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Jaffa Gate

August 7, 2010

Jaffa Gate at Dusk

The ancient city of Jaffa, situated on the Israeli Mediterranean coastline, is a port city believed to be one of the oldest in the world.  If you speak with one of Jaffa’s 54,000 residents s/he will tell you that after Jericho, Jaffa is the second oldest city in the world.

Travel 56 km (35 miles) southeast and you arrive in Jerusalem, whose Old City center is secured with great walls punctuated by eleven gates, seven of which are open.  In the middle of the western side of the city is the Jaffa Gate, the end of the great trade route from the Port of Jaffa to the City of Jerusalem.

As a merchant I’m fascinated by the notion of trade in its most ancient form, and the idea that today’s Highway 1 follows the old trade route kindles a visceral reaction in me; a quickening of my senses as the scene shifts between the ancient one so clearly held in my mind with the modern one before me.

Our meeting at the mayor’s office ended just before dusk, leaving a few hours free before our next appointment.  My colleague Antonio graciously allowed me to tag along on his walk to the Old City to meet his family for some shopping, and we were to meet at the Jaffa Gate.

Click here for an interactive / flash panoramic view of the Jaffa Gate with a parabolic camera.  These images were taken prior to the  restoration by the Israel Antiquities Authority which was unveiled in April of this year.  Below are photos taken last week where you can see that the layers of modern pollution have been removed and old stones mended.

Bread Seller at Jaffa Gate, Summer evening (Tagami)

Bread seller’s backstock, Interior Jaffa Gate (Tagami)

The walls date from 1538 during the time of Ottoman Empire, and were commissioned by Suleiman I, called the Magnificent, the longest reigning Sultan of the Empire.  They are quite impressive at 4.5 km long and 3 meters thick (2.8 miles x 10 feet)!

The Jaffa Gate is also known in Hebrew as Sha’ar Yafo, and in Arabic as Bab el-Kahlil (Gate of the Friend) or Bab Mihrab Daud (Gate of the Prayer Niche of David).  It is the only one Jerusalem’s gates which is positioned at a right angle to the wall, which orients it to the Jaffa Road, and which also slows down potential attackers.

I was grateful that Antonio’s family was not waiting for us when we arrived, for standing there was fine with me.  Tipping back my head I gazed at the entryway 6 meters (nearly 20 feet) above me, and noted that the wall extends an additional 20 feet above that!

When you visit, turn around after traversing the length of the L shaped gate, for the there are two lovely tile-work signs in Hebrew, Arabic and English for the gate and the adjacent square.  See also how the colors cool down when the sun is on the other side of the gate.  The air here was cooler here also, only a little residual heat emanating from the stones.

Tile-work signage on the Jaffa Gate (Tagami)

I had occasion to enter the city via the Jaffa Gate the next day with the sun higher in the sky.

The colossal rough-hewn sandstone blocks were transformed from their soft golden hue to a blinding rose-white brilliance in the desert light, and all architectural details and decorative elements were thrown into high relief against a backdrop of the deepest  blue sky.

Wall detail, left of the Jaffa Gate

Jaffa Gate, detail (Tagami)

Jaffa Gate, detail 2 (Tagami)

Vintage Image, Jaffa Gate, via


Suleiman I, The Magnificent

Suleiman I was not only the longest reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire, but according to historian/biographer Philip Mansel he was also a prominent 16th century monarch who presided over “the apex of he Ottoman Empire’s military, political and economic power.  Suleiman personally led Ottoman armies to conquer the Christian strongholds…before being checked at the Siege of Vienna in 1529.  He annexed most of the Middle East…and large swathes of North Africa as far as Algeria.”  Educational and legal reforms were a hallmark of his reign, and while he is referred to as “The Magnificent” in the west, Suleiman I was referred to as “The Lawgiver” to his subjects.  Culture entered a golden age under Suleiman’s patronage with hundreds of imperial artistic societies from Topkapi Palace.

As interesting as all of this is, I was most fascinated by his full title:

His Imperial Majesty The Sultan Süleyman I, Sovereign of the Imperial House of Osman, Sultan of Sultans, Khan of Khans, Commander of the Faithful and Successor of the Prophet of the Lord of the Universe, Protector of the Holy Cities of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, Emperor of The Three Cities of Constantinople, Adrianople and Bursa, and of the Cities of Damascus and Cairo, of all Armenia, of the Magris, of Barka, of Kairuan, of Aleppo, of Arabic Iraq and of Ajim, of Basra, of El Hasa, of Dilen, of Raka, of Mosul, of Parthia, of Diyarbakır, of Cilicia, of the Vilayets of Erzurum, of Sivas, of Adana, of Karaman, Van, of Barbary, of Abyssinia, of Tunisia, of Tripoli, of Damascus, of Cyprus, of Rhodes, of Candia, of the Vilayet of the Morea, of the Marmara Sea, the Black Sea and also its coasts, of Anatolia, of Rumelia, Baghdad, Kurdistan, Greece, Turkistan, Tartary, Circassia, of the two regions of Kabarda, of Georgia, of the plain of Kypshak, of the whole country of the Tartars, of Kefa and of all the neighbouring countries, of Bosnia and its dependencies, of the City and Fort of Belgrade, of the Vilayet of Serbia, with all the castles, forts and cities, of all Albania, of all Iflak and Bogdania, as well as all the dependencies and borders, and many other countries and cities.  Wow.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Gail Fuller permalink
    August 7, 2010 5:51 AM

    The eye of a true merchant: bread backstock!

    • August 7, 2010 9:01 AM

      You make me smile with your comment! We’re an ancient and honorable trade, we merchants.

      As you know personally, Gail, it feels good to get out on the road and be reminded of our roots, even if we’re not staying in caravanserai when we travel, it’s not difficult to summon that feeling of communion with all of the traders who came before us.

  2. Jaynet Tagami permalink
    August 7, 2010 8:29 AM

    Refreshing and beautiful description of this ancient and present day place. I’m interested in the 3 reliefs on the wall. What they say and when they are dated. The bread looks delicious.

    • August 7, 2010 8:58 AM

      I’m interested to know this also. Thanks for asking about the inscription. I’ll find out.

  3. June 17, 2012 2:16 PM

    It’s nearly impossible to find experienced people about this topic, however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks


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