Located in the wall on the northwest side of the old City of Jerusalem and connected to a highway leading out to Nablus and further to Damascus in the ancient days, Damascus Gate is the most impressive among the eight unique gates of the city. In Arabic it is called ‘Bab al-Nasr’, meaning ‘gate of victory’ and ‘Bab al-Amud’, which means, ‘gate of the column’. The latter name is in vogue since at least as early as the 10th century, as a remembrance of a long lost column, erected by the Roman Emperor Hadrian that once stood in the square behind the gate.
The present gate was built in 1537 under the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. It was built on the remains of an earlier gate, dating back to the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who visited the region in 130–131 AD. In front of the gate stood a Roman victory column topped with the statue of Emperor Hadrian. The lintel of the 2nd century gate was inscribed with the name of the city under Roman rule, Aelia Capitolina, which was a Roman colony, built under the emperor Hadrian on the site of Jerusalem. The gate was significantly expanded by Hadrian, which served as the main entrance to the city. Later excavations in the 1960s revealed the remains of a triple-arched Roman gate. The central arch was far wider and taller than the other two arches on its two sides The extreme left gate survived almost completely, which was exposed in the excavations.
Till the latest excavations during 1979-1984, it was believed by some scholars that Hadrian's gate was preceded by one erected by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a Roman consul and general during the 1st century, as a part of the so called Third Wall. However, recent researchers are doubtful about the existence of any ancient gate that predated the Roman reconstruction of the city.
One of the eight gates of the city of Jerusalem, which were remade in the 10th century, Damascus Gate is the only one to have preserved the same Arabic name Bab al-Amud, in modern times. In the 13th century, when the Crusaders ruled over Jerusalem, they called it St. Stephen's Gate, highlighting its proximity to St. Stephen's Church and the site of his martyrdom. Located at the edge of the Arab bazaar and marketplace in the Muslim Quarter, Damascus Gate is flanked by two towers, each equipped with parapets, to launch arrows or any other projectiles to the attackers at the base of the defensive wall. A turret that loomed over the gate was badly damaged during the Six-Day War in June 1967 that was fought in and around the old city between Israel and the Arab states. However, Israel restored the turret, including the arrow slit in 2011, with the help of pictures from the early twentieth century when the British controlled Jerusalem.
For centuries, the Damascus Gate has stood as the entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem, opening onto a packed bazaar of souvenir shops and the holiest places for the Jews, Christians and the Muslims. Unfortunately, over the years, it has also witnessed dozens of stabbing and shooting attempts. Since September 2015, Palestinian assailants have killed 43 Israelis, two visiting Americans, a Palestinian man and a British student, mainly in stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks. In return, some 250 Palestinians alleged attackers were killed by Israeli fire. In view of the situation, today, a new Israeli Border Police guard tower stands at the base of the Damascus Gate entrance to Jerusalem's Old City.
During the annual Jerusalem Festival of Light, held every summer since 2009, light artists from around the world are invited to set up their installations in and around the cobbled streets, old walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Damascus Gate. The old gate becomes an unknown wonderful edifice and seems to be surreal, bathed in beautiful colours and images from the projected light, which change every fifteen minutes.