Israel Antiquities Authority
The Mughrabi Gate – Historical Landmarks
In 1848 missionary James Thomas Barclay, the American Consul in Jerusalem, discovered the northern doorpost and the enormous stone lintel of an ancient gate, the earliest of the gates into the Temple Mount compound. Barclay discovered the gateway from the inner side of the Temple Mount compound. Researchers identified the gate as dating back to the time of the Second Temple, perhaps the Coponius Gate.
- At the end of the 10th century the gate was blocked with stones and the gatehouse on the inside dedicated to El-Buraq. (The site is currently closed, and accessible by approval of the Waqf only.)
- In 1199, an Islamic seminary called the Al-Afdalia Madrasa was erected adjacent to the Barclay’s Gate. The ruins of this Madrasa today form part of the earthen ramp leading up to the Mughrabi Gate.
- In the 12th century (or perhaps later) a new gate was constructed above Barclay’s Gate called Bab al-Maghariba, the Mughrabi gate, named after the residents of the quarter.
- In 1850 the Jewish sage, Abdullah of Bombay, tried to purchase the Western Wall.
- In 1887 Baron Rothschild planned to purchase the entire Mughrabi Quarter area.
- On the eve of World War I (1914), the Palestinian Land Development Company tried to purchase the area around the Western Wall.
- After the Balfour Declaration (1917), Jewish National Institutions in Palestine emphasized the Western Wall as a premier holy site of the Jewish people.
- The Mufti of Jerusalem declared the Western Wall to be a holy Moslem site and called it El Buraq, the name of Prophet Mohammed’s wondrous steed.
- Following the riots of 1929 the British mandatory authorities set up a commission of enquiry which ruled that there was no religious or historical basis for this claim, and that the El Buraq story was invented by the Mufti to incite the Moslems against the Jews.
- After the Six Day War (1967), the Western Wall plaza was expanded and Barclay’s Gate exposed.
The Mughrabi Ramp Decision – Timeline
In February 2004, the Mughrabi Ramp collapsed. A lengthy series of meetings and a visit by senior officials to the site resulted in a decision to construct a temporary bridge, in order to permit the removal of the earthen ramp in an organized archeological excavation and the construction of a new access route to the Mughrabi Gate.
1 July 2005 – Construction of the temporary bridge
14 Dec 2005 – First proposal submitted by architect Ada Carmi-Melamed
18 Sept 2006 – Second proposal submitted by architect Ada Carmi-Melamed
22 Mar 2006 – Meeting attended by members of the Archeological Council and other public figures, including professors of archeology
29 June 2006 – Second meeting attended by members of the Archeological Council and other public figures, including professors of archeology
30 Aug 2006 – Meeting chaired by the Mayor of Jerusalem
4 Jan 2007 – Permit granted, and a decision taken regarding start of excavations in the archeological park.
In addition to the above, countless preparatory meetings and consultations were held prior to the taking of decisions.
Action Plan and Recommendations
The Israel Antiquities Authority gave careful consideration to all the opinions on excavation and construction of a new access to the Mughrabi Gate, held a public and professional debate on the matter and reached a considered decision. It recommended adopting the revised plan submitted by architect Ada Carmi-Melamed regarding the bridge alignment, and to hold a subsequent meeting regarding its final form.
The Israel Antiquities Authority will excavate columns for the new bridge in the archeological park, ensuring a minimum effect on the park. It will conduct an orderly archeological excavation of the Mughrabi Ramp remains and decide which relics are preserved on-site and which are to be removed.
Guiding Principles – Inter-Religious Considerations
The Israel Antiquities Authority has never excavated, nor will it ever permit excavation, in the Temple Mount compound. It is a site of supreme historical value in which excavations are prohibited. All construction is to take place outside the Temple Mount, and care taken to preserve the status quo.
The distance between the columns of the bridge and the Temple Mount will be 80 meters. The construction is being carried out in an area under Israeli sovereignty and under the responsibility of the Jerusalem Municipality and the Government of Israel.
The parties responsible for religious affairs on the Temple Mount, including the Moslem Wakf, were kept fully informed of Israel’s intention to restore the access, in the ongoing dialogue which exists between them. All care is taken that the construction of the new bridge does not harm religious sensitivities, the holy places, or other religious interests.
Guiding Principles – Project Decisions
Several options were evaluated over the years.
The collapse of the ramp posed a danger to tourists ascending to the Temple Mount and to the worshippers in the Women’s Area in the Western Wall plaza below. The site was declared hazardous by the City Engineer immediately after the collapse.
Greater Jerusalem, in its entirety, is a declared antiquities site. According to the Antiquities Law, the Israel Antiquities Authority is required to excavate every archeological site that has been damaged, willfully or by natural causes, so that any engineering plan (construction of a new bridge or strengthening of the existing ramp) requires a full archeological salvage excavation. The strengthening of the existing ramp or the construction of a new bridge necessitates construction of engineering infrastructures which in turn require a full archeological excavation.
The importance of preserving the appearance of the Western Wall plaza as a holy site, dictates a suitable reconstruction of the damaged Mughrabi gate access. The new access should provide convenient and safe passage for visitors to the Temple Mount, including disabled persons.
Guiding Principles – Construction Work
- Professional work of the highest standard will be guaranteed.
- Complete excavation of the site will be conducted with full transparency, and the excavation will be open to professional review.
- After the excavation a decision will be taken as to which relics are to be preserved on‑site and which are to be removed.
- The exact location for the bridge columns will be determined only after excavation in order to ensure minimal effect on the artifacts found at the site.
Underneath the Mughrabi Gate ramp is a gate dating back to the Second Temple period, known as the Barclay’s Gate (named after the US consul who first identified the site in 1855). We now know only of the massive lintel on the outer side. The original entrance to the gate was at the level of the Tyropeon Valley Street (from the Herodian period).
The gate dimensions are 5.6m between the doorposts and 8.8m from the threshold to the lintel. The lintel is made of a single stone 2m by 7m. This stone can be seen from the Women’s section of the Western Wall Plaza and inside a room located underneath the Mughrabi Gate.
From the Temple Mount side there is access to the inner side of the gate via a staircase to the north of the Mughrabi Gate. These steps lead to a room known to Moslems as El-Buraq Mosque. This room was apparently part of the original or restored passage that led visitors to the Temple Mount from the entrance via the gate up to the level of the Temple Mount plaza. This passage was similar to the well-known passages from the Hulda Gates on the southern wall, up to the level of the Temple Mount plaza.
The Western Wall Plaza – Madrasat El-Afdalia
Until 1967, the Western Wall area comprised buildings of the Mughrabi Quarter and the El-Meidan Quarter. The street opposite the Western Wall housed a Madrasa (Islamic seminary) called the Al-Afdalia constructed in 1199 during the Ayyubid Period, to serve the believers of the Malki order. Information on this building is very limited. It was demolished together with the other buildings in the quarter, but an earthen ramp remained leading to the Mugrabi Gate, that contained a ruin belonging to the Madrasa prayer room that still exists. Other than the ruin no other remnants of the Madrasa are known to remain.
Mughrabi Ramp – Timeline
In 2007, 14 objections to the original plan were submitted to the Jerusalem Municipality Committee for Planning and Construction; all were rejected.
13 January 2008 – Meeting of Israeli and Jordanian experts in Jerusalem
24 February 2008 – Meeting of Israeli and Jordanian experts in Jerusalem
July 2008 – At a meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Quebec, Canada, a resolution was passed unanimously (including by the Jordanian delegates) to rebuild the ramp with Israeli-Jordanian cooperation.
31 August 2008 – The Regional Committee for Planning and Construction conveyed to UNESCO a status summary and a description of the hearing that dealt with the 14 objections.
During 2008 – The Regional Committee for Planning and Construction continued to plan the ramp and incorporated into the plan the Jordanian proposals made during the meetings.
12 November 2008 – An additional visit to the site by Jordanian experts was planned, at the request of the Jordanians, but was postponed.
13 January 2009 – A visit of Jordanian experts was planned; the Jordanians didn’t come.
1 March 2009 – The decision of the National Council for Planning and Construction concerning the appeal submitted against the Jerusalem regional committee was published. In this decision it was explicitly stated, "The regional committee succeeded in taking into consideration all of the interests concerned in this matter’ including Jordanian objections.
April 2009 – UNESCO’s executive board convened and again passed a unanimous resolution calling on both sides to hold a professional meeting about construction of the ramp.
June 2009 – The UNESCO Heritage Committee, meeting in Seville, again called on the sides (Jordan and Israel) to agree to hold a follow-up meeting.
23 May 2010 – A delegation of seven Jordanian experts (surveyors) arrived at the site.
8 August 2010 – Another delegation of Jordanian experts arrived at the ramp.
3 September 2010 – Israeli and Jordanian experts met in Jordan.
31 October 2010 – As required by law, the Regional Committee for Planning and Construction published in the newspapers that the local master plan for the Mughrabi ramp was approved.
28 November 2010 – Another meeting of Jordanian surveyors at the Mughrabi ramp.
29 November 2010 – Israeli experts visit Jordan.
29 December 2010 – Israeli and Jordanian experts meet in Amman.
6 March 2011 – The Jerusalem municipality issued the building permit for the Mughrabi ramp.
28 April 2011 – The building plans for the new ramp were sent to the Jordanian government.
2 May 2011 – The building plans were sent to the UNESCO Heritage Committee, as its request.
22 May 2011 – The Jerusalem municipality’s chief engineer sent a letter describing the dangerously insecure state of the ramp with an unequivocal demand to destroy the old ramp and build a new one in its place.
27 May 2011 – Jordan sent its own building plan to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
21 June 2011 – In an agreement in principle between Israel and Jordan, Jordan confirmed that it does not object to the Israeli plans to build a new temporary ramp.
5 September 2011 – The Jerusalem Fire Department wrote a letter demanding that the existing bridge be dismantled because it is made of flammable material and constitutes a real and present fire hazard to users.
23 October 2011 – The Jerusalem municipality’s chief engineer sent another letter with an ultimatum to dismantle the existing bridge because it is unsafe and dangerous.