Close the gates! If we have them.
August 12, 2012 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Are there any cities that still have effective gates?

In the old days, cities had gates. They would close them to invaders and open them to...everyone else, I guess. The phrase "enemy at the gates" is still used today.

So do any cities, anywhere in the world, still have gates they could close to keep someone out (or in)? I imagine most cities have outgrown their original gates, so they could close off their historic districts but not their greater metropolitan areas.

I'm not looking for something like the Brandenburg Gate, which used to be the real thing but now is only decorative. I mean real, working gates. Drawbridges and portcullises also accepted.
posted by Flying Saucer to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The Old City of Jerusalem is still surrounded by walls, though the current walls are only a few hundred years old.
posted by atrazine at 3:19 PM on August 12, 2012

One (or more) of York's city gates still has a portcullis.
posted by Jehan at 3:21 PM on August 12, 2012

I believe Walmgate bar in York is still in working order.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:22 PM on August 12, 2012

er, maybe that's just the portcullis, as Jehan has suggested.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:23 PM on August 12, 2012

Well, how about the Forbidden City?

Also, there are loads of fairly-large castle/estate-ish places (think Tower of London) that can actually be closed off; I'm curious as to how big a piece of property has to be for you to accept it as an "historic district."
posted by SMPA at 3:28 PM on August 12, 2012

I think we're both right: Walmgate still has actual gates and Bootham bar has a portcullis. I'm not sure if more don't have something similar.

Note, however, that even though York walls are pretty extensive, you still couldn't secure the city with these, as there are numerous other openings and some missing stretches. But, you know, still neat as hell.
posted by Jehan at 3:29 PM on August 12, 2012

Cairo, Ill., which sits at the southern tip of Illinois is a peninsula surrounded by the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Cairo is surrounded completely by levees and the only road into town that isn't a bridge comes from the north and goes through a tunnel.

After the Ohio River flood in 1913, a gate was constructed in this tunnel which was to be lowered to effectively seal off the town in case of another major flood. It used to be tested every year, though that practice no longer continues. The gate is still there, and presumably, with some work, could be operated.

Here's a page about the gate and Cairo.
posted by brentajones at 3:31 PM on August 12, 2012 [16 favorites]

Vatican City, maybe?
posted by BungaDunga at 3:32 PM on August 12, 2012

Vatican City looks like it is mostly surrounded by a wall with gates.
posted by XMLicious at 3:33 PM on August 12, 2012

Carcassonne? I think Gibraltar has a fence separating it from Spain--would that count?
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:35 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are several walled cities still in existence. Any of these walled cities have gates at major entrance points into the old city. In some places, the stone towers around these gates would still make a decent defensive position to guard the gate even today.

The city of Xi'an in China has the most complete ancient city wall. Avila in Northern Spain also has a nearly complete city wall.
posted by Flood at 4:02 PM on August 12, 2012

Seoul has concentric arcs of anti-tank walls to block any invasion from the north.
posted by forforf at 4:36 PM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

The city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, has walls and gates. I'm not sure if they could close them if they want to, but I know the city walls still surround the old city, and it does seem as if there are gates in some places.
posted by IdRatherNotSay at 4:59 PM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Quebec City contains the only walled city in North America north of Mexico. Its gates exist but I don't think they still include closable doors or portcullises.
posted by zadcat at 5:23 PM on August 12, 2012

Lugo, in the province of Galicia in northern Spain, has walls around the old city. Not sure about gates, though. It is possible to walk around the old city atop the walls -- it's about 2 km.
posted by lulu68 at 5:29 PM on August 12, 2012

There are two ways into Los Alamos, NM, both with gatehouses. One is manned today; the other stands empty, but the road could be quickly and effectively blockaded if need be.
posted by vorfeed at 5:36 PM on August 12, 2012

Russia still has a number of known and secret closed cities, though I don't know what the physical form of the enclosure is.
posted by parudox at 5:42 PM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

To build on what IdRatherNotSay said, the Old City of Dubrovnik not only has working gates, but underwent a siege by the Yugoslavian People's Army in 1991 .
posted by chrisulonic at 5:55 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're using the US definition of city, which encompasses "small town, large village", then some of southern France's medieval bastides will fit the bill, such as Cordes-sur-ciel.
posted by holgate at 6:18 PM on August 12, 2012

Montreuil sur mer, France
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:00 PM on August 12, 2012

Would the small fortified town of Brielle qualify?
posted by wutangclan at 7:11 PM on August 12, 2012

Starting about 700 years ago, with the appearance of gunpowder cannons, traditional city walls became obsolete for military defence, because cannon could knock them down. The new approach was the Star Fortress, where you surrounded your city with a large moat, ideally by diverting a river (because that way it couldn't be drained). You controlled access not with a gate but with a bridge.

There are hundreds of cities and towns in Europe where the center of the city is on an island, accessible via a small number of bridges. In such a town, you didn't defend the town by lowering a gate. You defended it by lifting the bridges. (Or blowing them.)

One example is Dokkum, a town in the Netherlands. You can still see the six-point star fortress. It has the added benefit that the original path of the river was left in place, dividing the island into two parts. They're connected by a single bridge, so if one side fell, the other could still blow that bridge and continue to hold out.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:19 PM on August 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

Visby, Sweden, on the island of Gotland.
posted by MonsieurBon at 8:20 PM on August 12, 2012

Wagah is a village on the border between India and Pakistan and it has a gate that splits it in two (very effectively). Half in India, the other half in Pakistan. It also has the most fantastic gate closing ceremony each day.
posted by unliteral at 9:03 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Harvard Yard might count. It's not a city, though Harvard has its own police force, and is surrounded by walls and gates. During special events or other circumstances, most of the gates are closed and only those with Harvard id or events tickets can get into the area. I suppose it's a bit like a stadium or any other large event venue, but people do live within the gates and access is often restricted by means of the walls and gates, which remain open and unregulated the rest of the time.
posted by msbrauer at 9:43 PM on August 12, 2012

Jaipur, India was a planned city built in the 1700s according to a whole set of Hindu architectural ideas. If you're interested in the history of planned cities, you might check it out.

The original city (it has expanded outward) is surrounded by walls with gates. They used to be closed nightly -- theoretically I think they could still be closed.
posted by aintthattheway at 10:01 PM on August 12, 2012

Istanbul is largely walled. Not the entire city, for sure -- though definitely not a tiny "old city", either -- and the walls are in disrepair. But there's definitely a sense, coming into the city from, say, the airport, that one has Passed Through The Gates Of The Old City. The Theodosian Walls are very much one of the defining features of the Istanbul landscape, even today.

That said, I'm pretty sure it would be impossible to use the Theodosian walls to defend or contain the city. It's really more a romantic notion than a practical fortification.
posted by Sara C. at 10:51 PM on August 12, 2012

Muscat, Oman:
"The city gates remained resolutely locked and bolted against the inevitable encroachments of the outside world until 1970. Under the auspices of a progressive leader, Sultan Qaboos, the city reawakened. To facilitate the growing number of cars needing access to the city, a hole was driven through the city walls. Goods and services flooded in and Muscat flooded out to occupy the surrounding coastline. Touchingly, the city gates continued to be locked at a specific time every evening, despite the adjacent hole in the wall, until the gates were replaced with an archway."

"From the sixteenth century until as recently as 1970, Old Muscat was a walled city where the gates were locked at sunset, and anyone failing to carry a lantern illuminating their face was arrested."
posted by iviken at 3:51 AM on August 13, 2012

The reason for the gaps in the walls of York is that they were impassible on foot. The gap between Fishergate and Baille Hill was occupied by the walls of the castle/prison and the gap between Layerthorpe Postern and Red Tower was the King's Fish Pond, an impassible area of swampland and ponds.
posted by hardcode at 3:55 AM on August 13, 2012

Basically the French and German sectors of Switzerland are wired to be closed off in case of invasion (apparently the Italian part is not considered defensible, and will be sacrificed).
posted by ubiquity at 7:51 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not looking for something like the Brandenburg Gate, which used to be the real thing but now is only decorative. I mean real, working gates

What about planned communities, private estates, retirement homes, and condos? Some of those kinds of places definitely have a gate, and often a post office, a river, town center, grocery store...
posted by mdn at 8:28 AM on August 13, 2012

Aigues Morte, in Languedoc, is a nice intact walled city.
posted by mumkin at 8:42 AM on August 13, 2012

Germany has three medieval towns with intact walls: Nördlingen, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and Dinkelsbühl. I've never been to Dinkelsbühl, and it's been too long since I was in Nördlingen, but at least one of the gates in Rothenburg's wall looked operational.
posted by Rash at 9:04 AM on August 13, 2012

Khiva, Uzbekistan
posted by scrambles at 9:07 AM on August 13, 2012

Óbidos, Portugal
posted by Arthur Dent at 1:06 PM on August 13, 2012

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