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Damascus Gate is the main gate along the northern wall of Jerusalem’s Old City. Being so, it is the main entry into the city from the north, and so it is called “Nablus Gate” in Hebrew or “Damascus Gate” in English. Its Arabic name, Bab el-Amud, preserves the memory of a Roman column that once towered a semi-round plaza behind the Gate.

History of Damascus Gate

damascus gate

King Herod possibly erected the first gate at the location of Damascus Gate as part of the extension project of Jerusalem towards the north. Later, in 130 AD, Emperor Hadrian visited the east and possibly ordered the erection of a triumphal gate at the same location. This gate later became the prime entry to Roman pagan Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina. Behind it, a semi-round plaza was set, with 72-foot-high stone column marking the center of all local roads (“Mile 0”). In the Byzantine period, Empress Eudocia built a church north of the gate to house the relics of Saint Stephanus, and renamed the gate to Stephanus gate.

Damascus Gate in the Muslim Periods

After the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, the new rulers installed large-scale olive presses in the gate’s towers. During the 12th century, the Crusaders restored the gate on a higher level and built a church in its front, dedicated to a saint called Abraham. In 1538, The Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent reinforced Jerusalem’s fortifications. He repaired the Damascus gate and added Ottoman-style decorative elements. The state of Israel restored this several times since 1967, preserving its distinct Ottoman grandeur.

Excavations Beneath Damascus Gate

Excavations conducted under Damascus Gate revealed the foundations of an earlier gate from Roman times. It had three gateways, the central being more bigger. A  Latin inscription engraved on its left arch related to the city council of Aelia Capitolina. These excavations also uncovered sections of the paved plaza behind the gate, including incised gameboards. 2019, Israel completed another gate restoration project, including installing a new exhibition.

Visiting Damascus Gate

Damascus Gate is one of the busiest gates of Jerusalem, especially for its Muslim population. It gets pretty crowded on Fridays and Muslim Holidays when Muslims flock to the Temple Mount for prayers. On Friday afternoons and Jewish holidays, it is also used by many religious Jews commuting from Mea Shearim to the Western Wall.

It is also possible to climb to the top of the gate, and the view from the battlement is quite rewarding. It provides a great panorama of most of the Old City and the mountains crowning it. From here, one can join the walk along the wall ramparts, either towards the Lion’s Gate or towards Jaffa Gate.

A visit to Damascus gate can be integrated into a day tour of Jerusalem.

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