Walking the Walls Ramparts Walk, Southern Section

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The walls surrounding the Old City of Jerusalem were built in the 16th century at the command of the Ottoman ruler Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent

For 400 years Turkish soldiers marched along the path atop the city’s ramparts, patrolling between the gates and guard towers.  That path, which was recently renovated and turned into a promenade, is a unique walking route that offers unusual views of Jerusalem inside and outside the walls, looking at remnants from the past and development in the present.

The British who conquered the Holy Land from the Turks in 1917 felt a responsibility for preserving the city’s appearance and established certain standards to help safeguard its special character.

The Tower of David at Night

Photo: Ron Peled

Among other things, they decided that the undeveloped valleys surrounding the Old City would remain so, to serve as a green belt that would separate the old from the new.  The British instituted regulations that prohibited construction adjacent to or near the walls.  This approach was also adopted by Israeli planning authorities and is still in effect today.

Following the War of Independence and the capture of the Old City by the Jordanian Arab Legion, the border between Jordan and Israel was drawn close to the wall.  This border divided Jerusalem for a period of 19 years, until the Six Day War.  Later on the Old City Ramparts Walk was opened, as well as the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park at the foot of the walls.

There are two optional routes for the Ramparts Walk:  The northern route, from Jaffa Gate to the Lions Gate (see the tour, “Upon Your Walls – Northern Section”) and the southern route, which begins at the Tower of David and ends at the Dung Gate.  

This pamphlet describes the Southern Section of the Ramparts Walk.

The bitter fate of the wall’s builders – Jaffa Gate 

The Jaffa Gate is named for the routes that once led travelers to Jaffa in the west and Hebron in the east.  An Arabic inscription carved into the stone above the gate blesses Allah and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent who built the gate and the wall in the 16th century.  The inscription also refers to Abraham, who resided in Hebron and is known in Arabic as khalil Allah – a friend of God.  This is why Jaffa Gate is called Bab al-Khalil in Arabic.

The Jaffa Gate next to David’s Citadel

Photo: Ron Peled

The wall is pockmarked with bullet holes on either side of the gate, and above the archway is a small balcony, known as a “meshikuli” in Arabic, from the English “machicolation,” a small balcony or turretthrough which it is possible to observe those entering the city and if necessary – to pour boiling oil or tar on your enemies.  

At the upper edge of the walls we can see the crenellations that provided shelter for the fighters who stood on the walls. The “L” shaped defensive entryway is typical for many of the Old City’s 

gates, which is aimed at making it more difficult for invaders to gain access.  Until 1875 the doors to the gate were usually locked at sunset.   

We enter through the Jaffa Gate.  On the left are two gravestones.  Legend has it that these are the tombs of the two engineers who built the wall for Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.  According to one version of the story, the Sultan beheaded them as soon as they completed the construction work because they failed to include Mt. Zion inside the city wall.  

According to another version, the Sultan was quite pleased with their work, but was afraid that they would go on to construct similarly beautiful walls for other rulers, so he had them executed.

The “kishla” – a barracks and prison

Let us look out onto the Old City.  Here, beneath us, stood the summer palace of Muhammad Ali, who ruled the Holy Land from 1831-1840.  Afterwards the building was used by the Turkish army as a military barracks, a “kishla” in Turkish.  The British used the kishla as a prison, as did the Jordanians.  

Since 1967 the building has been used by the Israel Police. David’s Citadel – The Tower of David and the Museum of the History of Jerusalem In front of us to the north is a minaret of the Ottoman mosque mistakenly called the “Tower of David,” a structure that has become one the most famous symbols of Jerusalem.  The mosque is part of a fortress from the Middle Ages.  However the original structure is identified with King Herod, who built three towers in this area that were named for three of his loved ones:  Miriam, his beloved wife, Hippicus, his good friend, and Phasael, his brother.  Only the base of one of the towers, either Hippicus or Phasael, survived.  The upper part of the tower was built at a later period, and from here we can clearly see the the Ramparts Walk

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We cross the road towards the entrance to the Ramparts Walk (the entrance near the rear gate of the Tower of David – Museum of the History of Jerusalem).  We enter the site and ascend the winding staircase up to the wall.  

After several meters we turn left towards the large observation platform. 

flags that are waving from the tower today.  

The British conducted archaeological excavations here and held art exhibits.  During Jordanian rule the Citadel was used as a military position.  

Today it houses a museum that depicts the history of Jerusalem, with a spectacular nighttime multimedia presentation.  

A wall on the border – The view to the west

Along the walls are positions that were used by the Ottoman soldiers, and later by the Arab Legion from 1948-1967, when the international border ran just beneath the wall.

Let us look out onto the new city.  Most prominent at the top of the hill across from us is the King David Hotel, an exclusive hotel that was built in 1931 by the Mosseri Family.  On July 22, 1946 a bomb with 350 kilograms of TNT was hidden inside the hotel, and 91 people, Jews, Christians and Muslims, were killed in the blast.  To the right of the hotel we can see Hebrew Union College and Beit Shmuel, the center of Reform Judaism in Jerusalem, a unique structure whose roof is a glass pyramid.

The neighborhood with the white-domed houses is the exclusive “David’s Village,” which was built at the end of the 20th century, and to the right of that is “Alrov – Mamilla Avenue” – a new commercial district with fancy shops, hotels and residences.  

These were built on the site of the old Mamilla neighborhood.  In the 19 years during which the city was divided between Israel and Jordan, Mamilla was a no man’s land, right on the border.  The original residents abandoned their homes here, and new immigrants moved in and lived in the shadow of the constant threat to their safety.  

After the Six Day War it was decided to renovate the area and turn it into a prestigious tourism 

and residential quarter.  Above the Alrov Center we can see the St. Vincent De Paul Monastery – a large and impressive building with palm trees decorating the façade.  It was built in 1886 and was used as a treatment facility for foster children.

The Armenian Quarter 

Adjacent to the wall is the building of the theological seminary of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem.  Beyond it we can see the houses of the Armenian Quarter and the dome of the Armenian St. James Cathedral.

The Entrance to the Armenian Quarter

Photo: Ron Peled

The Armenian community originates from Eastern Turkey, near Lake Van and Mt. Ararat.  The Armenians were the first to accept Christianity in 301, and they are considered one of the oldest communities in Jerusalem.  The St. James Cathedral was built during the Crusader Period.  Following the Armenian genocide during World War I, many refugees came to Jerusalem and sought protection here.  Since then the monastery has become more of a residential quarter.

Outside the walls we can see the red roofs of Yemin Moshe.  This neighborhood was constructed in 1892, and it is named for Moses Montefiore.  After the Six Day War the houses here were restored and it became a very elite neighborhood.

To the left of Yemin Moshe is the windmill that Montefiore built in 1857, and beneath that, the Mishkenot Sha’ananim quarter.  This was the first Jewish neighborhood to be built outside the walls of the Old City in 1860, at the initiative of Moses Montefiore and with the generosity of the wealthy Jewish benefactor Judah Touro.  

Today the area is used as the official guest house of the Jerusalem Municipality for visiting artists and intellectuals.Beneath the walls is the Hinnom Valley, mentioned in the Bible as the accursed site where ancient idolatrous Jews sacrificed their children to the god Molekh.  The prophets warned against these rites and forbade the Jewish people from taking part.  The valley is part of 

the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park, as well as the Jerusalem Trail that was recently opened for hikers by the Nature and Parks Authority.  You can walk along the Hinnom Valley and enjoy its plentiful trees and historical sites.

An ancient dam that was built in the Hinnom Valley created an artificial pool in the northern portion of the valley – this is The Sultan’s Pool, which is now used as a venue for concerts and performances.  It dates back to the Herodian Period and was refurbished in the 14th century by the Mamalukes.  It was further improved by the Ottoman ruler Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, whose name it now bears.

To the south is Mt. Zion with its many historic and religious sites.  Adjacent to the wall is the Dormition Abbey, with the conical dome.  The church was dedicated in 1910, and it marks the place where the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, is believed to have fallen asleep for the last time.  The name of the church comes from the Latin word dormitio, meaning “sleep.”

Mt. Zion is sacred to the three monotheistic religious and at its center is the Tomb of King David.  Near here is the site identified by Christian tradition as the room of Jesus’ Last Supper.  During the War of Independence the hill was captured and after the Old City fell to the Jordanians, Mt. Zion became a pilgrimage site due to its proximity to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.

“Mountains surround it” – View to the Mount of Olives

We are looking at the houses of the Jewish Quarter.  On May 28, 1948 the Jewish Quarter surrendered to the soldiers of Jordan’s Arab Legion following a long and difficult battle.  Residents and defenders of the Jewish Quarter left the city through the Zion Gate, and 19 years passed before they could return.  After the Six Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem, it was decided to rebuild the Jewish Quarter from its ruins.  

The most prominent building with the tall dome is the Hurva Synagogue, which is undergoing renovations and scheduled to be rededicated in 2010.

Mosque of Al Aqza & the Mount of Olives Behind

Photo: Ron Peled

In the background towards the east is the Mount of Olives with its various towers:  The right hand tower is part of the Russian Chapel of the Ascension, which was built at the end of the 19th century.  To the left of that is the bell tower of the German August Victoria Church, located on the hospital premises.  

The leftmost tower is the tower of the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus, and around it we see the buildings of the University and Hadassah Hospital Mt. Scopus facility.  On the southern part of the Mount of Olives we can see Jerusalem’s ancient Jewish cemetery, and on the lower slopes are houses in the Arab village of Silwan.  Across the valley from Silwan is the City of David National Park, which features remains of ancient Jerusalem from the First Temple Period and later historical periods.

We continue walking eastward.  You can descend from the Ramparts Walk at the Zion Gate and walk around Mt. Zion and the Jewish Quarter.

The heart of Jerusalem – Overview of the Temple Mount

 Here, according to Jewish tradition, the world was created and this is where Abraham came to sacrifice Isaac.  It is here that King Solomon built the First Temple approximately 3,000 years ago, and where the Returnees to Zion from Babylon built the Second Temple.  

During the 1st century CE King Herod renovated the Holy Temple and built the Temple Mount Plaza we are familiar with today.  The impressive plaza is supported by four enormous support walls, one of which is the Western Wall (the Kotel Ha-Ma’aravi).

The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, and the Temple Mount remained in ruins for centuries until the Islamic conquest.

According to Islamic tradition Caliph Omar came to the Temple Mount and found it covered in ashes.  

Using his own robes Omar removed the ash from the stone located in the center of the mountain and exposed it.  In 691 the ruler Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock with its renowned golden dome.  

According to Islamic tradition, it is from here that the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.  Afterwards the al-Aqsa Mosque was built by the Umayyad ruler Caliph al-Walid.

The Dung Gate is mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah as one of the city’s gates during the Return to Zion (538 BCE).  

During that time the ashes and waste from the Holy Temple was removed from the city via the Dung Gate and was thrown into the Kidron Valley.

Kidron Valley

We are looking out towards the tombs of the Kidron Valley, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. This landscape is part of the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park, along which we can see numerous scenic, nature and Jewish heritage sites.

The path of the “Jerusalem Trail,” which was recently opened for hikers by the National Nature and Parks Authority, also follows the Kidron Valley.

Hezir & Zechariah Tombs in the Jehoshafat Valley

Photo: Ron Peled

The Kidron Valley was the eastern border of Jerusalem for hundreds of years.  During the First and Second Temple Periods the city’s Jews would bury the dead here, because Jewish law prohibited them from burying people inside the city.  Due to the area’s proximity to the Holy Temple Jerusalem’s rich and prominent residents would be buried here, and we are standing in front of some impressive and exclusive burial plots dating from the Second Temple Period.

Lessons for a rebellious son – Absalom’s Pillar  

Absalom’s Pillar (Yad Avshalom) is a one of the more famous and impressive tombs found in the Kidron Valley.  The structure with the conical dome was identified for years in Jerusalem tradition as the burial site of Absalom, the rebellious son of King David, about whom we are told in the Bible that he built himself a monument in the Valley of the King.  

In reality, this is a tomb from the end of the Second Temple Period built in Hellenistic style that indicates the influence of foreign culture on Jerusalem’s Jews at that time.  The lower part of the tomb is carved into the bedrock, and the upper part is built above that from ashlar stones.  This is a symbolic separation that symbolizes the separation between the body buried in the ground and the person’s soul.  

Avshalom’s Pillar in the Valley of Jehoshaphat

Photo: Ron Peled

The tomb is meant for the body, while the upper portion is referred to as a nefesh (“soul”) – a Jewish funerary monument similar to the Greek stele and is meant for the soul of the departed.

In the past Jerusalem’s residents would bring their rebellious sons to the site.  They would throw stones at the monument to remind their sons of the punishment meted out to a rebellious a son – stoning.

Who can know the soul of a priest?  Tomb of Zechariah

Next to Absalom’s Tomb is a structure carved into the stone, with a pyramid.  According to tradition this is the tomb of Zechariah son of Yehoyada the Priest, who reproved the people and opposed idol worship in the Holy Temple.  Zechariah met a tragic fate – he was killed by the people in the Holy Temple.  In spite of the tradition, the monument was actually built in the 1st

century BCE.  The structure carved into the bedrock is apparently a nefesh, because there is no opening for a tomb.  It is possible that the Tomb of Zechariah is a nefesh for the burial plot to the left.

Priests from the family of Hezir –The Tomb of Bnei Hezir 

Let’s take a close look at the balcony-like structure with two columns carved into the bedrock. This is a burial cave from the 2nd century BCE.  On the façade there is an inscription that reads:  “This is the tomb and the nefesh (funerary monument) of Eliezer Hania Yoezer Yehuda Shimon Yohanan sons of Yosef son of Oved Yosef and Elazar sons of Hania, priests of the Hezir family.” Thus, this site was a family burial cave for a well-known family of priests during the Second Temple Period.

Although all the names are from the First Temple Period, the impressive monuments were built during the Second Temple Period.  We have no reliable information regarding the identities of those buried there, but there is no doubt that they were respected residents of Jerusalem.


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