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 gates were destroyed and rebuilt many times during the many wars that befell Jerusalem and the changes are seen in the structure and decorations of the gates.
The gates were the starting points for main roads leading to the centers of important settlements. That also the case with the Lions’ Gate.
The Lions’ gate is located in the eastern wall of Jerusalem and near the northern wall of the Temple Mount, in fact it is the only open gate in the eastern wall of the Old City. The gate was built during 1538/9 by Sultan Suleiman the magnificent, who built the gate and the wall.
The gate served the Jews as the main exit towards Mount of Olives and the Jewish cemetery there. The gate serves as the main entrance to the Old City for Muslims seeking to reach the Temple Mount complex, and for Christian pilgrims on their way to Via Dolorosa.
There are many names to Lion’s gate, which were used mainly in the past: In Arabic it is called “Bab al-Asbat” – the gate of the tribes – The same name they call an entrance gate near the Temple Mount. Christians call the gate after the name of Stephen the First Martyr who was stoned to death near the Damascus Gate. Another name is the gate of Lady Miriam and in Arabic “Bab Sitna Miriam”, Miriam, Jesus’ mother. The last name I will mention is the Gate of Jehoshaphat – according to the prophecy of Joel, all the evildoers to his people, will be judged by God at the end of time in the Valley of Jehoshaphat which is identified in the channel of the Kidron Valley at the foot of the gate.
In the middle of the 19th century, the Jews began to call the gate the Lions’ Gate, due to the two pairs of lions located on both sides of the gate opening. The lions symbolize the Mamluk ruler Baibars, who ruled the Land of Israel from 1260. The legend associates the name of the gate with threatening lions that appeared in Sultan Suleiman’s dreams so that they were about to devour him for not properly defending Jerusalem as a holy and important city.
As can been seen, the Lions’ Gate has a direct passthrough entrance, yet originally its entrance had a 90-degree turn like many of the old city gates. In this case the turn was to the left. This was made in order to make it harder and slow down attackers trying to enter through the gate. Another mean for slowing down attackers are the slits as you can see above the gate, and they are designed to enable pouring boiling oil on the enemy passing through the gate.
This is a gate with historical significance from modern times for the Israelis – through this gate the paratroopers broke into the Old City during the Six Day War and from there continued to the Temple Mount. In that war, the gate’ doors were destroyed, and were restored after 2 years, in 1969.
And finally, as usual, a question for you – The old city of Jerusalem is divided into 4 quarters which are the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Armenian quarters. In which quarter is the Lion’s gate located? The answer will appear at the end of the video.