The gate first uncovered by BLISS and DICKIE today lies in north-west of the excavation area. It does feature three successive thresholds. The oldest was set between two trimmed blocks, remains on which originally the pillars of the gate’s archway rested. Two circular depression – the pivot point for the doors – are still visible. Below the floor belonging to this gate, runs a waste-water canal. The second threshold is a repair of the first and raised the threshold’s height for 35 cm. It changed the clear height, but its construction did not intrude into the existing substance. Later though, another slab, likely a reused street paving was inserted. To fit this slab, the northern pier was cut. The third threshold marks a new, separate constructions phase. With it, the level of access to the city is raised for more than one meter. This threshold rests on a thick layer of mortar which can also be found on the adjacent ashlar wall. Probably, A small patch of the street leading into the city is preserved along the eastern edge of the threshold.
In accordance with historical sources, it is very likely that the oldest threshold has been part of the Gate of Essenes described by Flavius Josephus, according to whom the gate was built in Hasmonean or Herodian times. While it is not possible to date the phase of repair, we can date the latest threshold. It belongs to an ashlar-wall built by empress Eudecia in the fifth century.
The Lower Gate (Herodian; according to Pixner the “Gate of the Essenes”)
J. BLISS’s report in Excavations at Jerusalem, 1895-1897 (London 1898), 16-19: “The gate is proved to represent four distinct periods by the different superimposed sills with their sockets. […] the latest doorsill is […] composed of three large slabs of white mezzeh limestone, tinged with red, the central stone being not quite in line with the other two. The slabs are cut back 4 inces to form an inner and outer sill. They are well polished, as if by the wear of feet, especially at the outer edge. In the angles of the inner sill are the round sockets marked (1), which indicate seats for the gate-posts. The masonry at this angle is eaten away in a series of furrows … The width of the gate at this latest period is 8 feet along the outer sill, and 9 feet 10 inches along the inner sill.”
As reported by PIXNER in his preliminary excavation report (PIXNER/CHEN/MARGALIT 1989, 85-95), a breach was made during the Herodian period (37 B.C.-70 A.D.) into the city wall and a gate inserted under which a large sewage channel had been constructed (maybe the same which Flavius Josephus called the „Gate of the Essenes“ Bell V § 145). After PIXNER (ibid. 87) the pottery from below and around the flanking stones appears to be Hellenistic-Early Herodian. The same can be said of the pottery behind the large limestone slabs that line the sewage channel, where it passes below the gate. These slabs are of excellent workmanship.
For people coming from the desert or Bethlehem, the gate could only be reached by crossing the valley and climbing a steep path reaching the tower and then the gate. F. J. BLISS mentions, that his foreman Yusif Abu Selim noticed this path while digging underground from the gate to Tower I.
The “Gate of the Essenes” – wherever it was situated – was destroyed by the army of Titus in 70 A.D., together with the rest of Mt. Zion. Josephus describes the extent of the destruction: „The Romans now set fire to the outlying quarters of the city and razed the walls to the ground“ (Bell VI § 434). One of the capitals of the „Lower Gate“ (PIXNER/CHEN/MARGALIT 1989, 87) shows evident marks of burning on its lower half. On the steps of a ritual bath that had been used in that period, PIXNER found a coin of the second year of the first revolt (67/68 A.D.) underneath thick layers of destruction material.
The Middle Gate (Roman)
Between the sill of the lowest city gate, that is the “Gate of the Essenes“, and the uppermost one, the Byzantine gate, there were two courses of limestone slabs used as a threshold. While BLISS was not sure whether they belong to one or two chronologically different gates, PIXNER believed to have found evidence to support the contention that they formed but one gate, the upper slab constituting the outer sill and the lower the inner sill of the same threshold. In the lower sill a socket was found which, agreeing with BLlSS, was probably the only one of this period. Next to that socket markings of the chafing of the gate post against the upper sill were noticed, indicating the simultaneous use of both sills. PIXNER also observed that both slabs had been bonded together by still visible cement plaster on the outside. BLISS noticed that the slab showed signs of wear at its edge.
PIXNER was also able to scrape out some of the rubble fill from below this middle sill and had the pottery found therein examined. The thorough examination resulted in dating the ceramics to the period between 70 A.D. and the early 4th century. Within that period no closer dating is possible. In the rubble outside the gate, 0.40 m above the sewage channel, a city coin of Aelia Capitolina was found. It bears the image of Emperor Elagabalus (218-222 A.D.).
The middle gate was made from spolia and assembled in a rather unskilled fashion. PIXNER suggests to be built after 70 A.D. Titus left the three towers of the Herodian Palace and the western city wall standing to serve as a protection for the 10th Legion (Bell VII § 2). Remains of this wall were discovered by BROSHI.
PIXNER describes the middle gate in a wild compilation of early sources of Christianity as a part of the Christian Quarter on Mt. Zion – of course, much more legend and wish as archaeological proof: “Until the Bar-Kochba Revolt (132-135) this community of Nazorean-Christians on Mt. Zion had a succession of fifteen Jewish bishops … Up to that time this community must have had a high standing among believers around the Oecumene.”
The Upper Gate (Byzantine)
When PIXNER remeasured the threshold of the upper gate he was able to discern traces of the missing southern jamb-stone and thus to assess the exact width of the upper gate. The inner width of the upper gate is precisely 3,09 m, or 10 Byzantine feet of 0,3089 m. The northern jamb-stone of this gate measures 0,31 m in width, or 1 Byzantine foot, by 0,61 m or 2 Byzantine feet.
This middle gate of the murus Sion was superposed by a new Byzantine gate. It is an anonymous pilgrim who came from Piacenza (Italy), ca. 570 A.D., who gives us the name of the initiator of the reconstruction of the southern line of the Byzantine wall of Jerusalem. From a casual remark we learn that at his time Mount Zion and Siloam were included within the city wall. He writes: „For now, since the Empress Eudokia has extended the city’s wall, the Siloam Fountain below is also included into the city“. Since we know the time of Eudokia’s stay in Jerusalem, we can date the building of the Byzantine wall to the middle of the 5th century A.D. This was a peaceful period in the history of Jerusalem. The purpose of the Christian empress, who lived for a long period in the Holy Land, for including Mt. Zion and Siloam into the city might have been her desire to see the walls restored to the extent they had at Jesus‘ time. No deep foundation trenches were dug for this rather „cosmetical“ wall, so that archaeologists get the impression, that Eudokia’s wall rests on nothing but a heap of rubble.
Fortunately for archaeology, the Byzantine builders did not bother to dig deep enough to destroy the sills of the lower gates and merely used the one remaining pilaster of the “Essene Gate“ as fill material for their new road pavement. The sewage channel was also reactivated. The gate’s threshold of this period shows grooves made by vehicles. This was a new development, which differed from the two former gates, which had only been used by pedestrians. The Byzantine road outside the gate did not descend directly into the Hinnom Valley, but, as suggested by a pavement which was found on the outside at the same level as the upper gate sill, led around the south-western slope of Mt. Zion, and after crossing the valley it might have joint the Byzantine road that G. BARKAY found on the grounds of the Scottish church of St. Andrew leading in the direction of Bethlehem. There is still an open question regarding why this Byzantine gate was blocked up at a later date, as noticed by BLISS when he first discovered it.
BLISS also noticed that not only had the gate been blocked, but even a Byzantine house had been built across the road approaching the gate.
The small channel which was found running along the wall inside the Byzantine gate (see PIXNER/CHEN/MARGALIT 1989, Fig. 2), seems originally to have had an extension along the interior line of the blocked-up gate. So, for a while, the wall itself was left standing while the use of the gate and the street had been discontinued. The Byzantine house which BLISS found built over the street points in the same direction.
The gate was maybe called “Thekoa Gate” in the Byzantine-Omayyad period.
From the end of Juli until the end of August the GPIA conducted an excavation on the anglican-protestant cemetery on Mt. Zion under the direction of Prof. Dieter Vieweger und Katharina Palmberger. The aim of the multi-year project is to develop the site of former excavation by Bliss/Dickie (end of the 19th century) and Bargil Pixner (1970/80s) around the so called Gate of Essenes.