|WITHIN THE WALLS|
The Old City of Jerusalem is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world; archeologists estimate its age at more than 4,500 years. The walls surrounding the Old City encompass an area of barely a third of a square mile (1 sq. km.). These walls were built by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the sixteenth century, roughly following the course of the walls built by the Romans to encircle Jerusalem in the second century.
Today, they are revealed in their full height and splendor, after rubble accumulated over centuries was cleared away. A "Ramparts Walkway" has been built, affording an unparalleled view of Jerusalem and its surroundings. The "green belt" along the walls consists of flowering gardens and promenades, as well as archeological parks.
Eight gates are built into the city’s walls. Seven are open and one remains sealed. The four main gates – Jaffa Gate, Damascus Gate, Lion’s Gate and Zion Gate – were constructed according to the four directions of the compass and led to the main cities of the land.
The Jaffa Gate bears the inscription of the sultan Suleiman, who ordered its construction in 1538/9 (corresponding to the Muslim year 945). The Jaffa Gate is the best known and busiest of Jerusalem’s gates. It was built facing wet, in the direction of the port of Jaffa.
The New Gate, facing north, is essentially a breach in the wall, opened in 1887 to provide direct access into the Christian quarter.
The Damascus Gate is the main entrance to the Muslim quarter. Its narrow entrance and wooden bridge have been replaced by an amphitheater-shaped plaza and a substantial stone bridge. The gate faces north in the direction of Nablus (Shechem) and ultimately Damascus in Syria.
Herod’s Gate, also facing north, is also called the Flower Gate because of the floral designs engraved on its facade.
The Lions’ Gate, adorned with heraldic lions on either side of the portal, was restored, according to its inscription, by the Ottomans in 1538/9 (corresponding to the Muslim year 945). It is also known as St. Stephen’s Gate. The gate faces east, the direction of Jericho.
The Golden Gate, also facing east, is called in Hebrew and Arabic the "Gate of Mercy." According to Jewish tradition, this is the gate through which the Messiah will enter Jerusalem. To prevent the Messiah’s entry, the Arabs sealed the gate several centuries ago.
The Zion Gate, or David’s Gate, stands on Mount Zion. It was built for the Sultan Suleiman in 1540, in an area where earlier walls – from the Hasmonean and Herodian periods – have been unearthed today. This gate faces south in the direction of Hebron.
The Dung Gate, facing south, more a "back door" than a monumental gate, is the entrance closest to the Western ("Walling") Wall.
The Romans, who rebuilt Jerusalem after they razed the city during their war against the Jews, constructed two main thoroughfares – north-south and east-west – thus forming four sections, today the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters of the Old City. These quarters, despite their names, have never been homogeneous: always some Jews, Muslims and Christians have lived in each of the four quarters, and the holy sites of all three faiths are to be found throughout the Old City.
Under Israeli control, no effort has been spared to keep alive the physical and spiritual heritage of the Old City, and to preserve the tangible reminders of its past.
The Jewish Quarter, which was almost entirely destroyed during the Jordanian occupation (1948- 67), has been rebuilt. The Hurva synagogue, built nearly 400 years ago, dominated the skyline of the area before 1948: today a single commemorative arch marks its site.
A newly constructed and attractively designed plaza, allowing thousands of worshippers to congregate, now faces the Western Wall, the only remaining part of the Second Temple compound.
In the market area of the Old City Muslim Quarter, which possesses a special architectural beauty, facade have been cleaned and repaired; shutters, show-windows and other fixtures replaced; unsightly roofing of the main street of the market replaced by wood and copper; alleyways repaved; and modern infrastructure introduced.
A new pavement graces the Via Dolorosa, the flagstones arranged so as to indicate the Stations of the Cross. Here and there ancient paving stones are interspersed with newly cut Jerusalem stone, creating a moving experience for Christian pilgrims.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, damaged by fire in 1833 and by earthquake in 1926, has recently been restored through the joint effort of the three principal custodian churches.
Today, the Old City of Jerusalem is a unique synthesis of old and new: not only a historical showcase, but a home for many, and a bustling commercial area.