Jaffa Gate has always been one of the most important if not the most important gate of the Old City. From Jaffa Gate, the roads led to Jaffa and Hebron. The road towards west passed through Jaffa Street which is one of the main streets in Jerusalem and was the main way to the city of Jaffa that served as the main port city of Israel until the early 20th century.
When you arrived from Jerusalem to Jaffa, you entered Jerusalem boulevard that led those arriving from Jerusalem to Jaffa port, so, you can see the strong association of street names between the cities, which was common practice at those times, meaning naming the street with the city destination. In 1869, in anticipation of the visit of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef, the main road between Jerusalem and Jaffa was paved throughout. Until then, traffic was done mainly by foot, on camels or mules.
There are eight main gates to the old city of Jerusalem. Seven of them are open, one, the Gate of Mercy also called the Golden Gate is sealed. Jaffa Gate is located in the middle of the western wall of the Old City.
Once exiting Jaffa Gate, a right turn leads to Jaffa Road, and a left turn leads to Hebron – today Route 60. The exit to Hebron contributed to the importance of the gate, which is also called by the Arabs, Bab al-Khalil, Hebron Gate. Al-Khalil means friend – the Arabic nickname for Abraham, “Friend of God”. Abraham has a strong association to Hebron.
The entrance gate is a metal-coated wooden gate, with the entrance decorated with Ottoman reliefs. Above the entrance you can see the name of Suleiman the Magnificent, the wall builder. The wall construction lasted from 1535 to 1541, while the gatehouse was built in 1536 in parallel to the construction of the wall. Another inscription on the gatehouse reads: “There is no God without Allah, and Abraham is loved by God.”
The heavy front doors closed the gate every evening until the 1870s. What happened then that the gate was left open at nights? So, during this period, Jerusalem experienced development and growth that was also reflected in the involvement of the European powers, and this included the establishment of consulates, hotels, guest houses for pilgrims, banks and other institutions in Jerusalem. On the reasons that motivated the European powers to increase their presence and involvement in Jerusalem, I explain in detail in a video covering the New Gate.
In parallel to the accelerated economic growth, the city’s population has increased significantly and one outcome are new neighborhoods outside the old city walls, some of which are near Jaffa Road, which further increased the traffic through Jaffa Gate to appoint where the Ottoman government stopped locking Jaffa Gate at night and on Friday afternoons as was customary until then.
In 1898, towards the visit of Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany, and his wife Augusta Victoria, the section in the wall between Jaffa gate and David’ Tower was opened and the moat that protected Tower of David was filled. Through this gate, Field Marshal Edmund Allenby also entered in 1917, after the conquest of Jerusalem in World War I by the British.
As with other gates in the walls of Jerusalem, Jaffa Gate has an entrance with a 90-degree turn, in this case the turn is to the left, and this is in order to make it harder and slow attackers trying to enter through it. Another mean for slowing down the attackers are slits as you can see above the gate, and they are designed for pouring boiling oil on the attackers at the gate.
Regarding the Topography of the area – west of Jaffa Gate is Ben Hinnom Valley, and to the east, is a brook named in Hebrew Tzolev and in translation to English it’s the Cross brook. The Cross Brook is actually a small valley, and it crosses the old city from west to east, from Jaffa Gate to the Chain Gate on the Temple Mount. Today, David Street and Chain Street are above and along the valley, which together, form one of the long arteries of the market in the Old City. As the creek continues to be a natural drainage basin, dozens of manholes have been incorporated into the floor of David Street at a density of one per few meters to allow easy access to the piping in the event of a blockage.
Jaffa Gate was preceded by a gate called David Gate in the Crusader period, which was built east of here yet very close to the current gate. It is worth referring to the map of Cambrai from the 12th century, where you can see the citadel named Porta David, and a gate adjacent to it, which means that back in the Crusader period there was a gate here named David’s Gate. According to the map, the street name from this gate is Via David, and if we walk towards the market, you can see the current name is also David, meaning that at least during the last 800 years the street name has not changed.
In 1909, after 25 years of rule by Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid II, a clock tower was built above the gate, and this can be seen in the unique pictures from that period. The tower was removed along with the shops around and the shops adjacent to the outer wall, at the behest of British Governor Sir Ronald Stores, as can be seen in the video.
And finally, as usual, a question for you – as I mentioned earlier, Field Marshal Allenby entered in 1917 through the gate after the conquest of Jerusalem in the First World War. There was an intention to have him enter through another gate, what is that gate? The answer will appear at the end of the video.