Jerusalem's current walls were built under the orders of Suleiman the Magnificent between the years 1537 and 1541. Some portions were built over the ancient walls from 2,000 years ago. The walls were built to prevent invasions from local tribes and to discourage another crusade by Christians from Europe. They even withstood artillery fire during the war of 1948. The walls of the Old City are 40 feet high and 3.8 km or 2.36 miles around. The Ottoman Turkish sultan had wanted the walls to enclose the southern City of David also, but the architects failed to include Mount Zion or the City of David. As a result, Suleiman had the architects beheaded. There are eight gates in the city walls today: Jaffa Gate, New Gate, Damascus Gate, Herod Gate, Lions Gate, Golden (Eastern) Gate, Dung Gate and Zion Gate. The Old City is divided into four quarters: Armenian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian. The enclosed area is called "The Old City.” The modern city of Jerusalem is much larger and includes a wider variety of business and residential areas than the Old City.
The Golden Gate in the east wall of the Old City.
The two graves of Suleiman’s architects who failed to include Mount Zion and the old City of David within the walls. Suleiman decapitated the men and buried them just inside the Jaffa Gate.
The second architect of the city walls executed by Suleiman. They lost their lives but Suleiman honored their work by burying them inside the Jaffa Gate.
Arrows and bullets were fired from these loopholes, or arrow loops, which are narrow vertical windows in the wall.
This is the inside view of the window in the wall above.
Notice it is narrow on the outside to hinder incoming arrows, but wide on the inside to allow the archer to shoot from a wider range of angles at the enemy below on the outside of the wall.
The archer's view from the inside looking down into the Kidron Valley with the Mount of Olives in the background.
One of the features of medieval warfare was the machicolation—a porch in the wall with openings between the supports (corbels) where hot oil, boiling water or stones could be poured or dropped through the floor down onto the invading troops below. The use of animal fat and oil was very dangerous for the defenders to use because it could reach 400 degrees F. The oil would not be boiled since the smoking point of oil (the temperature at which the oil begins to break down) is lower than its boiling point. This means it would start smoking before it started to boil. This would make it difficult to reach the boiling point since the smoke would be extremely irritating to the eyes and throats of those who were heating it as a defensive weapon. Josephus records the use of this technique in the following account:
They (Romans) began already to get upon the wall. Then did Josephus take necessity for his counselor in this utmost distress, and gave orders to pour scalding oil upon those whose shields protected them ...they (Jews) brought being a great quantity also, and poured it on all sides upon the Romans, and they threw down their vessels as they were still hissing from the heat of the fire: this so burnt the Romans, that it dispersed that united band, who now tumbled down from the wall with horrid pains, for the oil did easily run down the whole body from head to foot, under their entire armor, and fed upon their flesh like flame itself. -Josephus, The Great Roman-Jewish War, III.7.27-28
A machicolation, typical of castles and fortifications of the Middle Ages, where hot oil or rocks were dropped on the invading enemy below.
This is the west wall of the Old City by Jaffa Gate. Jaffa Gate is on the right side of the photo with an opening into the "L" shaped entry just around the corner to the left.
Details of archaeological finds visible along the west wall of the Old City from the Citadel to the southwest corner.
Suleiman's wall from 1535 AD is built along the same line as the Hasmonean (Maccabees’) wall from 160 BC, which was reinforced in the same location by Herod in 20 BC.
This is a Turkish, or Ottoman, Tower built by Suleiman. Notice the outcropping of the bedrock under the tower. The walls had to be built on solid bedrock and in many places this bedrock can be seen above the service of the ground. Each period that built or rebuilt the walls tended to follow the same wall line on the bedrock.
Herod the Great's palace would have stood on the other side of this wall inside the city. Jesus would have been brought here for his trial before Herod Antipas in 30 AD.
This is part of the Herodian wall built in 20 BC.
Herodian stones mark a west gate entrance into Herod's city by his palace from 20 BC. The top step of a wide staircase can be seen in the middle of the photo. The steps can be seen when viewed from the other direction. West Jerusalem and the beautiful modern King David Hotel is visible in the distance on the other side of the Hinnom Valley.
Looking north along the west wall of the Old City which continues northward (but goes out of view for a bit on the left). Two courses of Hasmonean or Herodian stones still sit on the scarp of rock that projects from the bedrock.
Looking south along the west wall of the Old City from the Citadel. The Hinnom Valley is on the right.
The north wall near the Damascus Gate. There are three gates in the north wall: New Gate, Damascus Gate and Herod’s Gate.
The east wall of the Old City contains the Golden Gate and the Lions Gate. This particular gate is the Golden Gate. The Temple Mount sits on the other side of this gate and this wall faces the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives. The Golden Gate was sealed by the Muslims in order to discourage the Jews’ hope for the return of their Messiah, who is supposed to walk through that very gate when he enters Jerusalem. The Muslim graves were put here because this is where they believe the resurrection will take place and where the judgment of mankind will occur. Jewish graves are also located in this area on the other side of the Kidron Valley on the Mount of Olives since they also believe the final judgment will be executed here by their Messiah.
This is the south wall of the Old City looking east. The south wall has two gates: Zion Gate and Dung Gate.
The Herodian Aqueduct (1) on the south wall.
The Herodian Aqueduct (1) flows to the east of the above photo.
This is the southeast corner of the Nea Church (2) with the south wall of the Old City built over the top of its previous remains.
These are Herodian residences (3) along the outside of today’s south wall of the Old City.
This is a medieval tower (5) along the south wall of the Old City just west of the Mikvah past the aqueduct.
These Mikvahs (6), or ritual baths, are from the time of the Second Temple and were built by Herod.
A medieval tower (7) sits by the south wall of the Old City with the Byzantine paving stones still visible. The Dung Gate is to the right (east) of this photo.
A medieval tower sits just west of the Dung Gate, east of the mikvah on the south wall. There is a gate called the Tanners’ Postern Gate because the cattle market was located on the inside and provided cow hides for the tanneries outside. The Byzantine street pavement can still be seen. It extends under the wall and continues down to the Pool of Siloam.