Located near Jaffa Gate, one of the eight gates into the Old City of Jerusalem, are two unmarked graves, whose stories remain largely unknown and a mystery until today. Historians have identified these graves as possibly belonging to the Ottoman engineers responsible for the reconstruction of the Old City walls built when the Ottoman Empire controlled the Land of Israel. While the identification of the graves may have been concluded, the mystery surrounding the cause of death for these two engineers continues to be a matter of speculation and debate.
The Ottomans captured the region in 1516, and they would go on to rule the area for nearly four-hundred-years, until the region fell to the British in 1917. During that time, the Ottoman Empire, led by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, destroyed the Old City walls in order to reconstruct them and refortify the city. Construction of the new city walls began in 1537 and concluded in 1541, completing work on the walls that are still standing in Jerusalem today. The two engineers who were responsible for leading this project are forever memorialized near the entry to the Jaffa Gate, but what actions granted them the honor or punishment of having their graves on public display, and what was the cause of their death? While these questions lack definitive answers, two primary narratives have emerged:
The first of these stories tells of Sultan Suleiman’s satisfaction with the reconstruction project. In fact, he was so impressed by the skill and craftsmanship of his two engineers, and viewed them as so valuable, that he ordered them to be killed immediately. Suleiman was so impressed that he feared perhaps an enemy nation may recruit the two engineers to construct fortifications of their own, or force them to divulge secrets about weak points in the Jerusalem city walls. Therefore, he had them killed, and placed their graves in this prime location as an honor to their work and testament.
The second of these stories tells a different tale, and of the great dismay shared by the Sultan regarding the new city walls. It claims that the Sultan was infuriated that the city walls were not extended far enough to include Mount Zion within its limits, which would have included what they believed was the grave of King David. As an outcome of his anger toward these two disappointing engineers, he ordered them to be killed, and placed their graves in a busy location as a reminder of the consequences to those who disappoint or defy the demands of the Sultan.
The true story remains unanswered, but the mystery surrounding the fate of these two unnamed engineers continues to be a fascinating tale hidden right in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City. On your next trip through the Old City, be sure to stop and view this historic and fascinating gravesite and ponder the mystery it holds.