Herod’s Gate – Jerusalem


We are at Herod’s gate, named by the Israelis as well as in Arabic – the flower gate. The gate is located in the northern wall of the old city, at the intersection of Sultan Suleiman and Salah Al-Din streets.  What is the origin of the names, both Flower gate and Herod’s gate?

Let’s start with the Flower gate and there are two main explanations: the first, due to the flowers that decorate it. But there is doubt about this explanation since other gates are also decorated with flowers.

The second version originated in Arabic. The name of the gate in Arabic is Bab al-Zahra, meaning the flower gate, this is probably a miss pronouncement of the name of the nearby cemetery al-Sahira, which means the sleepwalkers. This name is based on the belief that the dead in this cemetery will be the first to be resurrected at the end of days. The change between the letters S and Z from al-Sahira to al-Zahara created the name Bab al-Zahra, the flowers gate.

If we are already mentioning the subject of Muslim burials, then I will just point out that at least in the Mamluk period, there were three main Muslim cemeteries in use in Jerusalem. The first, and most likely the largest, was Mamilla cemetery in the area of ​​Mamilla pool. Another burial area developed in front of Herod’s Gate and is here in front of us, A Sa’ira Cemetery, and the 3rd one that dates back to the early days of Islam in Jerusalem in the 7th century, over 1600 years after the time of King David, is the cemetery near the Golden Gate also called Gate of Mercy.

Let’s discuss the source of the name “Herod’s Gate”. According to Christian belief, in this place, and we are in the Muslim quarter, where today is the church of St. Nicodemus, stood at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, the home of Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great.

I will not elaborate here on the connection between Herod Antipas and John the Baptist, I will just mention that according to the historian Josephus Flavius, Herod Antipas was afraid of John’s influence on the people, so he imprisoned him in Machaerus, and then executed him probably in the year 30CE. The connection of this location, to Herod Antipas is what gave the Flower Gate its second name: Herod’s Gate. I will just point out that according to most scholars, the identification of Herod’s Antipas house here, is most probably wrong.

From a topographical point of view, the gate is built near the brook of Beit Zita. The gate serves as one of the entrances to the Muslim quarter. On one hand it provides access to the Temple Mount located within the walls of Jerusalem, and on the other hand it provides access to the neighborhoods outside the wall.

The gate was built during the Ottoman rule, in 1539 by Suleiman the Magnificent.

Originally, the entrance to the gate was from the east with a 90-degree turn, so when you entered, you had to turn left into the city. The objective of such type of entrance was to slow down attackers. At the beginning of the 19th century, the gate was blocked with stones, but in 1875 it was opened again at the request of the residents of the nearby Bab al-Hutta neighborhood inside the walls, so to enable them short access to the growing number of neighborhoods outside the wall. After it was opened, the use of the a 90-degree turn entrance from the east was abolished, and the entrance has since been a passthrough type entrance.

An important historical event near Herod’s Gate that happens right at this point is the breaking of the wall by the Crusaders under the leadership of Godfrey of Bouillon. This led to the conquest of the city and to the Crusader control of Jerusalem in 1099.

As occurred in a number of events throughout history, the wall breaking point was at the northern wall. Just as with the other cases, also in this case there were different reasons for selecting the northern wall. One of the main reasons was that the battering ram and the Siege Tower needed a flat area, and two sites in the northern wall met the requirement: the central ravine near Nablus Gate, and the smaller ravine, Nahal Beit Zita (Known also as Wadi al-Sahara), located east of Herod’s Gate. This is where scholars believe the Crusader invasion took place, about 65m east of Herod’s Gate. The conquering of the city through this point was a famous event, and during the time of the Crusaders between the years 1099 and 1187, every year on July 15, the event was celebrated in Jerusalem.

We reached the end of this video and as usual I have a question for you – which gate in the walls of the Old City has a similar flower as the flower on Herod’s gate – the answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Information Sources

  1. Book: Pathways in Jerusalem, Editors: Eyal Meiron, Publisher: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
  2. Book: Jerusalem’ book: The Crusader & Ayyubid Period 1250-1099, Editors: Yehoshua Prawer & Hagi Ben-Shamai, Publisher by: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
  3. Book: Ariel: Innovations in the archaeological excavations in Jerusalem, Editors: Gabriel Barkai & Eli Shiler, Publisher: Ariel

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