Pilgrimage Tips with Gila your Holy Land Guide




Gila's Tips for Tours

Orientation to Jerusalem:  Nine Gates to the Old City


WALK JERUSALEM BY NIGHT accompanied by stories of Solomon's quarries, Solomon's stables, Solomon's porticoes, Solomon's pantry and Suleiman's dream.  And for good measure: the escapades of Charles "Chinese" Gordon, Dr. James Barclay, the Baroness Angela Burdett-Couts and Captain Charles Warren.

The tour starts at Damascus Gate and ends at Dung Gate (or vice versa). You choose the starting hour and the starting point.  For more details email Gila. This exclusive evening tour outside the Old City walls is designed for anyone wanting to stretch his or her legs around Jerusalem and enjoys good old-fashioned story-telling.  (June to September)

When you visit the Old City of Jerusalem, you’ll be entering through one of its eight gates.  The ninth gate, the Eastern Gate, is blocked up and shut, waiting for the arrival of the Messiah.  The following is an orientation to the gates of the Old City, naming them in English, Hebrew and Arabic, and describing what is to be found inside each gate.

Let’s start with the lowest gate, located in the south.  It’s called the Dung Gate. From inside the city, to reach the gate, one would walk downhill and it’s where Old City residents, over the centuries, would throw their garbage.  Can you imagine anyone ever walking uphill to throw their garbage?  Well, that name stuck in Hebrew as well – it’s called Sha’ar Ashpot. Paradoxically, the Dung Gate is today one of the cleanest areas in the Old City. In Arabic the gate is called Bab el Mugrabi meaning the gate of the North Africans. During the Turkish times there was a neighborhood inside the Dung Gate, close to the Wailing Wall called the Mugrabi neighborhood whose residents had originated from North Africa.

Map showing the nine gates to Jerusalem's Old City

Map showing the nine gates of Jerusalem's Old City

When you enter the Old City through the Dung Gate, you’ll walk up directly through the security outpost to the Western (“Wailing”) Wall plaza.  If it happens to be a weekday when the Temple Mount is open to Jews and Christians, you can view the Dome of the Rock and the El Aqsa Mosque from close-up and photograph the inside
of the eastern gate which was blocked up in the 8th century to prevent unauthorized access to the Temple Mount.  Both the Western Wall and the Temple Mount require “modest dress,” so if you’re female, don’t even think about entering the Dung Gate in shorts or sleeveless!

Tour the Temple Mount with in the company of Abraham and Isaac, David and Solomon, Jesus and the disciples, the angel Gabriel and Mohammed -- and Gila.  Meet many other luminaries, both real and legendary.

Now available as a written 24-page PDF with a Temple Mount plan, guidelines for passing the security check and ten best reads on the Temple Mount from Gila's bookshelves.

Next to the Dung Gate is a new pedestrian gate called Tanners Gate.  It’s actually an old medieval gate which was uncovered during excavations in the 1980s.  During the 1990s and the millennial year, we had so much traffic entering and exiting the city from the Dung Gate, the municipality decided to restore the medieval gate for pilgrims.  This gate is not yet well-known.  In Hebrew it’s called Sha’ar HaBurskai, which was apparently its name during the Crusader period when it must have been an industrial area for tanners.  Whoa – block your nose – tanning was a smelly business. (Remember when Peter was staying in the house of Simon the Tanner, he had to go up on the roof-top for fresh air.  Acts 10)

As you enter Tanners Gate, you will be walking on Hollywood Boulevard of the fifth century.  It was a branch of the Cardo which you see in the Jewish Quarter and led straight up to Damascus Gate in the north.  Just to give you some atmospheric context, as you enter Tanners Gate, you’ll face a wall mural reflecting main street during the Roman times.  Below, I’ve entered a time machine that brought me back to the fifth century where I’m sightseeing on Hollywood Boulevard.

Fresco by Tanners Gate showing fifth century Jerusalem

Photo:  Silvia Hess

Hollywood Boulevard in fifth century Jerusalem

Zion Gate, on the southwest perimeter of the Old City, leads from the tomb of King David and the Upper Room on Mount Zion into the Armenian and the Jewish Quarters of the Old City.  In Hebrew it’s called Sha’ar Tziyon (Zion Gate) and in Arabic, Bab a-Nabi Daud (Gate of the Prophet David).

Legend has it that Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent who commissioned the rebuilding of the city walls in 1538 was furious when he discovered that David’s Tomb was left unprotected outside the city walls.  He summoned the two architects responsible before him and ordered that they be beheaded.  The architects are buried right inside the Jaffa Gate, some say so that people entering and exiting the city could spit on their graves to show their displeasure that the tomb of Nabi Daud (the prophet David according to the Moslems) was left unprotected outside the city walls.

Tomb of one of the Turkish architects of the Old City walls

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Tomb of one of the hapless Turkish Architects

In the four hundred years (1516 to 1916) that the Turks ruled the Holy Land, the best law they ever instituted in my opinion, was to forbid camels inside the walled city of Jerusalem.  That bylaw is still on the books to this very day!  When I lead my groups through the Old City I thank the Turks that I do not have to duck spitting camels, or dodge camel dung.  While the camels aren’t inside Zion Gate, expect to see one right outside.  Be prepared:  it’s $2 to get up on the camel – and $5 to get off!

Outside of Zion Gate, if you walk to the west, you will find the burial site of The nineteenth and twentieth century Holy Land explorer and preeminent archeologist Sir Flinders Petrie.  He chose to be buried headless in the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion.  Read about why he is important and why he is headless!

BOOK GILA for your customized private tour

Jaffa Gate, one of the city’s busiest, is located on the western perimeter, right above Hinnom Valley, the Valley of Hell (Gehenna in Greek).  In ancient days, if you were a pilgrim who docked at the Mediterranean port of Jaffa and walked east for three days, or perhaps more, along the Jaffa Road, you would eventually reach the Jaffa Gate.  Hence its name.  In Hebrew the gate is translated Sha’ar Yafo. Yafo is the name for Jaffa in the Hebrew Bible, mentioned for example, in the Book of Jonah.

In Arabic the gate is called Bab el Halil which means Hebron Gate.  If you exit the gate and turn left, cross the Hinnom Valley and walk straight along what’s nicknamed the Patriarchal Highway along Hebron Road, you would eventually reach Hebron.  Halil in Arabic means “friend.”  In Islam, Abraham’s title is the “friend of God.”  Abraham is buried in Hebron.

Until the end of the 19th century, Jaffa Gate was locked every night to keep out marauders, hyenas, jackals and dragons.  The dragons may have been imaginary, but the others were real.  Travelers arriving at dusk had to carry lanterns so they could be identified and admitted into the city.  Latecomers had to sleep outside the walls and wait until dawn when Jaffa Gate opened.

In 1898 Kaiser Wilhelm the Second made a spectacular pilgrimage to the Holy City accompanied by a huge entourage numbering over a thousand cheerleaders.  In honor of this great occasion, the Turks made a breach in the wall by the Jaffa Gate so the Prussian Emperor could enter the Old City in a gold-plated Mercedes.  (Just kidding
of course -- he made his grand entrance in a bronze chariot.)

Ethiopian Patriarch leads a procession at the Jaffa Gate

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Procession at the Jaffa Gate led by the Ethiopian Patriarch (in white)


Are you coming to Jerusalem this year?  Explore Jerusalem’s Soul gives you 40 suggestions of the top places to meditate on the Bible, visit little-known churches, enjoy extraordinary roof-top views and savor Middle Eastern soul food.  Eight are less than a ten-minute walk from the Jaffa Gate! More on Gila's Jerusalem Guide....

From the Jaffa Gate you can stop for a bagele and hyssop or walk straight into the bazaar.  If you take a right, you will pass by the Tower of David.  If you continue on the right, you will be walking along Armenian Patriarchal Road to reach the Armenian Quarter.

New Gate is located on the northwestern perimeter of the walled city.  Its Hebrew name is Sha’ar Hadash and its Arabic name is Bab el Jedid, both meaning “new.”  The gate was opened in 1887 by the Turkish sultan Abed el Hamid after intense lobbying by Christians who had settled outside the walled city and wanted direct access to the Christian Quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Damascus Gate, on Fridays and Saturdays, is the busiest gate leading into the city, with hundreds and sometimes thousands of shoppers looking for bargains, home-grown spices or the freshest fruits.  Located along the northern wall of the Old City, Damascus Gate is named after the most important city to the north during nearly every historical period.  Its Hebrew name is Sha’ar Shechem, meaning Nablus Gate, after the northern city of Nablus, established by the Romans 1900 years ago.

The Arabic name is Bab el Amud which means the Gate of the Pillar.  The Romans built roads throughout their empire and laid milestones measuring distance.  The zero point in Judea was a tall imposing pillar standing in the central plaza inside the Damascus Gate.  Perhaps it was adorned with the bust of the emperor.  The pillar, although pictured on a mosaic map from the sixth century, has never been found.  However, archeologist Menachem Magen exposed the second century AD Roman piazza in the 1980s.  The memory of that pillar is inscribed in the Arabic name, Bab el Amud, the Gate of the Pillar, to this very day, nineteen centuries later.

Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Damascus Gate, in Arabic, Bab el Amud, meaning the Gate of the Pillar

The Damascus Gate leads you straight into the heart of the Old City market (shuk in Hebrew and souk in Arabic). Be prepared to bargain!

If you are hungry by this time, Explore Jerusalem’s Soul tells you how to find four local joints for the best hummus, falafel and yummy sweets that the Holy City has to offer.  And as a bonus, Armenian pizza!  More on Gila's Jerusalem Guide....


Herod’s Gate, also called Flowers Gate, is located on the northeastern perimeter of the Old City.  Outside the gate, up on the hill is a cemetery which we view on the Rampart’s Walk.  In Arabic, the gate was called Bab es Sahirah, Cemetery Gate.  But would you want to receive a letter addressed to “cemetery neighborhood?”  Well, neither did the residents of the northeast corner of the Old City.  Substituting only one letter, they changed the name of the gate to Bab el Zahirah meaning Flowers Gate.  Now that sounds welcoming!

In Hebrew the gate is named Sha’ar Perachim, Flowers Gate.  There is another name, Sha’ar Hodus which means Herod’s Gate.  This part of the city was not enclosed by a wall during the reign of Herod the Great.  Roman Catholic tradition has it that the home of Herod Antipas was in the area of the Flagellation Convent, near the gate.  If you know another explanation of why it’s called Herod’s Gate, please let me know.

Lions Gate, located on the eastern perimeter of the Old City, is also known as
St. Stephen’s Gate
.  Tradition has it that Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned in the Kidron Valley below.  In Arabic the gate is called Bab el Asbat, the Gate of the Tribes, for they say the tribes of Israel entered the Old City through this gate. In Hebrew it’s called Sha’ar Ha-Arayot in honor of the decorations above the gate.

If you look carefully at the gate as you enter, you’ll see two lions on either side of the outside entrance.  It’s said that in the 16th century, Suleiman the Magnificent ordered that these sculpted icons be placed above the gate as a reminder of the dream which led him to commission the rebuilding of the dilapidated walls.

One night the sultan dreamed that he was being devoured by four fierce lions which leapt upon him out of the thickets of the River Jordan.  Trembling and feverish, he awoke in a great fright.  When dawn broke, he summoned all the wise men of his kingdom to explain the significance of the dream.  But words failed them until a wise old sheikh said, “Tell me Sultan Suleiman, what were you thinking about before you fell asleep?”

Suleiman thought for a few moments and said, “I was thinking of the best way to punish the people of Jerusalem – they haven’t been paying their taxes.”  “Ohhh,” said the wizened old sheikh, “Don’t you know that our prophets David and Solomon ruled from the Holy City while lions guarded their thrones?  If you treat this Holy City with goodness and mercy, you will be blessed as was David and Solomon.”

So Suleiman made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and realized that the walls needed rebuilding.  He commissioned two architects who designed the route of the fortifications.  The work took seven years and the walls are still standing to this
very day.

Now, if you look even more carefully at the Lions Gate, you may decide that the icons are leopards and not lions.  But that’s a story for another day!

Lions or Leopards by Lions Gate?

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Lions or Leopards flanking the Lions Gate?


The Eastern Gate was identified by the Prophet Ezekiel when he wrote in chapter 44, “The prince will enter through this gate and he will eat bread before the Lord.” This is the origin of the Judeo-Christian belief that the Messiah will enter through the eastern gate.

Today, this gate is indeed shut and no one enters the Temple Mount from the east. In Hebrew, the portal is known as Sha’ar HaRahamim, the Gates of Mercy.  It’s said that when the Messiah comes and the dead arise, they will enter through this gate to win eternal life.  In Arabic, it’s called Bab el Rahmeh, the Gate of Eternal Life for the same reason.  Another name is the Golden Gate which seems to retain a memory of the Gate Beautiful where Peter cured a lame man, as recorded in Acts 3.  I’ve heard that the Greek word oraia means beautiful and a similar sounding word in Latin, aurea, means golden, thus the jump from beautiful to golden.

When Jesus came to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  It’s thought that Jesus entered the Temple courtyard through this gate and then proceeded to drive out all those who were selling and buying, upsetting the tables of the money changers.  In the time of the Second Temple, the Eastern Gate was open.

If you want to be here when the Messiah arrives, why don’t you plan on coming next year?  In Explore Jerusalem’s Soul, I suggest the best private spot to take in the spectacle that the world has been waiting for….

Nine Gates of the Old City




Dung Gate

Sha’ar Ashpot

Bab el Mugrabi

Tanners Gate

Sha’ar HaBurskai

Bab el Dabbagha

Zion Gate

Sha’ar Tziyon

Bab a-Nabi Daud

Jaffa Gate

Sha'ar Yafo

Bab el Halil

New Gate

Sha’ar Hadash

Bab el Jedid

Damascus Gate

Sha’ar Shechem

Bab el Amud

Flowers Gate / Herod's Gate

Sha’ar Perachim

Bab el Zahirah

Lions Gate / St. Stephen's

Sha’ar Ha-Arayot

Bab el Asbat

Eastern Gate / Golden Gate

Sha’ar HaRahamim

Bab el Rahmeh

By the time you walk around the Old City passing all its ancient gates, you may need the Balm of Gilead (Jeremiah 8:22) to recover!  But unfortunately the Balm of Gilead is today extinct.  You may be surprised to learn that the Balm of Gilead is believed to have been grown in En Gedi by the Dead Sea.

Copyright 2007, 2020  Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin