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The Western Wall is located in the Old City of Jerusalem at the foot of the western side of the Temple Mount. It is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple's courtyard, and is arguably the most sacred site recognized by the Jewish faith outside of the Temple Mount itself. It has been a site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage for centuries; the earliest source mentioning Jewish attachment to the site dates back to the 4th century. From the mid-19th century onwards, attempts to purchase rights to the wall and its immediate area were made by various Jews, but none were successful. With the rise of the Zionist movement in the early 20th century, the wall became a source of friction between the Jewish community and the Muslim religious leadership, who were worried that the wall was being used to further Jewish nationalistic claims to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem. Outbreaks of violence at the foot of the wall became commonplace and an international commission was convened in 1930 to determine the rights and claims of Muslims and Jews in connection with the wall. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the wall came under Jordanian control and Israelis were barred from the site for 19 years until Israel captured the Old City in 1967.
History and time period
Construction 19 BCE:
According to the Tanakh, Solomon's Temple was built atop the Temple Mount in the 10th century BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and the Second Temple completed and dedicated in 516 BCE. Around 19 BCE Herod the Great began a massive expansion project on the Temple Mount. In addition to renovating and enlarging the Temple, he artificially expanded the platform on which it stood, resulting in an enlarged enclosure. Today's Western Wall formed part of the retaining perimeter wall of this platform. In 2011, Israeli archaeologists announced the discovery of Roman coins minted well after Herod's death found under the massive Meleke foundation stones in the southern section of the wall inside a ritual bath which predates the construction of the renovated Temple Mount complex and was filled in to support the new walls. This indicates that Herod did not build the entire wall and that construction was not close to being complete when he died. The finds confirms the description by historian Josephus Flavius, which state that constructions were finished only during the reign of King Agrippa II, Herod’s great-grandson. Herod's Temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire, along with the rest of Jerusalem, in 70 CE, during the First Jewish-Roman War.
Roman Empire and rise of Christianity 100–500 CE: In the early centuries of the Common Era, after the Roman defeat of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE, Jews were banned from Jerusalem. There is some evidence that Roman emperors in the 2nd and 3rd centuries did permit them to visit the city to worship on the Mount of Olives and sometimes on the Temple Mount itself. When the empire became Christian under Constantine I, they were given permission to enter the city once a year, on the ninth day of the month of Av, to lament the loss of the Temple at the wall. The Bordeaux Pilgrim, written in 333 CE, suggests that it was probably to the perforated stone or the Rock of Moriah, "to which the Jews come every year and anoint it, bewail themselves with groans, rend their garments, and so depart". This was because an Imperial decree from Rome barred Jews from living in Jerusalem. Just once per year they were permitted to return and bitterly grieve about the fate of their people. Comparable accounts survive, including those by the Church Father, Gregory of Nazianzus and by Jerome in his commentary to Zephaniah written in 392 CE. In the 4th century, Christian sources reveal that the Jews encountered great difficulty in buying the right to pray near the Western Wall, at least on the 9th of Av.In 425 CE, the Jews of the Galilee wrote to Byzantine empress Aelia Eudocia seeking permission to pray by the ruins of the Temple. Permission was granted and they were officially permitted to resettle in Jerusalem.
Middle Ages 500–1500: There are several Jewish authors of the 10th and 11th centuries, e.g., Aaron ben Meïr, Samuel ben Paltiel, Solomon ben Judah and others, who write about the Jews resorting to the Western Wall for devotional purposes. The Scroll of Ahimaaz, written in 1050 CE, distinctly describes the Western Wall as a place of prayer for the Jews. Shortly before the Crusader period a synagogue stood at the site. Jewish pilgrim Isaac Chelo (1334), writes of an Arab king who conquered Palestine from the Christians. (He is possibly refering to the capture of Jerusalem by Umar in 637.) The king had made an oath that should he succeed in conquering Jerusalem, he would restore the ruins of the Temple. After his victory, he sought out the ruins, but they had been hidden beneath heaps of rubbish. An old man approached the king saying "I will tell you where the Temple lies, but I want you to swear that you will leave us the Western Wall." After promising, the king was shown where the ruins lay buried. The king ordered the place be cleared and "built a magnificent mosque and left the Western Wall for the Jews, who resorted there to pray." Chelo also noted that "It is this Western Wall which stands before the temple of Omar ibn al Khattab, and which is called the Gate of Mercy. The Jews resort thither to say their prayers, as Rabbi Benjamin has already related. Today, this wall is one of the seven wonders of the Holy City." He refers to Benjamin of Tudela who, during the late Crusader Period in around 1167 CE, wrote that "In front of this place is the Western Wall, which is one of the walls of the Holy of Holies. This is called the Gate of Mercy, and hither come all the Jews to pray before the Wall in the open court".Shortly after the Siege of Jerusalem, in 1193, Saladin’s son and successor al-Afdal established the land adjacent to the wall as a charitable trust. It was named after an important mystic Abu Madyan Shu'aib and dedicated to Moroccan settlers who had taken up residence there. Houses were built only 4 meters (13 ft) away from the wall. The first mention of the Islamic tradition that Buraq was tethered at the site is from the 14th century. A manuscript by Ibn Furkah, (d. 1328), refers to Bab al-Nab, an old name for a gate along the southwestern wall of the Haram al-Sharif. Rabbi Obadiah of Bertinoro writing in 1488, states "the Westen Wall, part of which is still standing, is made of great, thick stones, larger than any I have seen in buildings of antiquity in Rome or in other lands."
Ottoman period 1517–1917: In 1517, the Turkish Ottoman Empire under Selim I conquered Jerusalem from the Mamluks who had held it since 1250. The Ottomans had a benevolent attitude towards the Jews, having welcomed thousands of Jewish refugees who had recently been expelled from Spain by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile in 1492. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent was so taken with Jerusalem and its plight that he ordered a magnificent fortress-wall built around the entire city, today's Old City wall. There are various accounts of Suleiman's efforts to locate the Temple's ruins. Rabbi Eliezer Nachman Puah, (ca. 1540), relates: ”I have been told that in the day of Sultan Suleiman the site of the Temple was not known and the Sultan had every corner of Jerusalem searched for it. One day the man in charge of the work, despairing after much searching and inquiring in vain, saw a woman coming with a basket of rubbish and filth upon her head. He asked her: “What are you carrying on your head?” – And she replied: “Rubbish.” “And to where are you carrying it?” “To such and such a place.” “Where do you live?” “In Bethlehem.” “Is there no dunghill between Bethlehem and this place?” “It is a tradition among us that whoever takes a little rubbish to that place performs a meritorious act.” The curiosity of the officer was aroused and he commanded a great number of men to remove the rubbish from that place...and the holy site was revealed. When the Sultan learned of this, he rejoiced greatly and ordered the place to be swept and sprinkled and the Western Wall washed with rosewater...” In the second half of the 16th century, Suleiman the Magnificent gave the Jews rights to worship at the Western Wall and had his court architect Mimar Sinan build an oratory for them there. In 1625 arranged prayers at the Wall are mentioned for the first time by a scholar whose name has not been preserved. Rabbi Gedaliah of Semitizi, who went to Jerusalem in 1699, writes that scrolls of the Law were brought to the Wall on occasions of public distress and calamity. Over the centuries, land close to the Wall became built up. Public access to the Wall was through the Moroccan Quarter, a labyrinth of narrow alleyways. In May 1840 a firman issued by Ibrahim Pasha forbade the Jews to pave the passageway in front of the Wall. It also cautioned them against “raising their voices and displaying their books there.” They were, however, allowed “to pay visits to it as of old.” Rabbi Joseph Schwarz writing in the mid-19th century records: ”This wall is visited by all our brothers on every feast and festival; and the large space at its foot is often so densely filled up, that all cannot perform their devotions here at the same time. It is also visited, though by less numbers, on every Friday afternoon, and by some nearly every day. No one is molested in these visits by the Mahomedans, as we have a very old firman from the Sultan of Constantinople that the approach shall not be denied to us, though the Porte obtains for this privilege a special tax, which is, however, quite insignificant.” Over time the increased numbers of people gathering at the site resulted in tensions between the Jewish visitors who wanted easier access and more space, and the residents, who complained of the noise. This gave rise to Jewish attempts at gaining ownership of the land adjacent to the Wall.
In the late 1830's a wealthy Jew named Shemarya Luria attempted to purchase houses near the Wall, but was unsuccessful, as was Jewish sage Abdullah of Bombay who tried to purchase the Western Wall in the 1850's. In 1869 Rabbi Hillel Moshe Gelbstein settled in Jerusalem. He arranged that benches and tables be brought to the Wall on a daily basis for the study groups he organised and the minyan which he led there for years. He also formulated a plan whereby some of the courtyards facing the Wall would be acquired, with the intention of establishing three synagogues – one each for the Sephardim, the Hasidim and the Perushim. He also endeavored to re-establish an ancient practice of “guards of honor”, which according to the mishnah in Middot, were positioned around the Temple Mount. He rented a house near the Wall and paid men to stand guard there and at various other gateways around the mount. However this set-up lasted only for a short time due to lack of funds or because of Arab resentment. In 1874, Mordechai Rosanes paid for the repaving of the alleyway adjacent to the wall. In 1877 the Mufti of Jerusalem accepted a Jewish offer to buy the Moroccan Quarter, but a dispute within the Jewish community prevented the agreement from going ahead. In 1887 a promising attempt was made by Baron Rothschild who conceived a plan to purchase and demolish the Moroccan Quarter as "a merit and honor to the Jewish People." The proposed purchase was considered and approved by the Ottoman Governor of Jerusalem, Rauf Pasha, and by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Tahir Husseini. Even after permission was obtained from the highest secular and Muslim religious authority to proceed, the transaction was shelved after the authorities insisted that after demolishing the quarter no construction of any type could take place there, only trees could be planted to beautify the area. Additionally the Jews would not have full control over the area. This meant that they would have no power to stop people from using the plaza for various activities, including the driving of mules, which would cause a disturbance to worshipers. Other reports place the scheme's failure on Jewish infighting as to whether the plan would foster a detrimental Arab reaction.
In 1895 Hebrew linguist and publisher Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn became entangled in a failed effort to purchase the Western Wall and lost all his assets. Even the attempts of the Palestine Land Development Company to purchase the environs of the Western Wall for the Jews just before the outbreak of World War I never came to fruition. In the first two months following the Ottoman Empire’s entry into the First World War, the Turkish governor of Jerusalem, Zakey Bey, offered to sell the Moroccan Quarter, which consisted of about 25 houses, to the Jews in order to enlarge the area available to them for prayer. He requested a sum of £20,000 which would be used to both rehouse the Muslim families and to create a public garden in front of the Wall. However, the Jews of the city lacked the necessary funds. A few months later, under Muslim Arab pressure on the Turkish authorities in Jerusalem, Jews became forbidden by official decree to place benches and light candles at the Wall. This sour turn in relations was taken up by the Chacham Bashi who managed to get the ban overturned. In 1915 it was reported that Djemal Pasha closed off the wall to visitation as a sanitary measure.
British rule 1917–48: Jewish Legion soldiers at the Western Wall after British conquest of Jerusalem, 1917 In December 1917, British forces under Edmund Allenby captured Jerusalem from the Turks. Allenby pledged "that every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred". In 1919 Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, anxious to enable Jews to access their sacred site unmolested, approached the British Military Governor of Jerusalem, Colonel Sir Ronald Storrs, and offered between £75,000 and £100,000(approx. £5m in modern terms) to purchase the area at the foot of the Wall and rehouse the occupants. Storrs was enthusiastic about the idea because he hoped some of the money would be used to improve Muslim education. Although optimistic at first, negotiations broke down after strong Muslim opposition. Storrs wrote two decades later: "The acceptance of the proposals, had it been practicable, would have obviated years of wretched humiliations, including the befouling of the Wall and pavement and the unmannerly braying of the tragicomic Arab band during Jewish prayer, and culminating in the horrible outrages of 1929". In early 1920, the first Jewish-Arab dispute over the Wall occurred when the Muslim authorities were carrying out minor repair works to the Wall’s upper courses. The Jews, while agreeing that the works were necessary, appealed to the British that they be made under supervision of the newly formed Department of Antiquities, because the Wall was an ancient relic. In 1926 another abortive effort was made by Palestine Zionist Executive, Colonel F. H. Kisch, who envisaged buying the whole area adjacent to the Wall in order to create an open space with seats for aged worshipers to sit on. In 1928 the Zionist Organisation reported that John Chancellor, High Commissioner of Palestine, believed that the Western Wall should come under Jewish control and wondered “why no great Jewish philanthropist had not bought it yet”.
September 1928 disturbances:
The placing of a Mechitza such as this at the wall in 1928 was the catalyst for confrontation between the Arabs, Jews and Mandate authorities In 1922, a status quo agreement issued by the mandatory authority forbade the placing of benches or chairs near the Wall. The last occurrence of such a ban was in 1915, but the Ottoman decree was soon retracted after intervention of the Chacham Bashi. In 1928 the District Commissioner of Jerusalem, Edward Keith-Roach, acceded to an Arab request to implement the ban. This led to a British officer being stationed at the Wall making sure that Jews were prevented from sitting. Nor were Jews permitted to separate the sexes with a screen. In practice, a flexible modus vivendi had emerged and such screens had been put up from time to time when large numbers of people gathered to pray. On September 24, 1928, the Day of Atonement, British police resorted to forcefully removing a screen used to separate men and women at prayer. Women who tried to prevent the screen being dismantled were beaten by the police, who used pieces of the broken wooden frame as clubs. Chairs were then pulled out from under elderly worshipers. The episode made international news and Jews the world over objected to the British action. The Chief Rabbi of the ultraorthodox Jews in Jerusalem issued a protest letter on behalf of his community, the Edah HaChareidis, and Agudas Yisroel strongly condemning the desecration of the holy site. Various communal leaders called for a general strike. A large rally was held in the Etz Chaim Yeshiva, following which an angry crowd attacked the local police station in which they believed the British officer involved in the fiasco was sheltering. Commissioner Edward Keith-Roach described the screen as violating the Ottoman status quo that forbade Jews from making any construction in the Western Wall area. He informed the Jewish community that the removal had been carried out under his orders after receiving a complaint from the Supreme Muslim Council. The Arabs were concerned that the Jews were trying to extend their rights at the wall and with this move, ultimately intended to take possession of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.The British government issued an announcement explaining the incident and blaming the Jewish beadle at the Wall. It stressed that the removal of the screen was necessary, but expressed regret over the ensuing events. A widespread Arab campaign to protest against presumed Jewish intentions and designs to take possession of the Al Aqsa Mosque swept the country and a "Society for the Protection of the Muslim Holy Places” was established. The Vaad Leumi responding to these Arab fears declared in a statement that "We herewith declare emphatically and sincerely that no Jew has ever thought of encroaching upon the rights of Muslims over their own Holy places, but our Arab brethren should also recognize the rights of Jews in regard to the places in Palestine which are holy to them." The committee also demanded that the British administration expropriate the wall for the Jews. From October 1928 onward, Mufti Amin al-Husayni organised a series of measures to demonstrate the Arabs' exclusive claims to the Temple Mount and its environs. He ordered new construction next to and above the Western Wall. The British granted the Arabs permission to convert a building adjoining the Wall into a mosque and to add a minaret. A muezzin was appointed to perform the Islamic call to prayer and Sufi rites directly next to the Wall. These were seen as a provocation by the Jews who prayed at the Wall. The Jews protested and tensions increased. A British inquiry into the disturbances and investigation regarding the principle issue in the Western Wall dispute, namely the rights of the Jewish worshipers to bring appurtenances to the wall, was convened. The Supreme Muslim Council provided documents dating from the Turkish regime supporting their claims. However, repeated reminders to the Chief Rabbinate to verify which apparatus had been permitted failed to elicit any response. They refused to do so, arguing that Jews had the right to pray at the Wall without restrictions.Subsequently, in November 1928, the Government issued a White Paper entitled "The Western or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for the Colonies", which emphasized the maintenance of the status quo and instructed that Jews could only bring “those accessories which had been permitted in Turkish times.” A few months later, Haj Amin complained to Chancellor that “Jews were bringing benches and tables in increased numbers to the wall and driving nails into the wall and hanging lamps on them.”
1929 Palestine riots:
In the summer of 1929, the Mufti ordered an opening be made at the southern end of the alleyway which straddled the Wall. The former cul-de-sac became a thoroughfare which led from the Temple Mount into the prayer area at the Wall. Mules were herded through the narrow alley, often dropping excrement. This, together with other construction projects in the vicinity, and restricted access to the Wall, resulted in Jewish protests to the British, who remained indifferent. On August 14, 1929, after attacks on individual Jews praying at the Wall, 6,000 Jews demonstrated in Tel Aviv, shouting “The Wall is ours.” The next day, the Jewish fast of Tisha B'Av, 300 youths raised the Zionist flag and sang the Zionist anthem at the Wall.The day after, on August 16, an organized mob of 2,000 Muslim Arabs descended on the Western Wall, injuring the beadle and burning prayer books, liturgical fixtures and notes of supplication. The rioting spread to the Jewish commercial area of town, and was followed a few days later by the Hebron massacre.
1930 international commission: In 1930, in response to the 1929 riots, the British Government appointed a commission "to determine the rights and claims of Muslims and Jews in connection with the Western or Wailing Wall". The League of Nations approved the commission on condition that the members were not British. The Jews requested that the Commission take the following actions: To give recognition to the immemorial claim that the Wailing Wall is a Holy Place for the Jews, not only for the Jews in Palestine, but also for the Jews of the whole world. To decree that the Jews shall have the right of access to the Wall for devotion and for prayers in accordance with their ritual without interference or interruption. To decree that it shall be permissible to continue the Jewish services under the conditions of decency and decorum characteristic of a sacred custom that has been carried on for many centuries without infringement upon the religious rights of others. To decree that the drawing up of any regulations that may be necessary as to such devotions and prayers, shall be entrusted to the Rabbinate of Palestine, who shall thus re-assume full responsibility in that matter, in discharge of which responsibility they may consult the Rabbinate of the world. To suggest, if the Commissioners approve of the plan, to the Mandatory Power that it should make the necessary arrangements by which the properties now occupied by the Moghrabi Waqf might be vacated, the Waqf authorities accepting in lieu of them certain new buildings to be erected upon some eligible site in Jerusalem, so that the charitable purpose, for which this Waqf was given, may still be fulfilled. The Commission noted that 'the Jews do not claim any proprietorship to the Wall or to the Pavement in front of it (concluding speech of Jewish Counsel, Minutes, page 908).' David Yellin testifying before the commission stated: ”Being judged before you today stands a nation that has been deprived of everything that is dear and sacred to it from its emergence in its own land – the graves of its patriarchs, the graves of its great kings, the graves of its holy prophets and, above all, the site of its glorious Temple. Everything has been taken from it and of all the witnesses to its sanctity, only one vestige remains – one side of a tiny portion of a wall, which, on one side, borders the place of its former Temple. In front of this bare stone wall, that nation stands under the open sky, in the heat of summer and in the rains of winter, and pours out its heart to its God in heaven.”
The Commission concluded that the wall, and the adjacent pavement and Moroccan Quarter, were solely owned by the Muslim waqf. However, Jews had the right to "free access to the Western Wall for the purpose of devotions at all times", subject to some stipulations that limited which objects could be brought to the Wall and forbade the blowing of the shofar, which was made illegal. Muslims were forbidden to disrupt Jewish devotions by driving animals or other means. Yitzchak Orenstein, who held the position of Rabbi of the Kotel, recorded in April 1930 that “Our master, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld came to pray this morning by the Kosel and one of those present produced a small chair for the Rav to rest on for a few moments. However, no sooner had the Rav sat down did an Arab officer appear and pull the chair away from under him.” During the 1930s, at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, young Jews persistently flouted the shofar ban each year and blew the shofar resulting in their arrest and prosecution. They were usually fined or sentenced to imprisonment for three to six months.
Jordanian rule 1948–67: During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the Old City together with the Wall was occupied by Jordan. Article VIII of the 1949 Armistice Agreement provided for Israeli Jewish access to the Western Wall. However for the following nineteen years, despite numerous requests by Israeli officials and Jewish groups to the United Nations and other international bodies to attempt to enforce the armistice agreement, Jordan refused to abide by this clause. Neither Israeli Arabs nor Israeli Jews could visit their holy places in the Jordanian territories. An exception was made for Christians to participate in Christmas ceremonies in Bethlehem.Some sources claim Jews could only visit the wall if they traveled through Jordan (which was not an option for Israelis) and did not have an Israeli visa stamped in their passports. Only Jordanian soldiers and tourists were to be found there. A vantage point on Mount Zion, from which the Wall could be viewed, became the place where Jews gathered to pray. For thousands of pilgrims, the mount, being the closest location to the Wall under Israeli control, became a substitute site for the traditional priestly blessing ceremony which takes place on the Three Pilgrimage Festivals.
"Al Buraq (Wailing Wall) During the Jordanian occupation of the Old City, a ceramic street sign in Arabic and English was affixed to the stones of the ancient wall. Attached 3 metres (9.8 ft) up, it was made up of eight separate ceramic tiles and said Al Buraq in Arabic at the top with the English "Al-Buraq (Wailing Wall) Rd" below. When Israeli soldiers arrived at the wall in June 1967, one attempted to scrawl Hebrew lettering on it. The Jerusalem Post reported that on June 8, Ben-Gurion went to the wall and "looked with distaste" at the road sign; "this is not right, it should come down” and he proceeded to dismantle it. This act signaled the climax of the capture of the Old City and the ability of Jews to once again access their holiest sites.Emotional recollections of this event are related by David ben Gurion and Shimon Peres.
Israeli rule 1967–present:
The iconic image of Israeli soldiers shortly after the capture of the Wall during the Six-Day War. Following Israel's victory during the 1967 Six-Day War, the Western Wall came under Israeli control. Yitzchak Rabin, fifth Prime Minister of Israel, described the moment Israeli soldiers reached the Wall: There was one moment in the Six-Day War which symbolized the great victory: that was the moment in which the first paratroopers — under Gur's command — reached the stones of the Western Wall, feeling the emotion of the place; there never was, and never will be, another moment like it. Nobody staged that moment. Nobody planned it in advance. Nobody prepared it and nobody was prepared for it; it was as if Providence had directed the whole thing: the paratroopers weeping — loudly and in pain — over their comrades who had fallen along the way, the words of the Kaddish prayer heard by Western Wall's stones after 19 years of silence, tears of mourning, shouts of joy, and the singing of "Hatikvah". Forty-eight hours after capturing the wall, the military, without explicit government order, hastily proceeded to demolish the entire Moroccan Quarter which stood 4 metres (13 ft) from the Wall. The Sheikh Eid Mosque, which was built over one of Jerusalem's oldest Islamic schools, the Afdiliyeh, named after one of Saladin's sons, was pulled down to make way for the plaza. It was one of three or four that survived from Saladin's time. 650 people consisting of 106 Arab families were ordered to leave their homes at night. When they refused, bulldozers began to demolish the structures, causing casualties. One old woman was buried under the houses as the bulldozer razed the area. According to Eyal Weizman, Chaim Herzog, who later became Israel's sixth president, took much of the credit for the destruction of the neighborhood: When we visited the Wailing Wall we found a toilet attached to it ... we decided to remove it and from this we came to the conclusion that we could evacuate the entire area in front of the Wailing Wall ... a historical opportunity that will never return ... We knew that the following Saturday, June 14, would be the Jewish festival of Shavuot and that many will want to come to pray ... it all had to be completed by then. The narrow pavement, which could accommodate a maximum of 12,000 per day, was transformed into an enormous plaza which could hold in excess of 400,000. The dusty plaza stretched from the wall to the Jewish Quarter. The section of the Wall dedicated to prayers was extended southwards to double its original length, from 28 to 60 meters (92 to 200 ft), while the 4 meters (13 ft) space facing the Wall grew to 40 meters (130 ft). The small, approximately 120 square metres (1,300 sq ft) pre-1967 area in front of the wall grew to 2,400 square meters (26,000 sq ft), with the entire Western Wall Plaza covering 20,000 square meters (4.9 acres). The new plaza created in 1967 is used for worship and public gatherings, including Bar mitzvah celebrations and the swearing-in ceremonies of newly full-fledged soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. Tens of thousands of Jews flock to the wall on the Jewish holidays, and particularly on the fast of Tisha B'Av, which marks the destruction of the Temple and on Jerusalem Day, which commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 and the delivery of the Wall into Jewish hands.
Early Jewish texts referred to a “western wall of the Temple”, but there is doubt whether the texts were referring to today’s Western Wall or to another wall which stood within the Temple complex. The earliest clear Jewish use of the term Western Wall as referring to the wall visible today was by the 11th-century Ahimaaz ben Paltiel. The name “Wailing Wall”, and descriptions such as "wailing place" appeared regularly in English literature during the 19th century. The name Mur des Lamentations was used in French and Klagemauer in German. This term itself was a translation of the Arabic el-Mabka, or "Place of Weeping," the traditional Arabic term for the wall. This description stemmed from the Jewish practice of coming to the site to mourn and bemoan the destruction of the Temple. During the 1920's with the growing Arab-Jewish tensions over rights at the wall, the Arabs began referring to the wall as al-Buraq. This was based on the tradition that the wall was the place where Muhammad tethered his miraculous winged steed, Buraq.
Location and dimensions
The Western Wall commonly refers to a 187 foot (57 m) exposed section of ancient wall situated on the western flank of the Temple Mount. This section faces a large plaza and is set aside for prayer. In its entirety, however, the above ground portion of the Western Wall stretches for 1,600 feet (488 m), most of which is hidden behind residential structures built along its length. Other revealed sections include the southern part of the Wall which measures approximately 80 meters (262 ft) and another much shorter section known as the Little Western Wall which is located close to the Iron Gate. The wall functions as a retaining wall, built to support the extensive renovations that Herod the Great carried out around 19 BCE. Herod expanded the small quasi-natural plateau on which the First and Second Temples stood into the wide expanse of the Temple Mount visible today. At the Western Wall Plaza, the total height of the Wall from its foundation is estimated at 105 feet (32 m), with the exposed section standing approximately 62 feet (19 m) high. The Wall consists of 45 stone courses, 28 of them above ground and 17 underground. The first seven visible layers are from the Herodian period. This section of wall is built from enormous meleke limestone stones, possibly quarried at either Zedekiah's Cave situated under the Muslim Quarter of the Old City or at Ramat Shlomo 4 kilometers (2.5 mi) northwest of the Old City. Most of them weigh between 2 and 8 short tons (1.8 and 7.3 t) each, but others weigh even more, with one extraordinary stone located in the northern section of Wilson's Arch measuring 13 meters (43 ft) and weighing approximately 570 short tons (520 t). Each of these stones is surrounded by fine-chiseled borders. The margins themselves measure between 5 and 20 centimeters (2 and 8 in) wide, with their depth measuring 1.5 centimeters (0.59 in). In the Herodian period, the upper 10 meters (33 ft) of wall were 1 meter (39 in) thick and served as the other wall of the double colonnade of the plateau. This upper section was decorated with pilasters, the remainder of which were destroyed at the beginning of the 7th century when the Byzantines reconquered Jerusalem from the Persians and their Jewish allies in 628. The next four layers were added by Umayyads in the 7th century. The next fourteen layers are from the Ottoman period and their addition is (most likely mistakenly) attributed to Sir Moses Montefiore who in 1866 arranged that further layers be added “for shade and protection from the rain for all who come to pray by the holy remnant of our Temple”. The top three layers were placed by the Mufti of Jerusalem before 1967.