Damascus gate is the main gate in the along the northern wall of the old city of Jerusalem. It is the main entry into the city from the north. Being so, it is called “Nablus Gate” in Hebrew or “Damascus Gate” in English. Its Arabic name (“Bab el-Amud”) is preserving the memory of a Roman column that once towered a semi round plaza behind the Gate.
History of Damascus Gate
It is not certain if King Herod already built a gate at the location of Damascus gate, as part of extending the city towards the north (the “Second Wall”). A new gate, possibly a triumphal gate, was built at the same location to mark the imperial visit of Emperor Hadrian in the East (130 CE). Later the gate became the prime entry to Jerusalem, re-built a pagan city named Aelia Capitolina. Behind the gate a semi round plaza marked merge of the city’s main streets. It was decorated with a 72-foot-high stone column in its center, which marked the center of all the province’s roads (“Mile 0”). In the Byzantine period a church was built north of the gate, to house the relics of Saint Stephanus. The gate was then named “Stephanus Gate”. Following the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, large scale olive presses were installed in the gate’s towers. In the Crusaders period the gate was rebuilt, on a higher level, and a church was built in front of it, dedicated to a Saint called Abraham.
In 1538 The Ottoman Sultan Suleiman “the Magnificent” decided to reinforce all of Jerusalem’s fortifications. Damascus gate was again repaired, with Ottoman decorative elements were added to it. These decorations were restored by the State of Israel several times, and are adorning the gate to this day, giving the gate its famous special look.
Visiting Damascus Gate
Damascus gate is one of the busiest gates of Jerusalem. It serves mostly the Arab population in the Muslim quarter and in the Arab neighborhoods just north of Damascus gate. It gets especially crowded at the gate on Friday and Muslim Holidays, when Muslims flock at the Temple Mount for prayers. On Friday afternoon and Jewish Holiday it is also used by many religious Jews from Mea Shearim to commute, by foot, for prayers at the Western Wall.
Damascus Gate Archaeological site
Excavations conducted under the Ottoman level of Damascus gate revealed various parts of the Gate in Roman times. It was designed with 3 gateways, the central being bigger than the side gate. The left side gate was found intact, with a Latin inscription engraved on it. Sections of the paved plaza behind the Roman gate were also uncovered. One of the pavement’s stones still had a gameboard chiseled on it. In 2019 a restoration project of the Roman era finds was completed, and a new exhibition was installed.
From here It is also possible 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. For a full appreciation of the site it is recommended to combine it in a guided day tour of Jerusalem.