The Wailing Wall or Western Wall is in Jerusalem and is believed by many people to be the remains of one wall of a great Jewish temple or the wall surrounding the temple's courtyard. It is a stone wall that extends about 62 feet (18.9 m) above the ground. The wall is considered to be a sacred site by Jews, and thousands of people make pilgrimages there each year. It also is a source of much dispute regarding its true history as well as a source of contention among Jews and Muslims, who consider it to be part of an ancient mosque or the wall to which the seventh-century Islamic prophet Muhammad tied his winged steed during his Night Journey.
Jews and many other people consider the wall to have been part of a Jewish temple, also called the Second Temple, which stood for hundreds of years. King Herod ordered a renovation and expansion of the temple in about 19 B.C., and the work was not finished until about 50 years later. This temple was destroyed by Romans in about 70 A.D., only a few years after its completion. The Wailing Wall is widely believed to be the only part still standing.
After the temple was destroyed, many Jews began going to the wall to mourn the temple's destruction and to pray. The name Wailing Wall was ascribed to the site by non-Jews who saw the Jews mourning there. Jews actually refer to the wall as the Western Wall, or Kotel HaMaaraviin Hebrew.
Many Muslims believe that the wall has no relation to ancient Judaism. They refer to the wall as the Al-Buraq Wall, a reference to Al-Buraq, the winged steed that Muhammad is said to have ridden. Muslims believe that Muhammad tied Al-Buraq to the wall while he ascended to heaven to speak with God. Many Muslims also believe that the wall was part of the ancient Al-Aqsa Mosque, and that Jews did not begin praying at the wall until at least the 16th century, if not much later.
During the more than 3,500 years of its history, Jerusalem has been attacked and captured dozens of times. Control of the city — and the Wailing Wall — continued to be a point of contention in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Arab leaders controlled the wall during the first part of the 20th century, but with the establishment of Israel, Jews gained control of the wall in 1967. There is still much underlying bitterness regarding this place, however, which has contributed to the poor relationships between Arabic countries and Israel.
Although enmity has remained between Jews and Muslims, the Wailing Wall has been the site of reconciliation between Jews and Catholics. In 2000, Pope John Paul II became the first pope to pray at the wall. He also apologized for centuries of Catholic persecution of Jews, referring to them as the Catholics' "elder brothers."
Jews from all countries, and as well as tourists of other religious backgrounds, go to pray at the wall, where many people believe that one immediately has the "ear of God." People who cannot pray at the wall can send in prayers or ask for the Kaddish, a specific Jewish prayer, to be said for departed loved ones. Prayers that are sent in are placed into the cracks of the walls and are called kvitelach. There might be a small charge for this service, depending on the person or organization that is providing the service. When the small pieces of papers become too numerous — more than 1 million are placed each year — they are removed and buried.
The Wailing Wall can be visited at any time of the day. Visitors typically are thoroughly searched for security purposes. Women of any religion, out of respect for Judaic law, should wear modest clothing. There are separate entrances for men and women, although they can regroup at the Wall.
The main section of the wall, where people go to pray, is about 187 feet (57 m) long and is made of meleke limestone. Most of the stones weigh 4,000 pounds (1,814.4 kg) or more, and one enormous stone, called the Western Stone, weighs more than 1.1 million pounds (more than 500,000 kg). There are 28 stone layers above the ground and 17 underground. An underground tunnel runs along the length of the wall.