We are at the Dung Gate located in the southern wall of the Old City near the Western Wall.
There are eight main gates to the old city of Jerusalem. Seven of them are open, one of them, the Gate of Mercy also called the Golden Gate is sealed. The Dung Gate was built in the middle of the 16th century as part of the restoration of the city walls by the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the magnificent.
The gate is located in the center of the southern wall, and next to it, slightly to the west, is the tanners’ gate from the Crusader period that is now used as a secondary entrance for pedestrians. For the tanner’s gate and the remains of the Byzantine cardo that was exposed under it, there is a dedicated separate video.
The area of the ‘Dung Gate Wall’ was first included within the city limits during the period of Nehemiah, which is during the Return of Zion at the end of the sixth century BCE, following Cyrus the great declaration in 538 BCE and I will come back to that in a minute. When the roman ruled here, the Roman Legion camp was located at the foot of the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, east of the Dung Gate. In the Byzantine period Jerusalem expanded to the south.
The wall then surrounded the city of David and Mount Zion. At that time, the longitudinal axis of the city, the secondary cardo – cardo valensis, also known as the ‘cardo in the valley’, that started out of Nablus Gate also known as Damascus Gate, served the lower neighborhoods, passed through the tanner’s gate, 50 meters west of us where its remains can be seen. The cardo is described on the Madaba map as a wide street, with one row of columns.
The name ‘Dung Gate’ already appears in the Bible during the days of the Return to Zion in the Book of Nehemiah, chapter 2, verse 13. In the context of what is written in the Book of Nehemiah, the Dung Gate is located at the lowest point in the southeast of the Old City, near the point where the Central Valley drains out of the old city and connects to the Kidron brook.
It is likely that much of the sewage flowed through it and it is possible that the name of the Dung gate originated from the sewage and city garbage that passed through the central valley. Over the years it was the most neglected and impoverished area in the city, which was probably already used in the Second Temple period as a place for artisans and sheep breeders, and in the Crusader period as the seat of the tanners who are leather processors.
The gate is called in Arabic ‘Bab al-Ma’arba’ (Western / Mughrabi Gate) because it led to the Mughrabi neighborhood next to it and close to the Western Wall compound.
As I mentioned, the Dung Gate was built in the Ottoman period. It was used as a secondary gate to the Zion Gate which was the main gate in the southern wall. At first it was very small used rarely for pedestrian and animal crossing, with very little traffic. It was later open for several hours a day for water transfer.
This gate was different from the other gates in the wall, as it did not include a gate tower for defense, and therefore was open for a limited period of time during the day. In the 19th century, the inhabitants of the city began to relocate towards the slopes of the City of David and the villages surrounding it. As a result, there was pressure on the local government to open the Dung Gate and allow people to move between the new neighborhoods outside the wall and the Old City.
The Dung Gate has undergone many changes over the periods. Initially as I have shown, it was a narrow Ottoman pedestrian small gate with an inner gate tower. During the Ottoman period, the inner gate tower was demolished and towards the end of the Ottoman period, an outer gate tower, similar to the medieval fortifications was built. With the construction of the outer tower, the firing window above the gate was widen and became the entrance to the tower.
During the British Mandate, the wall was restored, and the outer Ottoman tower was dismantled. This intervention probably stems from the policy of removing late additions from historic sites.
During the Jordanian period, the gate was widened to enable vehicles to pass through.
A Star of David decoration inside a circle, which was accepted in Muslim art as a common geometric symbol, that was chiseled during the construction of the wall by the Ottomans at the top of the gate was apparently corrupted due to being a Jewish symbol identified with Israel.
In the State of Israel, after the Six Day War, the gate structure was renovated. It has been redesigned as an arch-shaped opening, allowing direct access by vehicles to the city and the Western Wall Plaza, and the decoration of the Ottoman Star of David above the opening has been renovated.
And finally, as usual, a question for you – before the War of Independence in 1948, in what name did the residents of the Jewish Quarter use to call the gate – the answer will appear at the end of the video.