On the border of Jerusalem – Zion Gate
The gate is close to the Jewish and Armenian Quarters, and opens out onto Mount Zion, an area with sites holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Both the gate and the wall were built in the 16th century, in the days of Suleiman the Magnificent, the first Ottoman ruler of Jerusalem, in order
to fortify the city. Its location on the top of Mount Zion, by the wayside of the city’s main thoroughfares and commercial life, caused the gate to be of secondary importance – although its Arabic name, “Bab al-Nabi Daoud,” the Gate of the Prophet David, hints at its proximity to a site of great importance – King David’s tomb.
When the walls were built, explosives were already in use. Nevertheless, the builders were careful to retain traditional defensive elements such as the small gallery – known in Arabic as “meshikuli” from the English “machicolation'” – that made it possible to observe those coming through the gate, and if need be, pour boiling oil or tar on the city’s enemies.
The large number of bullet holes marking the front of the gate attest to the battles that took place here in the War of Independence. From 1948 to 1967, the border line passed here; Mount Zion was in Israeli territory, whereas the Old City was under Jordanian control. Mount Zion is one of the highest spots around the Old City, and offers fine views of Jerusalem.
Proceed down the path to Mount Zion, with your back to the gate. The path forks almost immediately. Take the left fork, and continue to the entrance to King David’s tomb on your right. Pass through an arched gateway to the entrance of the tomb complex.
Please note: There are a few steps at the entrance to the tomb. They will need the assistance of a helper.
King David’s Tomb
Mystery of the tombs of the House of David – King David’s Tomb “And David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David” – as written in I kings 2:10. Today the location of the City of David is known, but a medieval tradition identifies David’s Tomb as being on the Mount of Zion.
In 1167, the Jewish traveler Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela describes how the tomb was accidentally discovered by two workers who were asked to do construction work tor the Patriarch of Jerusalem. They cleared away an old building, and upon moving the ancient stones, they uncovered the opening of a cave.
The workers entered the cave, and a wonderful palace was revealed to them. They were blinded and fell down in a swoon. When they awoke, they fled from the cave as quickly as they could, but told their story to the Patriarch.
The latter told the story to the rabbi, who understood that the cave in question was King David’s Tomb. The opening of the cave was sealed and kept secret for many years. In the 16th century a mosque was built at the site.
The tomb was held the Muslim Dajani family, and Jews and Christians were barred from entering the site.
In the years when Jerusalem was a divided city, David’s Tomb was the most holy site to Jews within the boundaries of the State of Israel. Thousands of visitors went there every year, and ceremonies were held there. Today too, many Jews visit the spot and read chapters of Psalms there, which are attributed to King David. The status quo in force in the building ensures freedom of worship for members of all three religions.
Retrace your steps to the intersection just before Zion Gate. Turn left in the direction of the Dormition Abbey. Stop first at the corner of the church, under the small sign that reads: “Hagia Sion” – Holy Zion.
While in the church, make sure to dress modestly and maintain decorum. The Dormition Abbey at Sunset The sleep of “Our Lady of Mount Zion” – The Dormition Abbey The visit by German Kaiser Wilhelm II to Jerusalem in 1898 affected not only world politics, but also the city’s landscape. The Ottoman ruler gave the Kaiser a plot of land on Mount Zion, upon which the Dormition Abbey was built.
The German-Catholic church was dedicated in 1910. It incorporated elements from East and West: a massive neo-Romanesque structure that is reminiscent of ancient courtyards in Europe, combined with white and red bricks that are characteristic of Mameluke architecture. The church was built on the site in which, according to Christian tradition, Mary mother of Jesus fell into an eternal sleep, hence the name “Dormition” – which means sleep.
We will now go down the alley on the right to the church courtyard, where we will continue.
Above the massive wooden door on the left is a window shaped like the sun – a symbol of Jesus.
The door is closed most of the year and is only opened for major ceremonies when a large crowd assembles. The regular entrance is through the door in the corner of the courtyard.
In the church we can see the impressive floor mosaics. In the center is a large, circular mosaic that expresses the connection between the divinity and the world, and the continuity between the Biblical prophets with the disciples and the four Evangelists.
The apse features an exquisite mosaic that presents Jesus as a child in the arms of his mother Mary. Jesus is holding an open book bearing the verse “I am the light of the world” in Greek. The inscription over the figures of the prophets in a verse from Isaiah 7: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” – a verse that according to Christian belief hints at the birth of Jesus. Underneath stands the prophets who announced the advent of the Messiah, with halos around their heads.
The Crypt occupies the basement level of the church. There are some remains of older churches there, as well as a marble effigy of Mary in eternal sleep.
Please note: The Crypt is not accessible.
From time to time, the church hosts attractive public concerts. Here ends our tour. Return to Zion Gate. You can sometimes flag down a taxi there – or continue to Jaffa Gate where there is a permanent taxi service.
You can also continue your visit to the Old City with tour #2, The Jewish Quarter,- which begins across Zion Gate.