The large black cloth that has shrouded Jaffa Gate in both darkness and mystery over the past two months was removed Wednesday morning during a special ceremony to rededicate the famous Jerusalem landmark, revealing the extensive “face-lift” recently given to one of the Old City’s most important and well-known points of entry.
The gate’s freshly cleaned Jerusalem stones, completely refurbished white ceiling and other aesthetic improvements were immediately apparent after the cloth came down.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who addressed the small crowd that had gathered in front of the gate for Wednesday’s ceremony, said that the city had a “duty” to continue restoring its historical sites.
“[The restoration work] makes a valuable contribution to the beautification of Jerusalem,” Barkat said.
In that vein, Barkat added that the municipality would continue to support such projects, both inside the Old City and elsewhere.
“We will continue to build and develop in the Old City, and throughout the city,” Barkat said, “and I’m convinced that more and more people will come to Jerusalem and realize how important it is that Jerusalem remains unified.”
The restoration work on Jaffa Gate was part of a larger, ongoing “Jerusalem City Walls” project, which the Conservation Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has directed since April 2007.
Funded by the Prime Minister’s Office and administered by the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality, extensive measures have been taken to conserve and rehabilitate the Old City’s walls. The effort comes after years of neglect, destruction and weathering.
The conservation action was preceded by careful preparations and the formulation of a multi-year program of documentation, planning and execution of the conservation and rehabilitation measures slated to be implemented on the walls.
During the preservation work at Jaffa Gate, extensive conservation work was carried out: stones were reinforced and hazards that endangered the safety of the visiting public were removed. Bullet damage to the gate was preserved, weathered stones and decorations were treated and the gate underwent a thorough cleaning.
Among other things, the gate’s dedicatory Arabic inscription, which was in a severely deteriorated physical state and quickly becoming detached from the structure, was completely dismantled and restored.
The Old City walls of Jerusalem were built in the sixteenth century by Sultan Suleiman, ruler of the Ottoman Empire (1520-1566 CE), and, according to the IAA, they are “some of Jerusalem’s most important cultural heritage assets.”
Jaffa Gate was first inaugurated in 1538 and only became a bustling and prosperous center of activity toward the end of the nineteenth century.
That period culminated in the year 1898, when it was decided to make a wider entrance through the Old City’s walls thereby allowing German Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife, Augusta Victoria, to enter the city in their carriage. This marked the first time in the history of modern Jerusalem that carts could enter the Old City.
During the War of Independence, Jaffa Gate was also the focal point of a number of difficult battles between Israeli forces and the Jordanian Legion.
During the fighting, Jaffa Gate was completely blocked by an armored vehicle that had been damaged and was wedged in the opening. As part of the cease-fire agreements between Israel and Jordan, Jaffa Gate stood at the opening of the “no man’s land,” which stretched from the gate to Tzahal Square and the Mamilla neighborhood, separating it from Jordanian-controlled east Jerusalem. Consequently, the armored vehicle was not removed, and the gate remained closed until IDF forces reentered the Old City in 1967.
Remains of the bullets that pierced the stones of the gate are clearly visible on the upper parts of the structure.