Of the seven open gates to the Old City of Jerusalem, one of the most used gates is the Jaffa Gate.
The Jaffa Gate is unique in several ways. It is the only gate on the south side of the Old City, and it is the only one of the gates that sits at a right to the walls.
The name derives from the old port town of Jaffa (modern Tel Aviv-Jaffa), as does the main street of Jerusalem leading from the Jaffa Gate westward. Due to the many modern renovations in the area, it can be a little difficult today to see the connection between the two.
As early as late 2nd C BCE walls were built in this area with a gate for easy access from the south and west. Remains of this early wall were discovered during excavations and renovation work in the 1990s and can been seen today just outside the gate. Herod the Great reinforced the defense of the area with the Citadel and adorned it with three towers. The bases of these towers can still be seen inside Jaffa Gate as part of the Citadel.
Nothing much has been found of walls or gates from later periods.
The present Jaffa Gate was built in 1538 under the orders of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, as part of the rebuilding of all the walls around the city. Just inside the gate (on left hand) is a small area with two graves. The story is that these are the graves of the two architects who built the walls for the Sultan. However, when he was told that they had not included Mt. Zion and the Tomb of King David within the walls, he had them executed, but as a sign of honor to the otherwise great job, they were buried inside the Jaffa Gate.
It stood pretty untouched for almost 400 years. Then, in 1898 the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, came on a state visit. The Ottoman authorities wanted the Kaiser to have full triumphant entry into the city (remember at that time there was pretty much nothing outside the city).
For this they filled in the moat and tore down a small section of the walls, so the Kaiser could drive into the city in his carriage with raiser banner raised. The story is that the Ottomans had intended to rebuild the walls after the visit, but they never got round to it.
From around the latter part of 19th century, shops, stalls and service stations start to spring up both inside and outside the gate. It was already then one of the major entries and exits from the city.
In 1917 the British General Allenby entered the city on foot, apparently to show his respect for the city.
In the years of divided Jerusalem, the gate was pretty unused, as the Old City was under Jordanian rule, with the boundary just outside. No entry, no exit.
Following the Six-Day War in 1967 the gate, as well as the area both inside and outside, have seen major changes. The Mamilla project, completed 2009, includes a bridge connecting the Alrov Street across the old (but modernized) Jaffa Road. This has created a plaze outside the gate, which has zero mile of Jerusalem. This plaza is used during some of the many festivals taking place in Jerusalem.
The area inside the gate has become more and more people friendly. Less cars, more space for pedestrians to walk, more room for vendors and street musicians, guides and tourists.