Wailing Wall (HaKotel)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Wailing Wall (حائط المبكى), a section of the Western Wall, is the holiest site in Judiasm where Jews are allowed to pray. It is a relatively small segment of a far longer ancient retaining wall, known also in its entirety as the "Western Wall" of the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount). For Muslims, it is the site where the Prophet Muhammad tied his steed, al-Buraq, on his night journey to Jerusalem before ascending to paradise, and constitutes the Western border of al-Haram al-Sharif.


The wall is considered holy due to its connection to the Temple Mount. This portion now faces a large plaza in the Jewish Quarter, near the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, while the rest of the wall is concealed behind structures in the Muslim Quarter, with the small exception of a 25 ft (8 m) section, the so-called Little Western Wall. The Islamic name al-Buraq Wall, was based on the tradition that inside the wall was the place where Muhammad tethered his winged steed, today known as Masjid al-Buraq.

The wall was originally erected as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple begun by Herod the Great. At the Western Wall Plaza, the total height of the Wall from its foundation is estimated at 105 feet (32 m), with the exposed section standing approximately 62 feet (19 m) high.

Of the four retaining walls, the western one is considered closest to the former Holy of Holies, which makes it the most sacred site recognized by Judaism outside the previous Temple Mount platform.

Wailing Wall

Religious Symbolism

circa 100 CE

The Western Wall is considered holy due to its connection to the Temple Mount. The term "Wailing Wall" seems to have been first used in 1890 CE, and is not a preferred term. The name is a translation of the Arabic term el-Mabka (حائط المبكى). This means a “place for weeping”, and it is the traditional Arab moniker for the wall. Some people use the term “Wall of Tears”. The description is based on Jewish practice of mourning the destruction of the Temple and praying for its rebuilding at the site of the Western Wall.

circa 100 CE

The basis for the wall's Islamic name and its reverence by Muslims stems from the assertion provided by the Qur'an (Sura 17: 1): "Glory Be to Him Who made his servant to go on a night from the sacred Mosque to the remote Mosque". Narrative accounts, which are corroborated by stories from the Life of the Prophet, relate that He arrived in Jerusalem by flying on the back of his horse, "al-Buraq", who had the head of a woman. There, in the "remote Mosque" He prayed, together with Abraham, Moses, Salomon and Jesus.

Architectural Features

circa 100 CE

Just over half the wall's total height, including its 17 courses located below street level, dates from the end of the Second Temple period, and is commonly believed to have been built by Herod the Great starting in 19 BCE, although recent excavations indicate that the work was not finished by the time Herod died in 4 BCE.

The very large stone blocks of the lower strata date to the Roman Governor Herod (reigned 40–4 BCE), the courses of medium-sized stones above them were added during the Umayyad period (during the rule of Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik Ibn Marwan (685–705 CE / 65–86 Hj.), while the small stones of the uppermost courses date back to the Mamluk period (1250–1517 CE / 648–922 Hj.), and subsequent Ottoman period. The final layers were added after 1967 by the Islamic Awqaf Administration (Endowments).

circa 100 CE

Barclay's Gate
The Barclay's Gate lies under the Moroccans' Gate (also called the Moor's Gate) and is one of the four Temple Mount's original gates on its western side. Its Arabic name is Bab an-Nabi, "Gate of the Prophet [Muhammad]" (see Le Strange, Palestine Under the Moslems p. 189). Several researchers identified it as one of the Second Temple period gates, possibly the Coponius Gate, which is mentioned in Jewish and Christian sources of the period. The gate was blocked with stones at the end of the 10th century and the internal gate room was transformed into a mosque dedicated to Buraq.

Pilgrim Graffiti

circa 100 CE

Historically, the pilgrims used to carve or paint their names or prayers directly on to stones of the ancient wall. This practice lasted well in to the twentieth century, when it was outlawed to protect the ancient site from being destroyed.

At one time there used to be inscriptions on a number of the stones of the Western Wall until recent times, when the British came and erased them in the summer of 1930, in preparation for the arrival in Jerusalem of the international commission on the issue of the Western Wall. Some of these were removed and it was established that due to the sanctity of the wall it should not be disfigured by having any engravings or inscriptions. Some of these inscriptions/engravings (inspect) may still exist.

Western Wall Service Plaza

circa 100 CE

The Western Wall Plaza, also called the Wailing Wall Plaza or the Service Plaza, is a large public square situated adjacent to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was formed in 1967 as a result of the razing of the Moroccan Quarter neighborhood in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War.

The site was the location of the Moroccan Quarter, a neighbourhood founded by El Afdal, son of Saladin, in 1193 CE for Moroccan Muslims. Immediately after the city fell to the Jewish forces, the entire neighborhood, along with the historic medieval Sheikh Eid Mosque were bulldozed to make way for the plaza.

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