The Western Wall, or Kotel as it is also called, initially was built by Jews as a wall in support of the Temple Mount on which stood their second temple. After destruction of this temple by the Romans in 70 CE, Jews went in to exile. When they returned, they did not know the exact location of the Temple Mount, so they avoided coming to the area at all. This is still the reason for some fanatic religious Jews not to enter Temple Mount, as they fear to thread on the sacred ground on which only high priests are allowed to thread. They did, however, start praying at the outer wall.
Over time, the wall was heightened to support the Temple Mount as it is now, and houses were built very close to it. It never lost its religious significance, and jewish pilgrims continued to come here, also to mourn the loss of their ancient temple. This is why the wall is also known as the Wailing Wall; in some languages, that is even the only name, while for some religious Jews it is an offence to call it like that. When the Israeli army took hold of the city in 1967, one of the first things they did was move to the wall area, bulldoze the houses of the Arab quarter out of the way, thus creating the plaza that you see now. Like other religious sites in the holy city, also the Western Wall is contested: Muslims claim it is part of the Al Aqsa mosque.
After the inevitable security check, you have to say goodbye to your travel partner if she/he is not from the same sex, and go to the section of your own sex. The women have a noticeably smaller portion of the wall to pray; some of the fundamentalist Jews actually think women should have no place at all to pray here. The men have to put a kippa on their head, paper ones are provided at the entrance. Then, as you approach the wall itself, it is easy to see the different layers used for its construction. The most remarkable sight is, however, the praying Jews: bobbing forwards and backwards, they stand with their face to the wall in utter concentration. At times, they get even closer to the centuries old wall to kiss it, or place a prayer written on a paper in one of the cracks. It is believed that doing this make the prayer more likely to be fulfilled. Being a man has the advantage that you are allowed into the narrow passage on the northern side of the wall, under Wilson's Arch. Once the entrance to the old temple; now, there is a small library, a possibility to pray in shelter from rain or sun, and a small lecture hall.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Western Wall (Israel). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Western Wall. Read more about this site.