Jaffa Gate

Jaffa Gate got its name from its westerly orientation, toward the Mediterranean harbor of Jaffa, now part of Tel Aviv. Its Arabic name of Bab el-Khalil, "Gate of the Beloved," points you south, toward the city of Hebron (in the West Bank of today) where the biblical Abraham, the "Beloved of God" in Muslim tradition, is buried. The old pedestrian gate, like most of the Old City wall itself, was built by the Ottoman Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, in the 16th century. The vehicle road is a newer, grand entrance created in 1898 for the royal visit of the German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. The British general, Sir Edmund Allenby, took a different approach when he seized the city from the Turks in December 1917: eschewing pomp and ceremony, he and his staff officers dismounted from their horses to enter the holy city on foot with the humility befitting pilgrims. Outside the walls is the deep Hinnom Valley, the natural western defense of the ancient city.

Behind the railings just inside the imposing gate are the graves of the two Muslim architects who built Suleiman’s city walls. According to legend, they were executed by order of the Sultan, either (says one version) because they angered Suleiman by not including Mount Zion and the venerated Tomb of David within the walls, or (relates another) because the satisfied Sultan wanted to make sure they would never build anything grander for anyone else.

Directly ahead is the souk (bazaar), engaging in itself, but also a convenient route to the Christian and Jewish quarters.

The huge stone tower on the right as you enter Jaffa Gate is the last survivor of the strategic fortress built by King Herod 2,000 years ago to secure the city’s weak point: the saddle between the deep Hinnom Valley to the west and the shallow valley to the north. The massive Citadel, as it’s still known, houses the Tower of David Museum—well worth your time as a springboard for exploring this part of the historical city. Opposite the museum entrance (once a drawbridge) is the Gothic-style Christ Church (Anglican), built in 1849 as the first Protestant church in the Middle East.

The vehicle road continues through the Armenian Quarter, the Old City's smallest neighborhood. Its closed enclave perpetuates the life and faith of a far-off land, the first to embrace Christianity. A short walk beyond it brings you to Zion Gate (and through it, Mount Zion) and to the Jewish Quarter.

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