Mayor Nir Barkat returned to a favorite theme on Monday at the ceremonial rededication of Herod’s Gate, calling for tourism to Jerusalem to quadruple to 10 million people annually in the coming years. But questions of how that crush of humanity will be accommodated within the teeming laneways of the Old City without overwhelming the very sites tourists have come to see became apparent when the crowd of some 200 journalists, archaeologists, politicians, civic notables, police, security officers and onlookers piled together in a human traffic jam following the mayor as he climbed the ramparts to inspect the newly restored section.

“When we look forward, with the city’s long history, we have to ensure and preserve Jerusalem as a focus of international tourism. It’s in the common interest of all of us,” said Barkat.

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The restoration of Herod’s Gate and the adjoining ramparts on the north side of the Old City is part of the NIS 5 million Jerusalem City Walls Conservation and Rehabilitation Project initiated in 2007. Funded by the Prime Minister’s Office and administered by the Jerusalem Development Authority, the facelift itself is being carried out by the conservation department of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The IAA rehabilitation work on Herod’s Gate’s façade and interior, which follows similar efforts at the Jaffa and Zion gates, took four months to complete. The next phase of the multi-year project will entail restoring the Damascus and Lions gates, said IAA director-general Shuka Dorfman.

The IAA’s conservation work – including repointing crumbling masonry; cleaning the five-century-old stones with their geometric and floral decorations; removing unsightly electrical wires, pipes and other accretions that detracted from the gate’s historic appearance; and uprooting vegetation that allows moisture to penetrate the wall – was conducted in cooperation with local residents and merchants so as not to disrupt the area’s bustling urban life, he said.

Abed al-Hakim Muhamad Deeb Salim, the mukhtar of the 1,500 Domari (Eastern) Gypsies living in an impoverished Muslim Quarter enclave between Herod’s Gate and the Lions Gate, thanked Mayor Barkat for his efforts to improve their quality of life, including enhancing garbage removal.

Jerusalem’s walls were built from 1535/6 to 1541 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s chief architect, Sinan Pasha. The 3.8 km.-long rampart includes dozens of towers, not all of them completed, hundreds of embrasures for archers to fire through, 17 battlements and 11 gates, four of which are currently sealed.

Within the framework of that project, Herod’s Gate was built in 1539 as a rarely opened postern, or wicket gate, which would on occasion be used to allow people and unharnessed animals to enter the city.

Known in Hebrew and Arabic as the Flowers Gate, the English name Herod’s Gate dates back to the Crusader era when a church was built nearby in the belief that at the time of Jesus’s crucifixion, Herod Antipas’s house was situated in that spot. In its place today stands the church of Deir al-Ads.

In 1998 and during several subsequent excavation seasons (the latest in 2004), IAA archaeologists excavated in an unbuilt area east of Herod’s Gate, where the pro-settlement group Ateret Cohanim hopes to build a new Jewish neighborhood. The IAA dig revealed nine archaeological strata – from the Iron Age to the Ottoman Turkish period. Among the most significant discoveries were structures from the period of the Second Temple, a complete segment of the Byzantine-Roman wall and remnants of a massive fortification from the early Muslim period and the Middle Ages.

These discoveries attest to the importance Jerusalem’s rulers attached to strengthening the city’s strategically vulnerable northern wall. It was here in 1099 in the vicinity of the Rockefeller Museum and the present Herod’s Gate that the Crusader knights, under the command of Godfrey de Bouillon, breached the city’s defenses, leading to the massacre of Jerusalem’s Jews, Orthodox Christians and Muslims.
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