Sights and Insights: Living walls of Jerusalem

Independence Day is a great time walk atop the Old City's walls, especially above the Zion Gate with its pockmarked scars.

Ramparts by Dormition Abbey 370 (photo credit: Wayne Stiles)
Ramparts by Dormition Abbey 370
(photo credit: Wayne Stiles)
Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at
I have seen the Old City of Jerusalem from every direction. From the north on Mount Scopus, from the east on the Mount of Olives, from the south at the Haas Promenade and from the east atop the Citadel. I’ve even flown above it in a helicopter.
But the most unique way I’ve seen the city is from atop its walls. More than once, I’ve walked on the ramparts, a matchless and wonderful way to see both inside and outside the Old City.
Ascending the wall near the Jaffa Gate on the western side of the city, I peered over into the grounds of the Citadel. Built by Herod the Great, the palace also served as Pontius Pilate’s quarters in the first century, and probably also the Praetorium where he condemned Jesus (John 19:9-16).
I headed counterclockwise on top of the wall and then east toward the Zion Gate. To the right sat the site on modern Mount Zion where Jesus had the Last Supper with his disciples in an upper room. Further south, I saw the infamous Hinnom Valley, which today hosts concerts and offers lush, green grass for families with Frisbees. But in the days of Judah’s kings, the gorge accommodated horrific acts of idol worship and child sacrifice.
Zion Gate (photo: Wayne Stiles)Zion Gate (photo: Wayne Stiles)
To the left (or inside the walls) lies the Armenian Quarter, a section of the city more easily seen from the ramparts than from the ground. High walls and few windows surround this sector of Jerusalem. I have to smile at the name of one of the small churches there: St. James the Cut-Up, which refers to the manner of St. James of Persia’s martyrdom, not to his sense of humor.
Pausing at the Zion Gate, I leaned over to see its facade, still pockmarked with bullet holes from the struggle to liberate the Jewish Quarter in the 1948 War of Independence. Arabs call the gate Bab Nabi Daud, “Gate of the Prophet David,” because King David’s tomb allegedly rests on “Mount Zion.”
Byzantine Christians in the fifth century confused the Western Hill with Mount Zion and so gave rise to some regrettable misnomers. In addition to misnaming the hill, they mistook Herod’s palace for David’s, and today the “Tower of David” stands as part of the Citadel.
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The actual biblical Mount Zion sits east of where I stood, across the Central Valley, and included the ancient City of David and the Temple Mount. David rests somewhere over there (1 Kings 2:10; Neh. 3:16; Acts 2:29).
I descended the ramparts at the Dung Gate in the Jewish Quarter, my favorite part of the Old City.
Walking atop the walls gave me a beautiful view of the city and its surroundings. But it also gave me a feeling of what it would have looked like as a defender on these walls during a siege or a battle. I could feel both the advantages and the limitations of the ramparts. Comforting—and unnerving.
Zion Gate (photo: Wayne Stiles)Zion Gate (photo: Wayne Stiles)
From a distance, only these huge, darkened walls that surround the Old City suggested its antiquity. Because of the battles and ever-changing rulers of the city, Jerusalem’s walls have expanded and contracted over the centuries like the breathing of a living being.
The present ramparts remain best described, in my opinion, by the title of the Ottoman sultan Suliman who built them well over four centuries ago: Magnificent.
Every year that Israel celebrates its Independence Day, I remember those walks I’ve taken on the walls—especially above the Zion Gate with its pockmarked scars.
The words of Psalm 122:6–7 come to mind:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
“May peace be within your walls.”

How to Get There:
The best place to ascend is at the Citadel by the Jaffa Gate. It costs to enter.
What to Do There:
If you have never seen Jerusalem from this vantage, you would enjoy it. Walk all the way around to the Dung Gate, taking your time and enjoying the views.
This article is adapted from Wayne Stiles’ books, Going Places with God and Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus (Regal Books, 2006, 2008).
Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at