Located between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, on a plateau in the Judaen Mountains, Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is regarded holy to the three major Abrahamic religions, that is Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to the Bible, King David conquered the city from the Biblical Canaanite tribes and established it as the capital of the United Kingdom of Israel. Subsequently, his son, King Solomon commissioned the building of the First Temple, also called the Holy Temple, on the Temple Mount, the current site of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Ancient City of Jerusalem is surrounded by a wall, which were rebuilt for the last time in 1538, by Suleiman the Magnificent. The wall is complete with eight gates. Moving anti-clockwise from the northernmost gate are the Herod's Gate, the Damascus Gate, the New Gate, Jaffa Gate, Zion Gate, the Dung Gate, the Eastern Gate, and the Lions' Gate. The Eastern Gate of Jerusalem, currently the oldest gate in the Old City, was constructed in the 6th or 7th century AD. It is also called the Golden Gate or the Beautiful Gate. The name Golden Gate stems from Christian literature. In Jewish writings, it is called 'Shaar Rachamim', or the Gate of Mercy.
The Eastern Gate is the closest gate to the Temple Mount, hence the Jews yearn to pray by this gate, where they felt very close to the Divine Presence. The ‘Shekhinah’ or the Divine Presence, according to the Jewish tradition, used to appear through the Eastern Gate, and would appear again and when the Messiah would arrive, he would enter Jerusalem through the Eastern Gate and that might be the reason why the Jews used to pray in medieval times for mercy at the former gate at this location. The name of the Golden Gate is also mentioned in the Jewish Talmudic literature, as the Shushan Gate, probably due to its eastern direction toward the Persian city of Shushan, located in modern-day Iran. It is also said that, it earned this name because of the important role played by Cyrus the great of Persia in permitting the Jews of Babylon to return to Jerusalem in 538 AD, to rebuild the Temple. Construction of the Second Temple was however, completed in 516 BCE, during the reign of Darius the Great, 70 years after the destruction of the First Temple. The gate is significant for the Jews for another reason. It is commonly believed that, on the holiday of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, a Temple messenger was sent through this gate with a sacrificial lamb to the desert.
According to Christian literature, the Golden Gate or the Eastern gate of Jerusalem is the place, where the parents of Mary met after the Annunciation. Thus, the site of the gate became a symbol of the virgin birth of Jesus. According to Luke 19:28-48, around 30 AD, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a humble donkey through the East Gate and His triumphant entry into Jerusalem began at the Mount of Olives, before He entered the Temple. It is also said that, the Lord Jesus came through this gate in his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, to present himself as the king and thus, giving the gate Messianic importance. For the Christians, the Golden Gate, symbolizing the threshold between the earthly and heavenly realms, represents the Mystical Body of the Church, often viewed as the Bride of Christ.
For Muslims, the gate is referred to as Bab al-Dhahabi, meaning the Golden Gate or Bab al-Zahabi, meaning the Gate of Eternal Life. For them, each door of the double gate has separate names. The southern part is known as Bab al-Rahma, the Gate of Mercy, while the northern part is Bab al-Taubah, the Gate of Repentance. Muslims also place religious significance at this location, as they believe that this is the site of Allah’s final judgment and the site of future resurrection.
Thus, as the place is somehow or other connected to all the three religions, the site remains one of the most history-rich and controversial sites in Jerusalem.
The gate, complete with a couple of doors, has a beautiful decorative double arched doorway supported by wide columns set into the stonework. Inside the gatehouse are two massive pillars. Unlike the other gates of Jerusalem, the Golden Gate was built at least 1000 years before Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in the 16th century. It predated the Roman Emperor Herod in about 10 BC or even to the prophet Nehemiah’s period in 440 BC. It is considered by many archaeologists that, the remains of the original gate still exist beneath the modern gate.
The Golden Gate was closed by the Muslims in 810, reopened by the Crusaders in 1102, and then walled up again by Saladin, the first sultan of Egypt and Syria, after defeating the Crusaders and gaining control of Palestine and the city of Jerusalem in 1187. The Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt it along with the city walls, but walled it up in 1541. It is said that he sealed the gates, in order to prevent the possible return of Messiah, as believed by the jews. For further precaution, The Ottomans also built a cemetery in front of the gate, in the belief that the pure and holy Jewish Messiah would not enter a cemetery, and therefore, would not be able to pass through the Golden Gate