The Damascus Gate

The gate has at least three names: its English name, The Damascus Gate - since it leads north out of the city in the direction of Damascus; its Hebrew name The Shechem Gate - because it leads to ancient Shechem, today's Nablus, also to the north; its Arabic name Bab el-Amud - the Gate of the Column - because during Roman times, a column stood in the plaza just inside the gate, with a statue of the Emperor on top. From this column were measured distances to various cities in the country. It is suggested that when the Empire became Christianized under Constantine the Great, a statue of Jesus began to replace that of the ruling Emperor.

The gate we see and use today is the work of Sulieman the Magnificent, from the 16th century after the conquest of the Ottomans. Beneath it are remains of the earlier Roman and Herodian gateways and some suggestions of remains from much earlier periods. It is likely that the Hadrianic gate, from the 2nd century CE, of which we have considerable archæological evidence, was free-standing and not a part of the wall, making it resemble very much the "Triumphal Arch" idea so beloved of monumental Roman society and architecture; this would sit well with a possible eastern approach to the city wall, or at least a market place, where, in today's Via Dolorosa we have the remains of another "Triumphal Arch" - that which has become known as the "Ecce Homo" arch. During the late Roman, on into the Byzantine period - especially the reign of Justinian (6th century), the Damascus Gate led through to the Cardus Maximus and Cardus Secundus, two of the major streets in developed Byzantine cities.
David Roberts' lithograph shows the gate as it was during his visit in the middle of the 19th century. Much of what we know today was completely hidden from his eyes but, as usual, he manages to convey with realism and elegance the atmosphere of his times.

You may like to compare David Roberts' lithograph with a more "recent" rendering. If you look closely you can see in the shadows, the arched, eastern opening to the Hadrianic entrance below level to the left of the foot-bridge which was hidden from David Roberts.

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