City is divided into four quarters: the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and the Muslim Quarter.
The Jewish Quarter is filled with ancient holy and archaeological sites like the Jerusalem Archaeological Part.
Here you can find religious sites like the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.
You can also visit synagogues that are centuries old like Hurva Synagogue and the Four Sphardic Synagogues.
Not to mention, ancient secular sites like the Cardo.
The Armenian Quarter was started when Armenian monks settled in Jerusalem in the 4th or 5th century.
While the Armenian Quarter is generally not a major tourist destination, Jaffa Gate is the main entrance to the Old City and is located there.
Right past Jaffa Gate are the most popular attractions in this quarter: the Tower of David Museum and the entrance to the Ramparts Walk.
Also, there are many shops and restaurants along the way from Jaffa Grate to the Muslim market and along the path to the Jewish Quarter.
It’s best to go through the Armenian Quarter to get to the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall.
While you can cut through using the Muslim shuk, it is narrow and packed with people.
Instead, follow the road right through the Armenian Quarter until you reach the Jewish Quarter.
The Christian Quarter is home to Christian Arabs though it contains few houses and mostly religious tourists and educational buildings.
This quarter is where the Church of The Holy Sepulchre is located.
The Muslim Quarter is mostly is mostly known for the shuk (market) and that the beginning of the Via Dolorosa. It also has many Roman and Crusader remains and is where the Way of Sorrows is located.
The Muslim quarter had a mixed population of Jews, Christians, and Muslims until the 1929 Palestine riots.
Today there are still about 60 Jewish families, The Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue, and Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim located in the Muslim Quarter.
Old City Walls
The Walls of Jerusalem surround the Old City of Jerusalem. Over the past 3000 years, they’ve been built and rebuilt a number of times.
The City of David on Mount Zion was the first walled city of Jerusalem, beginning about 3,00 years ago.
Then, King Solomon built the First Temple on the hilltop rising right above the city he had inherited, today known as the Temple Mount, and then extended the city walls to include it.
The entire city was destroyed in 587 – 586 BCE during the siege led by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
After the Babylonian captivity and the Persian conquest of Babylonia, the Jews were allowed to return to Judea and rebuild the Temple and the cities walls.
Josephus refereed to this as the First Wall.
The First Wall
During the Second Temple period, especially during the Hasmonean period, the city walls were expanded and renovated.
It encompassed Upper City and Lower City, which is today the Armenian and Jewish Quarters.
From there the wall turned east and north on the eastern side of the City of David along a line parallel to Nahal Kidron and was built above the ravines.
From there the wall descended along the southern ridge line of Mount Zion, toward the Shiloah Pool, and then passed through the Ophel and joined the Temple Mount wall.
The section near the Tower of David later served as a base for the Ottoman wall and the remains of it still exist.
The Second Wall
As the city grew, it expanded north outside the First Wall Second Temple period.
In order to protect it, the Second Wall was built during Herod’s reign around the new neighborhoods and attached to the First Wall.
The route the wall is unknown and can only be presumed due to the lack of descriptions and discoveries at this time.
All that is known for certain about it is:
“The Second Wall started at Gennath, a gate in the first wall. It enclosed the northern quarter only and went up as far as Antonia…” – Josephus
The Third Wall
There was yet again a need to expand outside the cities walls and became known as Bezetha, which means New Town in Aramaic.
The Third Wall was built at the end of the Second Temple period it was begun during the reign of King Agrippa I. However, Roman’s made him halted its construction.
It was continued by the Kannaim and was later hastily completed on the eve of siege of Jerusalem.
During the 1920’s remains of the Third Wall were accidentally discovered, which led to the beginning of the first scientific excavations of it.
In 2015 more remains were unearthed at the campus of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.
Most of the Third Wall passed through the area of what is today the New City, in the Mussrara and Mea Shearim neighborhoods.
However, in 70 CE, as a result of the Roman siege during the First Jewish–Roman War, the walls were almost completely destroyed.
Jerusalem remained in ruins for some six decades until the pagan Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, was built in the ruined Jewish city of Jerusalem, 130 years later by Emperor Hadrian, but was at first left without protective walls.
After some two centuries without walls, a new set was erected around the city, probably during the reign of Emperor Diocletian.
Then, the walls were extensively renewed by the Empress Aelia Eudocia during her banishment to Jerusalem.
In 1033, most of the walls were destroyed by an earthquake and it had to be rebuilt by the Fatimids.
However, they left out the southernmost parts that had been previously included: Mount Zion, the City of David, and the Jewish neighborhoods which stood south of the Temple Mount.
In 1219 Saladin’s nephew, Al-Malik al-Mu’azzam ‘Isa, had the walls torn down, mainly because he feared that the Crusaders would benefit of the fortifications if they managed to reconquer the city.
For the next three centuries, the city remained without protective walls, the Temple Mount and the citadel then being the only well-fortified areas.
Then Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the wall 1537 and 1541, and included four main gates facing towards the four winds: Jaffa Gate, Damascus Gate, Golden Gate, and Zion Gate.
The wall was built to fortify and glorify the city, to bring back free trade to its markets, and to maintain its security.
According to legend, when Suleiman saw that the architects had left Mount Zion, on which The City of David was located, and King David’s Tomb outside of the enclosure, he ordered them executed.
However, in deference to their impressive achievement, he had them buried inside the walls next to Jaffa Gate.
These are the walls that still stand today.
Old City Gates
The wall that encompasses the Old City of Jerusalem were built in layers, expanded and renovated many times in the course of history.
Today’s wall has been standing for around 480 years, and even though it is the newest of the city walls, it follows the route of the walls that have encompassed the city since ancient times.
There are seven open gates in the Old City and another five closed gates, all created at various points in time.
Jaffa Gate was completed in 1538 as part of the rebuilding of the Old City walls by Suleiman the Magnificent.
It is called Jaffa Gate because, as it does today, it is connected to Jaffa Road which in turn stretched all the way to the port in Old City of Jaffa. This way travelers and pilgrims took to the Old City.
The gate has the shape of a medieval gate tower with an L-shaped entryway which was secured at both ends with heavy doors. This shape was a classical defensive measure designed to slow down oncoming attackers.
Next to the Gate is a large breach in the wall was created in 1898 by the Ottoman authorities in order to honor German emperor Wilhelm II who came through them.
The demolished wall segment moved to citadel moat, a portion of which was filled in, to create a ramp.
The breach and the ramp leading up to it are now allowing cars to access the Old City from the west.
Jaffa Gate is one of the gates of the Old City and the most commonly used entrance due to it’s proximity to Jaffa Road.
Zion Gate, also know as King David’s Gate, was built by the Ottomans as a direct continuation of the Street of the Jews also known the Cardo and leads to Mount Zion.
Six sentry towers were erected in the southern segment of the wall, four of them situated in the Mount Zion section.
On May 13, 1948, as the British Army withdrew from Jerusalem, a major from the Suffolk Regiment presented Mordechai Weingarten with the key for the Zion Gate.
The bullet holes on the facade of the gate are remnants Israel’s War of Independence that took place later that year.
Mount Zion which located next to Zion gate is where you will find the closest parking space to the Jewish quarter and the Western Wall for non-residents.
Enter the gate and walk to your right, downhill towards the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall an approx 5-10 minute walk along the southern Walls of the Old City.
Loins Gate gets it’s name by the four lions carved into the wall above it, two on the left and two on the right. It is located in the Muslim Quarter.
Legend has it that Suleiman’s predecessor Selim I dreamed of lions that were going to eat him because of his plans to level the city. He was spared only after promising to protect the city by building a wall around it.
Above the lion embossments there are additional decorations: flowers and arches are embossed between the embrasures, and above them an inscription that commemorates the construction of the city’s wall by Suleiman the Magnificent.
On the upper part of the gate a terrace stands out, known as a “Mashikoli”. From this small terrace one can observe the outline of the wall, and possibly spill hot oil on intruders.
Originally, it was an L-shaped gate, like Jaffa gate, to protect the city from innovators, today it is a straight gate that enables the entrance of vehicles.
During the Six-Day war in 1967 the IDF paratroopers entered the city via this gate on their way to the Temple Mount and reunification of Jerusalem.
This gate is also the start of the traditional Christian observance walking down the Via Dolorosa begins at the Lions’ Gate.
The name Dung Gate comes from the mistranslated from the which would be Trash Gate which appears in the Book of Nehemiah.
It is probably named after the residue that was taken from the Jewish Temple into the Valley of Hinnom, where it was burned.
This ancient “Dung Gate” may not have been in the same location as the today’s gate.
This was the entrance to the Old City and the Western wall used by Israeli soldiers during the Six-Day War when Jerusalem was reunified in 1967.
The gate was built as a small postern gate by the Ottomans designed for pedestrians and pack animals to pass through. However, it was widened for vehicular traffic in 1952 by the Jordanians, and again in 1985 by Israel.
Those who enter from the Dung Gate could see at their right the “Archeology Garden- the Davidson Center”, an impressive archeology site that presents the remnants of Jerusalem from different eras, especially from the times of the Second Temple.
Damascus Gate, or the Nablus Gate, connects to a highway leading out to Nablus, and from there, in times past, to the capital of Syria, Damascus. The gate was built by Suleiman the Magnificent.
This gate leads into the the Muslim and Christian Quarters and has easy access to the Jerusalem light rail.
Directly below the existing gate of is an older gate dating back to the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. In front of which was once a Roman era, a stone-paved courtyard , and at its center stood the statue of the emperor.
While Hadrian’s Gate (which as no official name) was the main gate to the city during the Roman and Byzantine rule, today it leads to the Roman Plaza Museum.
Hadrian’s Gate was built as a free-standing triumphal gate.
The central arch was some 40 meters wide and about 20 meters tall with identical, more modest, entrances to the city on either side.
It was here that anyone passing through the gate into the city, which was a paved road, would need to pay taxes to enter.
In the square behind the gate stood a Roman victory column topped by a statue of Emperor Hadrian. This can still be seen depicted on the 6th-century Madaba Map located in the Cardo.
This gate was the smaller entrance that stood on the right.
On the lintel of this gate is inscribed the city’s Roman name after 130 CE, Aelia Capitolina.
Until the latest excavations some researchers believed that Hadrian’s gate was preceded by one erected by Agrippa I as part of what Josephus called the Third Wall.
The Roman gate remained in use during the Byzantine and Crusader periods.
Its side entrances were blocked during the Byzantine and Early Arab periods.
Later the Crusaders built a new, fortified gate at a much higher level, unwittingly preserving the remains of the Roman gate below it.
Herod’s Gate, or Flowers Gate, is one of the newest gates of Jerusalem, built in 1875, which opens from a wall tower. While it is simple, it has floral design near the top of the gate.
The gate’s name was derived from a mistaken belief held by pilgrims that a nearby building was at one time the palace of Herod Antipas.
At the time when Suleiman the Magnificent built the city walls, it was just a a small wicket gate and rarely opened.
Formerly, area gate led to the residential known as Bezetha, or “New City,”, settled during the late Second Temple period to accommodate Jerusalem’s growing population. Today this area is the Muslim Quarter.
At the time when Suleiman the Magnificent built the city walls, a small wicket gate was situated in the eastern, lateral wall of the tower, which was rarely opened.
By 1875, in order to provide a passageway to the new neighborhoods which were beginning to develop north of the Old City, the Ottomans opened a new gate in the northern, frontal wall of the tower closed the original lateral gate.
Gate of Mercy
The Gate of Mercy, known by Christians as the Golden Gate, is the only original gate leading to the Temple Mount and one of only two that used to offer access into the city from that side.
The gate has been walled up since medieval times. However, the date of its construction is disputed and no archaeological work is allowed at the gatehouse, but opinions are shared between a late Byzantine and an early Umayyad date.
In the Mishnah (Middot 1:3), the eastern gate of the second Temple compound is called the Shushan Gate.
If the Gate of Mercy does preserve the location of the Shushan Gate, this would make it the oldest of the current gates in Jerusalem’s Old City Walls.
According to Jewish tradition, the Shekhinah, or Divine Presence, used to appear through the eastern Gate, and will appear again when the Messiah comes (Ezekiel 44:1–3) and a new gate replaces the present one.
This might why Jews used to pray in medieval times for mercy at the former gate at this location.
Another possible reason being that in the Crusader period, when this habit was first documented, they were not allowed into the city where the Western Wall is located.
Hence the name “Gate of Mercy.”
Suleiman incorporated the gate into the wall he built around the city, but closed it 1541 and it has stayed that way.
One thought is that Suleiman may have taken this decision purely for defensive reasons.
However, since there is a Jewish tradition that this is the gate through which the Messiah, it is possible that he sealed off the gate to prevent a false Messiah coming through entrance.
The Ottomans also built a cemetery in front of the gate to prevent a false, Prophet Elijah – who is supposed to announce the arrival of the Messiah, from passing through the gate.
This is because, according to Islamic teaching Elijah is a descendant of Aaron, making him a priest or kohen, and knowing that a Jewish kohen is not permitted to enter a cemetery.
However, a Kohen is permitted to enter a cemetery in which either Jews or non-Jews are buried, such as the one outside the Golden Gate, as long as certain laws or Halakha regarding purity are followed.
The New Gate was built in 1889 to provide direct access between the Christian Quarter and the new neighborhoods then going up outside the walls.
The arched gate is decorated with crenelated stonework. The New Gate was built at the highest point of the present wall.
It should not be confused with the New Gate of the Second Temple complex mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah that served as entrance to the Great Sanhedrin’s Hall of Hewn Stones, and was previously called the Benjamin Gate.
Tanners’ Gate is located near the Dung Gate in the Jewish Quarter. It is the second oldest entrance into the Old City.
Probably built in the 12th Century by the Crusaders near a cattle market – hence the name – as pedestrian gate.
Suleiman the Magnificant filled in Tanners’ Gate when he built the current Old City walls, gates, and towers.
The gate was discovered during archaeological investigations, partially reconstructed and interpreted as part of the Beth Shalom Garden.
It was studied further during excavations along the Old City walls in 1995. The Jerusalem Foundation supported archaeological excavation and restoration of the gate and construction of an adjoining plaza into the Old City.
The restored gate was the first new opening into the Old City walls since 1887.
What To Do in The Old City
HOLY TEMPLE MUSEUM
The Temple Institute is recreates items that were a necessary part of worship in the Jewish Temple.
These items are on display at the Holy Temple Museum, including High Priests garb and 60 sacred vessels created in accordance with biblical requirements.
Also on display is a gold and marble model of the second temple.
AISH HATORAH CENTER
Aish Center overlooks the Western Wall from across the Plaza. They host thousands of visitors annually to free religious lectures given daily, as well as their Discovery Seminar.
The Center is also home to a 1.2-ton model of the Holy Temple which sits on the rooftop terrace overlooking the site where the real Temple once stood.
The model is the largest of its kind, constructed at a scale of 1:60. It also incorporate authentic materials like gold, silver, wood, and Jerusalem stone.
In addition, it features a system that raises the sanctuary section of the Temple. This offers an internal view of key elements such as the Holy of Holies, the Menorah and the Ark of the Covenant