The Old City is enclosed by a 12m-high (39-ft.) wall built in 1538 by Suleiman the Magnificent, the greatest of the Ottoman Turkish sultans (some portions of the wall are actually built on ruins of earlier walls more than 2,000 years old). The existence of this wall, which gives unity and magnificence to the Old City, is something of a miracle. According to legend, Sultan Suleiman, who never visited Jerusalem, had a dream that he would be devoured by lions unless he rebuilt the walls that had lain in ruins around Jerusalem since the Crusader wars of the early 13th century. So disturbing was this dream that he sent his architects from Istanbul to reconstruct Jerusalem’s walls. Either through ignorance or because the architects hoped to keep some of the building funds for themselves, the new walls did not include the southern part of Mount Zion, which had been inside Jerusalem’s defenses in earlier times. When the sultan learned of the architects’ omission, he had them beheaded.

There are eight gates in the Old City fortress wall. The most famous gates are:

*           Jaffa Gate (in Hebrew, Sha’ar Yafo; in Arabic, Bab al Khalil), the main entrance into the Old City from West Jerusalem and approached from a promenade that runs from the end of Jaffa Road along the Old City walls or via the new, multilevel Mamilla Shopping Mall.

*           Damascus Gate, in the northern wall of the Old City, entered from Ha-Nevi’im Street or Nablus Road and the main entrance into the Old City from the Arab New City. Israelis call Damascus Gate Sha’ar Shechem; the Arabic name is Bab-el-Amud. On some maps it is also called Nablus Gate.

*           Dung Gate, in the southern wall of the Old City, closest to the Western Wall and now accommodating taxis and buses.

*           Zion Gate, in the southern wall of the Old City and leading directly to the Jewish Quarter. It bears the scars of the battle by Israeli forces to relieve the besieged Jewish Quarter in 1948.

*           The Lions’ Gate (St. Stephen’s Gate), in the eastern wall of the Old City, which leads to the Mount of Olives.

*           Golden Gate, or the Gate of Mercy, on the eastern side of the Old City and in ancient times the most magnificent of the city gates. According to tradition, this will be the gate through which the Messiah will enter Jerusalem; however, it has been walled up for many centuries.

The Old City itself is divided into five sections: the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, and Temple Mount (Mount Moriah), the latter including the Western (Wailing) Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and Al Aqsa Mosque. The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque were built from a.d. 691 to 720, 600 years after the Temple was destroyed by Rome. Throughout the Islamic world, this complex is called Haram es Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary.

The Southern Wall of the Temple Mount and the Davidson Center HISTORIC SITE-The Jerusalem Archaeological Park just outside the southern wall of the Temple Mount offers an opportunity to explore the monumental ruins of the Herodian Temple Complex and later Byzantine/Islamic structures that have been uncovered here during the past 3 decades.

When the Temple was in existence (before a.d. 70), the southern wall of the Temple Mount was the main route for approaching the Temple. A broad staircase, mentioned in Talmudic writings, ended in a broad esplanade, which was wide enough to provide access to the two sets of gates that once existed, fragments of which can still be seen. From the gates, pilgrims would have proceeded through tunnels that dramatically emerged onto the surface of the sacred enclosure not far from the Temple building itself. Visitors to the park can now stand on the Broad Stairs (the gates are blocked by later construction, but traces are still visible) and walk on the Herodian market street that ran along the western side of the Temple Mount. They can also explore the ruins of Herodian-era shops along the market street (they were part of the complex, and rents may have gone toward the upkeep of the Temple Mount) and see where the great staircase to the Temple Mount once stood, supported by a series of arches that spanned the market street below. The excavations have also uncovered Byzantine-era structures that once stood beside the partly destroyed southern wall of the Temple Mount and the impressive walls of early Islamic palaces (ca. a.d. 8th c.) that took their place.

The Hidden Wall

For centuries, the small stretch of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount used for Jewish prayers was the only part of the Herodian Temple Mount complex that non-Muslims could actually approach and touch. The once-important southern wall of the Temple Mount was largely hidden by accumulated earth and debris and by later buildings that rose and fell with each successive wave of history. Now excavations have made the southern wall and extreme southern part of the Western Wall accessible all the way down to the Herodian street level. At a quiet time of day, when no tour groups are trudging through, you can sit in the shade of an ancient shop doorway and contemplate the charisma and enormity of the Herodian ashlars. Wild capers grow out of the monumental walls. If you look up near the extreme southern end of the Western Wall where the level of earth would have been centuries ago, you can see a large ashlar on which, probably in the Byzantine era, archaeologists believe a Jewish pilgrim to the ruined Temple Mount carved the Hebrew words from Isaiah 66:14: “And when you see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb.” For 1,500 years, this visitor’s message lay hidden and forgotten in the earth

Street of the Chain

Perpendicular to the Suq El Attarin–Cardo market is the Street of the Chain, which runs gently downhill to the Gate of the Chain, the most important entrance to the Haram es Sharif, or the Temple Mount. This was the great residential street of medieval Islamic Jerusalem. It starts out as a typical market passageway, but as you get closer to the Haram, you’ll begin to notice (hidden behind shop displays) monumental, richly ornamented doorways of Mamluk period mansions and buildings decorated with carved stonework in “stalactite” patterns over the entryways. You can only surmise this area’s affluent past; like much of the Old City, the neighborhood is overcrowded and has not yet benefited from preservation and renovation programs.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.