Located near the Mount of Olives and the Via Dolorosa, the Lion’s Gate was built during the 16th century by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, as a part of the wall of the old city of Jerusalem. It is one of the seven gates of the city and the only one that is open towards the east.
The gate earned its name due to the embossment of a couple of lions on its both sides. It is said that before the construction of the gate, Sultan Suleiman once had a dream in which two lions were about to devour him, as a punishment for not properly protecting the holy city of Jerusalem, which was not protected by any wall at that time. In consequence of the dream the sultan interpreted it as a sign of instruction from the heaven above and ordered his men to surround the city with a wall. Nevertheless, the embossments on the door actually resemble cheetahs more than lions and it is believed by many that the idea was taken from a more ancient building of the Mameluke ruler Baibars, whose symbol was a Cheetah. Above the lion embossments, the gate was additionally decorated with flowers and arches, embossed between the embrasures and above that there is an inscription, commemorating the construction of the wall to guard the holy city of Jerusalem by Suleiman the Magnificent.
There is a terrace on the upper part of the gate, known as a ‘Mashikoli’, from which the city guards in ancient times could possibly spill hot oil on the intruders or invaders and today, one can have a good look at the outline of the wall. In the past it was a turn- gate, like Jaffa gate and others, which was meant to delay the forces attempting to intrude into the city, but over the years it became a straight gate that enables the entrance of vehicles.
In Arabic, the Lion’s Gate is called ‘Bab Sitna Mariam’, indicating the location of a Christian site, the burial of Miriam, the mother of Jesus, before she ascended to the sky. However, the Christians call it the ‘Stephen’s Gate’, named after the first Martyr, the first tortured saint who died for his faith in Jesus. Traditionally it is believed that Stephen was stoned to death next to this gate. On the Sunday of the first week prior to Easter, known as the Palm Sunday, the Christians walk in processions of the faithful march, following the path of Jesus, starting from the Mount of Olives to the old city of Jerusalem, through the Lion’s Gate.
In June 1967 the paratroopers of the Israel Defense Forces entered the city through this gate on their way to the Temple Mount and renewed the Jewish settlement in the area after 19 years, during which the old city was under the Jordanians.
There is a Muslim cemetery at the foot of the wall, adjacent to the Temple Mount, which is a sacred place in the Muslim tradition, as they believe it is the place of the Day of Judgment, as well as the resurrection. But, in spite of everything, the capture of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount is considered by many as a miraculous liberation of biblical Messianic proportions