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City Gates: security guardians, openers and other matters



The Damascus gate [on mount: Jerusalem], from the E.W. Blatchford Photograph Collection, Archives and Special Collections, AUB Libraries, Photo Collections


"Besides being part of a city’s protection against invaders, city gates were places of central activity in biblical times. It was at the city gates that important business transactions were made, court was convened, and public announcements were heralded. Accordingly, it is natural that the Bible frequently speaks of “sitting in the gate” or of the activities that took place at the gate. In Proverb 1, wisdom is personified: “At the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech” (verse 21). To spread her words to the maximum number of people, Wisdom took to the gates."

City gates, in one form or another, can be found across the world in cities dating back to ancient times until around the 19th century. Many cities would close their gates at a certain curfew time each night.



Roman ruins downtown Beirut which archaeologists believe may contain the Southern Gate of Beirut's Roman city,on the site of project Landmark in Riad Solh in Beirut, Sunday, May 12, 2013. (The Daily Star Stringer)

"In a 2013 excavation in downtown Beirut, archaeologists uncovered a door that displayed many characteristics similar to what is believed to be the Southern Roman gate of the ancient Roman Beirut (dating back to the first century CE). Archeologists were hopeful that if the link was confirmed between the newly found ruins and the gate of the ancient city, this would constitute one of the most significant archaeological findings in Lebanon in recent years. The found door shared many characteristics with similar Roman gates in the region, especially ones built between 100 BCE and 200 CE. 'Our findings could be very similar to Palmyrene Gate Dura-Europos in eastern Syria,' the archaeologist [on site] said. Originally built in the Hellenistic era 2,300 years ago, Dura-Europos functioned as a Roman border city near the Euphrates River, known as the village of Salhiye in modern day Syria." At this date, it is not clear what the current status of this finding is.

Source: Van Meguerditchian, Archeologists believe Roman gate found in Beirut, the Daily Star, May15, 2013. Accessed through:

يا مفتح الابواب افتح لنا خير باب.jpg

One of the Harem's doors in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Arab and Islamic culture attached tremendous importance to gates. The idea of God  as the regulator of possibilities, transitions, potentialities as well as actualizations, as  the Beginning and End (al Awwal wa al akhir) and as  "the opener of gates", is very much omnipresent in Islamic art, architecture and calligraphy.


fī al-farāʼiḍ .jpg

Kitab “fī al-farāʼiḍ”, dated 1146/1733-1734 (p. 207), from a Collection of manuscripts, Khoury MS 153, The Manuscript Collection, Archives and Special Collections, AUB Libraries

Many opening pages of Arabic manuscripts and books emulated the aesthetics of a door: the frontispiece in Islamic manuscripts was traditionally decorated with motifs similar to those of an archway door. This manuscript from our collection, which constitutes the beginning of a collective volume “fī al-farāʼiḍ” contains a great number of texts in Arabic about a variety of subjects, all written in nasta‘liq script (al-khatt al-farisi), and with a specially designed lay-out. In a typical synthesis of form and content, the opening text has the form of a door with two handles, in which God is invoked as the ‘opener of doors’

يا مفتح الابواب ، افتح لي خير باب"


Calligraphy on door ya Fattah.jpg

Ya Fattah- Calligraphy on Door Knocker - Al-Fattah (The Opener)

Within the Islamic art tradition, not only gates, but also door handles can embody intricate details glorifying God as "the Opener of doors" and of possibilities:

!يا فتّاح