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The Jaffa Gate - A Wrinkle in Time

The advent of steamship travel in the mid-19th century dramatically shifted the axis of Jerusalem's gates. From a dominant northern exposure through the crenellated Damascus Gate, Jerusalem increasingly gazed westward from the more reserved Jaffa Gate.

From here an economic umbilical cord wound down to the coast, inextricably binding the fortunes of the Holy City with those of the bustling Mediterranean port of Jaffa, entry point for thousands of religious pilgrims.

The rocky route leading up through the Judean Hills to the Jaffa Gate became Palestine's first paved road, upgraded by the Ottoman Turks in honor of the 1869 excursion of Austrian Kaiser Franz Josef who happened to be in the neighborhood for the grand opening of the Suez Canal.

Jump forward to the turn of the century. To celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the reign of Abdul Hamid II, the 34th and last of the Ottoman Sultans, over one hundred clock towers were erected throughout the ailing Ottoman Empire. Abdul Hamid was heavily into modernity and nothing better symbolized the changing times than clocks, a critical adjunct to the railroad network he built throughout the region with the help of his German engineers.

Seven (some will say six) of these clock towers were erected in Palestine as beautifully commemorated in a 2004 issue of the Israel Philatelic Service. The most pretentious of these towers and the only one no longer standing, was built in Jerusalem. Due to its centrality, the Jaffa Gate was selected as the site for this special ornament.

A turn-of-the-century postcard (i.e., primitive Instagram wannabe) shows the remodeled Jaffa Gate with the Ottoman clock tower hovering menacingly over the entrance. This four-story structure, replete with observation balcony, was constructed of Jerusalem's signature limestone blocks quarried from Zedekiah's Cave that tunnels far below the Old City walls on Jerusalem's northern perimeter.

In 1917, the victorious 'Egyptian Expeditionary Force' commanded by General Edmund Allenby, conquered Jerusalem and brought to a dramatic close four hundred years of Ottoman rule.

Five years later, Sir Ronald Storrs, the British High Commissioner noted with pleasure that "we had completed the restoration of the city walls, ramparts and Citadel; repaired the Damascus Gate, Herod's Gate and the Zion Gate and removed the offence of the Turkish "Jubilee" clock tower from the Jaffa Gate."

Join me on a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem and together we'll enter the Jaffa Gate to search for tell-tale signs of the Ottoman clock tower that once stood here and added another wrinkle in time to the Holy City that is Jerusalem!


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