Tourist’s guide to Wailing Wall – Ancient Shrine in Israel

The Wailing Wall also referred to as the Wall of tears or the Western Wall is one of the few surviving parts of an ancient fortification in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is located on the western side of the Temple Mount and overlooks the spacious area of ​​the Jewish quarter. It is considered the greatest religious monument in Israel.

Wall of Tears
Wailing wall

The altitude of the area is approximately 450 m while the height of the wall is estimated to be 32m and the open fragment reaches a height of 19m. The wall consists of 45 rows of masonry, 17 of which are located underground.

Fun Fact! This part of the structure is made of huge stones with a smooth surface without the use of any fastening solutions. The length of each stone is from 1.5 to 3 m, the width is 1-1.2 m, the weight is from 2 to 6 tons. One stone, which is called Western, weighs about 570 tons and reaches a length of 13 m.

On an excursion into the tunnels of the Western Wall
Pool Scrution

There is an underground tunnel along the boundaries of the whole Wall. It begins in the area of ​​the Jewish quarter, goes under the Muslim quarter, goes to the ancient water pipes, and ends in front of the Scrution pool. During the reign of the emperor, Adrianorom rainwater was collected in this pool to meet the needs of the townspeople. Going down the tunnel, one can see the parts that are not visible from above. During excavations carried out in the tunnel, archaeologists discovered numerous finds related to various eras of the history of Israel.

Historical background

In the 10th century, a Temple was erected on the Temple Mount on the orders of King Solomon. It became the most important shrine for the Jews. In 586 BC it was destroyed by the Babylonians. 70 years, after the destruction a new temple was built there by the Jews.

Model of the Temple of Herod the Great

In 19 BC, at the behest of King Herod, the small plateau on which the Temples towered was expanded. This made Temple Mount the spacious area it is today. This wide area was surrounded on all sides by a solid support wall to support the earthen mound. The current Western Wall is part of that ancient pillar.

In the year 70  BC., when the First Judean War was going on, the troops of the Roman Empire destroyed almost all of Jerusalem, but the Western Wall survived.

In 135 AD when the Romans crushed the rebellion of the Jews and forbade them from living in Jerusalem. It was in 425 AD e. that Jewish people received permission from the Byzantine Empress Eliya Evdokia to live in Jerusalem. In the 7th century, Jews added another 4 stone rows on top of the Wall.

Fortress wall

In 1517, Jerusalem passed into the possession of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, and the life of the Jewish people changed for the better. By order of the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, a large-scale fortress wall was built around Jerusalem which surrounded the Old City. As the story tells, it was Suleiman the Great who allowed the Jews to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. At the same time, another 14 rows of the Wall were completed.

Wailing Wall in 1870
Wailing Wall in 1870

Since the 1800s, the sacred building has become a real “stumbling block”, increasing the hostility between the Muslim and Jewish communities living in Jerusalem. Jews repeatedly tried to acquire land and buildings located next to the sacred structure, but Muslims did not allow this. In 1917, the British troops captured Jerusalem, and the situation escalated even more. When the Jordanian army occupied the Old City in 1948, the Jews completely lost their claim over the Wall.

In 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israeli soldiers recaptured the Old City. The Jews finally regained control over their shrine.

Why is it called the Wailing Wall?

Jew by the Wailing Wall

Since part of the Temple Mount fortification is located in the west (relative to the ancient Temple), it is called the Western Wall. But why is it also known as the Wailing Wall?

When the Temples were destroyed, the Jews began to gather at the Western Wall and mourn their loss. According to Jewish traditions, while visiting the Western Wall and contemplating the devastation prevailing around, every believer is obliged to cry and tear their clothes. The Arabs, who have repeatedly observed how the Jews weep here about the destroyed Temples, called the ruins of the ancient structure the Wailing Wall.

Interesting to know! Both ancient Temples, which stood on the Temple Mount, succumbed to destruction in one day, only in different years. In the sacred texts it is written that this is not accidental – so the Jews were punished for creating idols for themselves and often provoked bloodshed.

There is another version of why the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is so called: sometimes drops of moisture appear on the stone, similar to tears. The last time “tearing” was recorded on the Wall in Israel in 1940.

What does the Kotel in Judaism mean?

Jews pray at the Wailing Wall

The Wailing Wall is revered by the Jews as the greatest shrine as it managed to survive the destruction of the Temples, and is closest to the Cornerstone on the Temple Mount, which is considered the greatest shrine in Judaism.

Sages say that praying at the Wall is equivalent to praying before the Throne of Glory. Gates of paradise are said to be located there and are open so that all prayers can be heard. The scriptures say that the Wall is a place where God is always present. All prayers to God have a special power there and are always fulfilled. For centuries, pilgrims have been gathering there to pray, touch the shrine, and strengthen their faith.

Many people at the Western Wall
The crowd at Western Wall

People visiting the Western Wall for the first time are amazed at the amplitude of prayers around them from the crowd praying here. During prayer, the Jews usually swing very eagerly on their heels, leaning strongly forward, and some just stand with their forehead resting on a stone shrine.

Fun Fact! Most Jews recognize the Western Wall as the most important shrine of Judaism. But a fraction does not believe in this and do do not visit the shrine, for example, the followers of the Satmar Hasidic court. They argue that the Israeli government has turned the Wall into a tourist attraction, thereby humiliating its holiness.

How to write a note in the Kotel

A soldier writes a note to the Kotel

People have long believed that mentioning the name of a dear one at this shrine is auspicious. This belief contributed to the emergence of the custom to compose messages with requests to the Almighty and leave them in the Wall. Such a custom has been known for at least three hundred years. Anyone can leave a letter there, regardless of nationality, religion, social status.

The type of paper, the color of the ink, the size of the message, as well as the language in which it is written – all this has absolutely no meaning.

Note! What really matters is the way the petition will be written. You cannot create a message to God while experiencing negative feelings (anger, resentment, anger). You need to pray so that love and joy abide in the heart – these are the main conditions for how to write a note to the Wailing Wall.

Crevices between the stones for notes

One can put the note in any crevice between the stones. It is simply amazing to see how many believers still exist in the world. Religious ministers take out all the messages twice a year and conduct a special burial ceremony with them on Mount of Olives.

And if you can’t go to Jerusalem to the Wailing Wall there are still ways to send in your note. You can compose a letter and send it by mail or use a special site. The main thing is the power of prayer so that the request is heard!

The rabbi takes notes to the Wall
Notes placed in between crevices

Thousands of letters come to Israel, titled “Israel, Jerusalem, to God.” The Israel Post takes them to the synagogue of the Jewish quarter, and the rabbi takes them to the Wall. Volunteers are involved in the maintenance of charitable sites – all requests received on the site are printed and submitted to the Wall.

What rules should be observed when visiting the Kotel

There are certain rules that must be observed when visiting the Kotel in Jerusalem:

Men to the left, women to the right
  1. Men should pray at the left side of the Wall, and women at the right.
  2. Women should wear clothing covering their shoulders and knees. Men must have a hat. If necessary, one can use baskets made of bale. Such free caps are on the square.
  3. Before you approach the sacred building, you need to wash your hands. For this purpose, special pump rooms with water are installed.
  4. You cannot take someone else’s notes from the Wall and read them.
  5. Leaving the Wall, you can not turn your back to it – you need to retreat, turning to face the shrine.
Before approaching the Wall, you need to wash your hands

And a few more things that everyone who is going to visit the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem must definitely know:

  1. Security guards check all visitors with a metal detector, and some are searched. These are security measures that must be taken keeping the visitor’s security in mind.
  2. Although there are a lot of food stalls on the square, the guards do not let anyone into the stone shrine with food.
  3. Pets are not allowed inside.
  4. In order not to distract anyone from prayer, before you approach the Wall, you need to turn off your mobile phone. Engaging in photography and video is prohibited on Shabbat and during Jewish holidays.

Barack Obama at the Western Wall

Fun Fact! In the summer of 2008, Barack Obama posted a note printed on paper from the hotel on the Wall. When Obama and his guards were gone, a seminary student took out a note and then sold it to the Maariv newspaper. The text of the message was published in the newspaper. This action caused a lot of controversey for breaching privacy

Important information

How to get there

From Jaffa Gate to the Kotel
Jaffa Gate

The Wailing Wall is located in the Old City of Jerusalem (Israel), in the Jewish Quarter.

You can walk to the Wall on two roads:

  1. From the Jaffa Gate through the Christian quarter, you need to go along the Armenian quarter.
  2. From the Dung (Garbage) gates you need to go through the Jewish quarter.

In case you do not want to follow this route, you can go to the square on a special tourist train. Departure place – Jaffa and Dung gates. The train runs every day with a frequency of 30 minutes: in the summer from 10:00 to 20:00, and in the winter from 10:00 to 18:00. The train does not run on Saturday, and on Fridays. On the days before the holidays, it runs only from 10:00 to 14:00.

Bus number 51

Buses No. 1, 3, 51, 83, 746, 882 go from Jerusalem to the Dung Gate. You need to leave at the Dung Gate stop.

Buses 104, 115, 117, 124, 125, 231, 232, 234, 284, 480, 755 go to the Jaffa Gate from Jerusalem. You need to go to the Yaffo Gate stop.

Alternatively, you can take the free shuttle from Jerusalem First Station to the Jewish Quarter. It departs with a frequency of 20 minutes on all days of the week, except Saturday: Sunday-Thursday from 08:00 to 20:00. On Friday, and on the eve of holidays it runs from 08:00 to 14:00.

Visiting charges

Visiting the Wailing Wall is absolutely free. Admission to the shrine does not require any fees.

Note! Donations are accepted on the square that go to work to maintain the Wall, and wages to caretakers. It is believed that to leave a donation means to do a good deed.

Kotel Wall Tunnels

The Wailing Wall also has an underground part that can be accessed through the tunnel. One can get into it only as part of an excursion group, accompanied by a licensed guide. Tourists enter the tunnel from the south side, and exit from the north, the time spent underground is an hour and a half.

Tours are not held on Shabbat and other holidays. On Friday and pre-holiday visits to the dungeon are possible before lunch, on all other days – from 7:00 to 23:00.

Tour cost:

  • For adults 35 shekels,
  • For senior citizens 17.5 shekels,
  • For children and students 19 shekels.

The Wailing Wall truly embodies the beauty of Jerusalem as a place and Judaism as a religion. It provides a magical experience for both believers and non-believers.

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