The Old City of Jerusalem is surrounded by walls built by the greatest of all the Ottoman sultans - aptly known as Suleiman the Magnificent - between 1536 and 1541.
The Jerusalem ramparts were there even before King David conquered the city. Almost all the rulers built fortifications to defend the Holy City although there were also some who pulled them down, such as Al Muattam the Ayubite in the 13th century, who feared that the Crusaders might return to Jerusalem and make use of the fortifications.
There were also those who decided not to fortify the city simply because they believed in its tenacity and deemed that no enemy would dare attack it, which was indeed the case in the 1st and 2nd centuries when the Romans gave Jerusalem the name "Ilia Capitolina".
Ben Gurion wanted to knock down Jerusalem's walls in the 1950s because he believed that was the only way to unite the city.
But it is the gates to the Old City that are important. It was via those gates that people went in and out, conquered the city, and traded for generations, and, in that, nothing has changed.
Officially, there are 8 gates into the Old City of Jerusalem but there are, in fact, more than that. The old medieval Tanners' Gate, for example, was broken open again in the 1990s after being sealed for years. And there's the double-arched gate which was broken through after the 6-Day War in1967 by the archaeologists of the Davidson Center, near the Huldah Gate in the Southern Wall, in order to make access to the archaeological park easier. Maybe the Huldah Gate should also be enumerated as one of the city gates?
There are also 34 watchtowers on the ramparts which are 2.9 miles long and spread over an area of 0.39 square miles.
The Damascus Gate
The Damascus Gate is most impressive of all the gates. It was inaugurated in 1542 and is one of the most beautiful examples of Islamic architecture in Jerusalem. It is situated at the northern side of the walls where you can see the slits from which soldiers could dump boiling oil or hot tar on an enemy invader beneath the walls. The gate leads towards the Muslim quarter which is the trading center of the Old City, and towards the market frequented by East Jerusalem Arabs.
The gate was built on the ruins of another gate and of a splendid Roman square which you can now visit and which explains why this gate has always been important. The gate is called the Damascus Gate because of the Roman road that leads from here to Damascus via Nablus. It is also known as Bab-el-Amud (Pillar Gate) in Arabic because there was once a measuring pillar here (a milestone) which can be seen on the famous Byzantine Madaba Map which is considered to be the most ancient map in the world and shows Jerusalem in great detail.
The Zion Gate
Situated on the southern part of the ramparts, the Zion Gate is the main entrance to the Jewish Quarter. It is so named because it faces Mount Zion. You can see the bullet holes from the 1948 War of Independence which is why the gate is also known as "the Weeping Gate" and "the Wounded Gate". Look up at the little balcony on the gate. It is called a neck-breaker and from there boiling oil or water was thrown down on the enemy. Soldiers from the IDF engineering corps entered the Old City through this gate in the 6-Day War in 1967.
The Jaffa Gate
This gate was built in 1538 and is the main gate into the Old City. In Arabic it is called the Al-Halil (Hebron) Gate because it is on the route to Hebron. Next to the entrance, behind a metal fence, there are two Turkish tombs. Legend has it that the two engineers given the job of building the wall are buried here.
One version of the story is that Suleiman the Magnificent ordered to have them executed so that they not be able to build magnificent walls such as those of Jerusalem elsewhere. Another version is that he had them executed because they mistakenly left Mount Zion and King David’s tomb outside the walls. The Mount is holy to the Muslims and is also said to be the site of King David's Tomb.
The Golden Gate
This is one of the most important gates due to its special significance for the three major religions. According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah will enter Jerusalem through this gate. According to Christian tradition, Jesus came to Jerusalem for the last time through this gate. And Muslims believe this is the place where justice will prevail on Judgment Day.
This gate has been sealed for hundreds of years and it is said that it will miraculously open when the Messiah comes and the dead are resurrected.
The Lions Gate
Situated in the eastern part of the walls, the Lion's Gate leads onto Via Dolorosa. The gate gets its name from the two lions that decorate either side of the gate's façade. Suleiman the Magnificent built the gate because he dreamed that he would be devoured by lions if he did not build walls around Jerusalem to protect its inhabitants.
The New Gate
This is the only gate that is not part of the original 16th century structure. It was broken through by the Ottomans in 1889 in order to enable better access from the Notre Dame Monastery outside the ramparts to the Catholic institutions in the Old City.
The Flower Gate
Also known as Herod's Gate, the Flower Gate is in the Muslim Quarter. Its name stems from the Arabic Bab-el-Zahira (which means Flower Gate) and is most likely a disruption of the name of the Arab cemetery just outside the gate. The gate leads into the Old City's markets.
The Dung Gate
The unusual name of this gate stems from the belief that this was the gate through which the garbage from the Temple was brought out of the city. The gate leads towards the Wailing Wall.