Legend has it that Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who built the walls around the Old City in the 16th century, dreamed about lions who were about to devour him
The gate gets its name from the pairs of stone “lions” seen on either side of the gate’s façade. Legend has it that Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who built the walls around the Old City in the 16th century, dreamed about lions who were about to devour him because he had not seen to the defense of the city of Jerusalem.
Upon awakening he ordered that the walls be built and that lions be placed at the city’s gate. There are those who believe that they are actually panthers, the crest of the Mameluke sultan Baybars, and it would seem that they were originally part of an older building.
In Arabic the gate is known as Bab Sitt Maryam, named for the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, who is buried at the foot of the Kidron Valley. In Christian tradition the gate is called St. Stephen’s Gate for St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who was stoned to death.
During Easter Week, Palm Sunday processions pass through the gate on their way from the Mount of Olives to the Old City, following the tradition of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. During the Six Day War, IDF paratroopers breached this gate in order to reach the Old City. At the top of the gate is a small turret. In Arabic this is known as a , from the English “machicolation,” a small parapet or turret through which it is possible to observe those entering the city and if necessary – to pour boiling oil or tar on your enemies.