By ANNIE LUBINPublished: NOVEMBER 19, 2009 15:20Advertisement
The Western Wall is the most holy place accessible to the Jewish people due to the current Muslim control of the area making up the Temple Mount. Known in recent centuries as the "Wailing Wall," it was built by Herod the Great as the retaining wall of the Second Temple complex.
According to Jewish tradition, King David built the Western Wall upon conquering Jerusalem, and the current wall was built upon his foundations, dating back to the time of the First Temple.
The visible portion of the Western Wall is 57 meters long, although in its entirety it stretches across 488m., most of which is hidden behind residential structures. The total height of the wall including its underground foundation is estimated at 32m., with the above-ground section standing at approximately 19m.
After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, all four Temple Mount support walls remained standing - the Western Wall being the remnant closest to the Temple's Holy of Holies site. It subsequently became a place of prayer and longing for Jews around the world.
The Western Wall has long been a site of contention between Muslims and Jews. In 1930, an International Commission appointed by the British government concluded that the Western Wall and the surrounding area were under sole control of the Muslim Wakf. Jews were allowed "free access to the Western Wall for the purpose of devotions at all times," but bans were still placed, limiting which objects could be brought to the Wall and forbidding the blowing of the shofar.
When access to the Western Wall was denied to the Jews after the 1948 War of Independence, a vantage point on Mount Zion, providing a view of the wall, became a substitute place where Jews gathered to pray.
During the 1967 Six Day War, paratroopers led by Motta Gur broke through to the Old City through the Lion's Gate, liberating the Western Wall and Temple Mount and reunifying the city of Jerusalem.
After the reunification, the Western Wall Plaza was transformed from a 120 square meter area into an enormous 20,000 square meter area, which can hold more than 400,000 people.
The Western Wall is visited by millions of visitors a year - Jews and non-Jews alike. Thousands of bar and bat mitzvas, as well as IDF swearing-in ceremonies, take place at the Western Wall.
Placing notes in the wall has been a long-standing tradition from as early as the 17th century. In recent years it has taken on a modern twist - it is now possible to send one's prayers to the wall right from your home computer thanks to the micro-blogging service Twitter, and to the Bezeq telecommunications company, which has established a fax service to the Western Wall.
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