Jerusalem’s Western or Wailing Wall is one of the holiest sites in the city, even for non-Jews a visit to this special place is, for most, a remarkable experience. For me it was a captivating, evocative, experience in an area that simply oozes history.
Today visitors approach the Western Wall through a wide plaza which once contained the houses and businesses of the Old City’s Moghrabi Quarter (Moroccan Quarter), a small yet thriving part of the city.
The Western Wall is the surviving section of the Temple Mount (Al-Haram al Sharif) location of Herod’s Second Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Before that it was the site of King Solomon’s first temple, destroyed by Babylonian, Nebuchadnezzar around 586 BCE.
To digress for a moment, I should explain that while it’s easy to focus on the Wall there is so much else to explore in the immediate area. In my quest to visit as many of Jerusalem’s ‘gates’ as possible I had entered the Old City through the Dung Gate the nearest entrance to the Western Wall. For those that value the Old Testament as a historical source there is a Dung Gate, mentioned by Nehemiah, so named because the city rubbish was taken out at this point. It’s thought that Nehemiah’s original Gate was close to today’s entrance.
Nehemiah, sent by the Persian emperor to govern Jerusalem, was responsible for the rebuilding of large sections of the walls and gates of Jerusalem following the Babylonian destruction of the city in 587-586 BCE.
In 2007 a small part of his wall, dating to the 5th century BCE was uncovered outside the Dung Gate facing the Mount of Olives (this discovery and dating is not accepted by all archaeologists).
1967 Arab-Israeli War
An Israeli victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War brought immediate change to the Jordanian controlled area surrounding the Western Wall for so long out of bounds to Jewish pilgrims. The city’s mayor Teddy Kollek, on the day after the Old City fell, said, “It became clear to me that something had to be done about the small slum houses that crowded close to the Western Wall.” The houses Kollek referred to were those that formed the Moghrabi Quarter.
Some Muslims voices are raised to contest the significance of the Wall to Jews. Nazmi Al Jubeh, writing in the influential Jerusalem Quarterly in 2003 said, “Little historical evidence of Jewish sanctification of the Haram al Sharif’s (Temple Mount) Western Wall has been found prior to the sixteenth century.” He is by no means a lone voice in this debate.
Kollek described the houses in Moroccan Quarter as “slum hovels” and ordered their destruction in order to gain greater access to the Wall, the “Holiest of holy places.”
In two days, one of Jerusalem’s ancient quarters, originally established by Saladin’s son, al-Malik-al-Afdal and part of the Jerusalem landscape for over eight hundred years was swept away to make way for the thousands of pilgrims that were expected. “It was done, finished clean” and the families who lived in the hovels were found, “proper accommodations” said Kollek.
The Old City of Jerusalem is listed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in Danger