The Western Wall Jerusalem

Western Wall or Wailing Wall? 5 Facts About This Holy Site

The Western Wall – or the Wailing Wall – is one of the holiest places in the world. It’s located right next to Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City. People from all over the world come to touch the sacred stones, get close to GOD, and leave him notes with prayers and wishes. In this post, I’ll share 5 interesting facts about the Western Wall – that you might want to know before visiting. 

Why is the Western Wall important to Jews?

The Western Wall is important to Jews because it’s the closest thing we have to the Second Temple. Initially, it was one of four retaining walls that supported the temple’s platform. King Herod renovated and expanded the Holy Temple in the 1st century BCE. He used the opportunity to also expand the platform around it – what we call Temple Mount today. When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Western Wall was one of the only structures that remained. And since it was the closest retaining wall to the Holy of Holiness, it became the most important wall for Jews.

Why is the Western Wall important to Islam?

The Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammed traveled from Mecca to Jerusalem during his Night Journey and tied his magical beast, al-Buraq, to the Western Wall. Then, he climbed up to the Farthest Mosque, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and ascended to the Heavens to receive details about the Islamic prayers. That is the main reason why the Western Wall is important to Islam.

In the past, the Muslims believed that Prophet Muhammed tied his beast to the Southern Wall. The tradition connected to the Western Wall became more dominant in the 20th century when the conflict between Jews and Muslims became stronger in Jerusalem.

If you visit the Davidson Center Archeological Park to the south of Temple Mount, you can see two holes inside one of the stones that connect the Western Wall to the Southern Wall. It could be that al-Buraq was tied over there.

al-Buraq from the 17th century
An image of al-Buraq from the 17th century

Why is the Western Wall called the Wailing Wall?

Actually, the Western Wall has many names. In Hebrew, we usually call it “HaKotel,” which means “the wall.” It is very uncommon amongst Israelis to call it the Wailing Wall, but many tourists call it that way.

So why is it called the Wailing Wall or “the Wall of Tears”? Since the 19th century, Jews have come to the Western Wall to mourn and cry over the destruction of the Jewish Temple. The Arabs who lived in Jerusalem during that time saw this and decided to call the wall “El-Mabka,” which means “the Place of Wailing.” So, that’s where it came from. Until today, you might find people who cry and wail at the Western Wall while praying and touching its sacred stones.

How heavy are its stones?

The stones are HEAVY! No one knows how people could stack those stones on top of each other. Probably, they used lots of slaves and special equipment. Some of the stones reach a weight of 60 tons. The heaviest of them weighs 570 tons! Just for comparison, an average African elephant weighs up to 7 tons.

The largest and heaviest stone is located at the bottom of the wall and can be seen on the Western Wall Tunnels Tour. Unfortunately, I can’t guide you there. However, you can still join one of the Western Wall Tunnels group tours. Their website is closed on Shabbat (Friday eve to Saturday eve), so try booking a slot on a weekday.

Was there always a huge plaza in front of the Western Wall?

The plaza in front of the Western Wall is quite new. In the past, there was a Mugrabi Muslim neighborhood in front of the wall and only a narrow praying corridor for the worshippers who came to pray at the Western Wall.

From 1948 to 1967, the Old City was under Jordanian control, and the Jews were not allowed to visit the Western Wall. In 1967, right after the Six-Day War, the Israeli government decided to tear down the neighborhood and clear room for the thousands of worshippers who were expected to arrive from all over Israel and the world. They didn’t want them to be too crowded. That’s why there’s a large space in front of the Western Wall today.

Here’s a painting that shows how the Western Wall looked like before 1967:

Painting of the Western Wall in the 19th century
Wailing Wall, Jerusalem by Gustav Bauernfeind

Visiting tips for the Western Wall

Opening hours: The Western Wall is open all day long, seven days a week. On Shabbat (Friday eve to Saturday eve), it is not allowed to take photos in honor of the holy day.

How to get there? There are two main entrances to the Western Wall plaza – one from the Jewish Quarter and one from the Muslim Quarter. If you want to get there by public transportation, you can take line number 1 from the Central Station in Jerusalem. Before entering the plaza, you will need to pass a security check. Put your bags in the scanning machine and take out whatever you have in your pockets.

How to put a wish in between the Western Wall stones? If you forget to bring a piece of paper, you can find notes and pens at the entrance to the women’s or men’s praying section. If you can’t find them, ask the representatives in the information booths. Write down whatever you want, and then find a place to put it between the stones. It could be hard to find an open crack because it’s full of notes. The notes are taken out of the wall only twice a year and buried on the Mount of Olives.

Join me on a private walking tour of Old Jerusalem

The Western Wall can be combined as part of a private walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. Fill in the form below, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible! You can also check out my private walking tours in Jerusalem or contact me here.

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