The Western Wall is one of the holiest Jewish sites and a must-see highlight of Jewish Israel tours. The wall is a remnant of a wall dating back to the time of King Herod, part of the retaining wall that enclosed the Second Temple. The wall is also known as the ‘Wailing Wall’ due to the fact that Jews have gathered here for centuries to lament the loss of their temple. The Western wall features a plaza that serves as an open-air synagogue large enough to accommodate several thousands of worshipers. Prayers take place here both in the daytime and at night, as well as special services.
History of the Wailing Wall
The wall was built by King Herod in 20 BC as part of his expansion of the Temple enclosure. According to Jewish historian Josephus the walls took 11 years to build, and during this time it only ever rained during the night, enabling work to continue during the day. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD, after which the Jews made the wall a place of pilgrimage. For many centuries the wall was located in a narrow alleyway, only accessible to a few hundred worshipers, but in 1967 Israelis created the Western Wall Plaza, a place where thousands could come to pray. The wall was also made higher by digging down to expose further tiers of ashlars or square stones from the original plaza’s wall, buried under centuries of debris.
The large lower down ashlars date back from the times of Herod the Great, while those higher up date from Fatimid and Omayyad times. At the prayer section of the wall bits of paper with prayers written on them can be seen stuffed into the crevices, while many can be found chanting prayers here.