On Fridays, crowds of Muslim worshipers make their way through this gate to the Al-Aksa Mosque on Har
Habayis. A large plaza, where street vendors sell souvenirs and refreshments, is found in front of the gate.
For ancient travelers this gate marked the beginning of the highway to Damascus in Syria, hence its name
“Damascus Gate.” In Hebrew it is called “Shaar Shechem” since the highway to Damascus passes through the town of Shechem, which is presently called Nablus in English and is Israel’s third-largest Arab city.
Avraham Avinu traveled through Shechem, where he built an altar and offered a sacrifice to Hashem (Bereishis 12:6-7). In this week’s parashah (ibid. Chap; 32, 34), when Yacov Avinu returned from Charan, one of the first things he did was buy a land in Shechem as there is an inyan to own land in Eretz Yisroel. The Klie Yakar says he wanted to to build an alter on his own land. The midrash says Yacov Avinu made Techomay Shabbos in Shechem. It was in the area of Shechem that Dinah was kidnapped by Chamor in
Shechem. Also it was to Shechem that Yacov sent Yosef to find out about his brothers.
It was a central city for the Ten Tribes, and Yeravam chose it to become the first capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Melachim I 12:25).
The Arabs call this gate Bab-al-Amud (Gate of the Column) to recall the tall pillar that stood in the gate’s
plaza during the Roman and Byzantine periods. During the Roman era a victory column, topped with a statue of Hadrian, stood in front of Shaar Shechem. (This is depicted on the Madaba Mosaic Map that is part of a
floor mosaic in an early Byzantine church in Madaba in Jordan. A copy of the map can be seen at the Cardo.)
Damascus Gate was used as the spot from which the Romans measured the distances from Jerusalem to all
An inscription on the outside of the gate testifies it was built in 1538. The Ottoman ruler, Suleiman the Magnificent, constructed it on top of two older gates— one built by Herod the Great and another by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It was built primarily for defensive purposes, with slits for firing at attackers, and an opening for pouring boiling oil on enemy soldiers trying to climb the wall.
Shaar Shechem is flanked by two towers, and there is a small amphitheatre in front of the gate. Above the gate with its elaborate crenellations is inscribed, “There is no G-d but All-h,and Mohammed is His messenger” (by which, I heard Rav Avigdor Miller say, the Muslims really mean, “There is no god but
Mohammed, and All-h is his messenger.”)
In 1937 there was discovered under Damascus Gate the remains of an ancient gate to the Roman city of
Aelia Capitolina, which Emperor Hadrian built (circa 132 C.E.) on the ruins of Yerushalayim, in an attempt to
eradicate the city. The Roman gate led to the Cardo.
In 1972, Rabbi Meir Kahane proposed that in order to secure the Jewish claim to Shaar Shechem, a mezuzah be affixed to it. After repeated protests from Arab residents of the area, though, the Israeli government refused to consider Kahane’s proposal.
Straight ahead, looking out from Mitzpe Tomer, is the site where Kiryah Ne’emanah (Battei Nissan Beck) was founded in 1879. Chassidim purchased the area in order to build the ninth colony founded beyond the Old City walls. Thirty houses were built by the chassidim, and the other half of the area was built up by Persian Jews.
Published in Hamodia