The Lions' Gate (Hebrew: שער האריות, Arabic: باب الأسباط,
also St. Stephen's Gate or Sheep Gate) is located in the Old
City Walls of Jerusalem and is one of seven open Gates in
Jerusalem's Old City Walls.
Located in the east wall, the entrance marks the beginning
of the traditional Christian observance of the last walk of
Jesus from prison to crucifixion, the Via Dolorosa. Near the
gate’s crest are four figures of panthers, often mistaken
for lions, two on the left and two on the right. They were
placed there by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent to celebrate
the Ottoman defeat of the Mamluks in 1517. Legend has it
that Suleiman's predecessor Selim I was captured by lions
that were going to eat him because of his plans to level the
city. He was spared only after promising to protect the city
by building a wall around it. This led to the lion becoming
the heraldic symbol of Jerusalem.
In another version, Suleiman taxed
Jerusalem's residents with heavy taxes which they could not
afford to pay. That night Suleiman had a dream of two lions
coming to devour him. When he woke up, he asked his dream
solvers what his dream meant. A wise respected man came
forward and asked Suleiman what was on his mind before
drifting to sleep. Suleiman responded that he was thinking
about how to punish all the men who didn't pay his taxes.
The wise man responded that since Suleiman thought badly
about the holy city, God was angry. To atone, Suleiman built
the Lions' Gate to protect Jerusalem from invaders.
Israeli paratroops from the 55th Paratroop Brigade came
through this gate during the Six-Day War of 1967 and
unfurled the Israeli flag above the Temple Mount.
The Lions' Gate is not to be confused with the Zion Gate in
the Old City Wall, located in the south, leading to the
Jewish and Armenian Quarters.
The magnificent walls of Jerusalem's Old City were built by
the Ottoman Empire under the direct supervision of Sultan
Suleiman in 1542. The walls stretch for approximately 4.5
kilometers (2.8 miles) and rise to a height of 5–15 meters
(16–49 feet), with a thickness of 3 meters (10 feet).
Altogether, the Old City walls contain 43 surveillance
towers and 11 gates, seven of which are presently open.