Located in Jerusalem’s Old City, in the Jewish Quarter, is the Western Wall, Judaism’s most sacred site, likewise holy to believers of myriad faiths and beliefs. During the days of the Temple, the Wall served as the retaining wall, located at the foot of the western side of the Temple Mount.
Each year, millions of people visit this holy site, drawing the attention and captivating the interest of visitors from throughout the world. While visitors come to pray and meditate, it is customary to write prayers on pieces of paper and leave them in the crevices of the Wall. It is believed that the Wall listens to the hearts of those who come to pray.
Built by King Herod in 20 BC, the Western Wall (or the Kotel, the Hebrew word for ‘wall’) is a sanctified remnant of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. That’s why the Wall is considered to be holy. It is the only remaining wall that was as closely-and architecturally-connected to the Temple itself.
The Roman-Jewish historian, Josephus, recorded that Herod’s massive expansion plan of the Temple enclosure took 11 years to complete, during which time it rained in Jerusalem only at night so as not to hinder the workers’ progress. As Jesus prophesied, the Holy Temple was completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Centuries later, in 1967, following the Six-Day War, Israeli archaeologists dug beneath the ground of the Western Wall, and discovered two additional levels of the Wall. They also cleared the area around the Wall to create the Western Wall Plaza that can accommodate up to 60,000 people at one time.
Above ground, visitors see 29 layers of large stones and boulders. This is, in fact, only a portion of the original Wall. An additional 17 layers of huge stones and boulders are beneath ground level. The seven lowest layers are from Herod’s original construction. The majority of these stones weigh between two and eight tons.
Today, the Kotel is recognized as a national symbol. Opening and closing ceremonies, and many other events, sponsored by people and organizations from throughout the world, take place here. The history and ambiance of the site provides a perfect backdrop for any occasion.
The site is open every day, every hour, 24/7/365. On Mondays and Thursdays, Shabbat Saturday mornings, afternoons, and evenings before sunset, during Jewish holidays, and in honoring the new moon on the Hebrew calendar, coming-of-age ceremonies are celebrated. Torah scrolls of all sorts of sizes, draped in multi-colored and richly-textured covers are evident throughout the area, as families and friends gather for the special worship service. It’s truly an embracing experience to witness and hear different cultures blending their rituals and customs at these special gatherings.
Women and men should be dressed modestly when visiting the Western Wall. Men and women are advised to wear a head covering. Men and women do not pray standing next to one another at the Western Wall. There is a mechitza, a separating screen, between the designated men’s and women’s sides for prayer and worship.
Visitors can explore the Western Wall Tunnel to get a sense of the height of the original Temple construction and to grasp an idea of what the area looked like thousands of years ago. Guided tours are available. When you’re navigating the Tunnels, imagine that our biblical ancestors walked on the very same ground and rocks on which you stand.
For a glimpse into what’s happening at the Western Wall right now, click here and watch the live-cam. Suddenly, Jerusalem’s Western Wall won’t seem so far away. Come for a close-up and visit this hallowed site.