Many people see Jerusalem as the holiest place in the world. Nestled between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, the city of Jerusalem is home to many places sacred to the Jewish religion.
Among these sites, the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, is steeped in history. This sacred wall is a spot where millions of people go to pray and connect with their faith each day. If you visit the Western Wall, you’ll notice thousands of slips of paper stuffed in the cracks.
Have you ever wondered why people fill the crevices of this wall with these written prayers? We’ll break down the history of why people make Western Wall prayer request visits and why you should add this stop on your next trip to Jerusalem.
The Western Wall: A History
The Western Wall marks one of the holiest spots you can visit. The reason for its millions of visitors comes from thousands of years of rich history.
The First Temple
The reason that the Western Wall is such a popular location for Jewish people to visit is because it is where many people think they can be closest to God.
Before the Western Wall was constructed, the Jewish people worshiped at the First Temple. The temple, which stood on Mount Moriah, is the place many people consider where God created the world. Built by King Solomon around 1000 BCE, this temple lasted until 586 BCE.
People consider the stone at this location sacred. It is the same stone used as a foundation for the Holy of Holies, which is the most sacred place in the entire temple. It is here that many Jewish people say God’s presence lives.
Sadly, this first temple didn’t survive. Babylonians destroyed this temple in battle.
The Second Temple
One hundred years after the destruction of the First Temple, the Persians drove out the Babylonians and allowed the Jewish people to rebuild the temple. The Second Temple stood for hundreds of years as a sacred hub for worship.
The Construction of the Western Wall
The Western Wall isn’t part of the Second Temple. The wall that remains today is a portion of the retaining wall that went around the original Temple Mount platform.
The construction of this wall came about under the order of King Herod the Great in the first century BCE. King Herod originally constructed this wall to increase the size of Jerusalem. His goal was to turn the mountain into a massive plateau.
To achieve this goal, King Herod the Great had to flatten the top of Mount Moriah. The engineers working on this project had to cut bedrock and create large arches to hold up the new platform.
A lot of dirt and earth was needed for this project. The best way to keep this fresh earth in place on the new platform was with giant retaining walls. The famous Western Wall is what remains of the western portion of one of these retaining walls.
The large retaining walls surrounded the Second Temple before it was eventually destroyed. This Second Temple fell in 70 CE when the Romans demolished it during wartime.
Dome of the Rock
After the Second Temple was destroyed, it would be hundreds of more years before another temple was constructed. Abd al-Malik eventually built the Dome of the Rock.
Most people agree that the Dome of the Rock is in the same spot as the original Jewish temple. This structure remains in Jerusalem today.
Western Wall Tunnels
In the late 1960s, archeologists excavated the wall for the first time. It was then that they discovered the wall was bigger than they once thought. They found more areas of this famous wall and also underground Western Wall tunnels.
The famous part of the Western Wall only shows a small portion of the whole Western Wall. The full Western Wall is almost 500 meters long!
You can find much of the total length underground. This is because the modern-day street level is several meters higher than where you would find ancient street levels.
If you want to see these underground tunnels, you can book a tour to view them. You’ll be able to see some of the largest stones in the Western Wall underground here. These stones are so large they weigh hundreds of tons.
Western Wall Facts
The Western Wall is just under 500 meters long. Its total length is 488 meters.
Historically, the Western Wall stood at 60 meters high. The highest remaining part of the wall stands at 40 meters high. This includes part of the wall which remains underground.
The stones that make up the Western Wall tell the history of this location. You can see the time periods represented in the different stones used in the construction of the wall. Twenty-nine layers remain above ground and seventeen stone layers are below the ground level.
Praying at the Western Wall
People aren’t exactly sure when praying at the Western Wall became popular. Historians know that people have been praying here since at least the 16th century. It was then that the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman allowed Jews to pray in this location.
Although this is the first recording of people praying here, it is likely people have prayed in this spot much longer. Several sources depict Jewish people praying at the ruins of the Second Temple.
Western Wall Plaza
People visit the Western Wall because it is the closest people can get to the Holy of Holies and, subsequently, to God. The Western Wall is a place that millions of people visit each year. During the most religious times of the Jewish year, you can find up to a hundred thousand visitors to the Western Wall every day.
Historically, people would make sacrifices at the wall. Although sacrifices are no longer practiced, many people still come to this place to pray.
Today, most people praying at the Western Wall visit the largest section of the wall. This section now contains a large plaza to support the many people who pray here. This plaza can hold up to 60,000 people!
Before the plaza was built, you could only access the Western Wall through a narrow alley. This was because the neighborhoods came up next to the wall years ago, giving much less space to pray.
After the six-day war in 1967, the Israeli Army defeated the Jordanians and took the Western Wall back. Within days, they had demolished the houses closest to the wall and created the plaza that is there today.
Other Areas of the Western Wall
Although the main plaza section of the Western Wall is the most common part to visit, it isn’t the only part of the Western Wall that remains. There are two other main sections that people can visit.
People call the first section of the wall the Southern Section. This part wasn’t discovered until the 1960s.
The Small Western Wall is another section that people come to visit. You can find this section by traveling down a small alley close to the Iron Gate. This is a popular location for people to hold evening or nighttime prayer services.
This Small Western Wall runs 17.7 meters long. There is a small plaza in front of this section that is 4.2 meters long.
Western Wall Prayer Request Notes
Although you’ll see many people praying or celebrating at the wall, you’ll also see people doing another interesting activity here. Many people write prayer notes and stuff them into any cracks in the wall that they can find. You can see thousands of these prayer notes on the wall during any given visit.
People participate in this tradition because they see this location as the closest place to God. The prayer requests they leave on the wall have a direct link to God himself.
Prayer Note Removal
These notes stay on the wall until workers remove them. This removal happens twice a year. Workers are only allowed to use their hands and wooden sticks to remove the prayer notes.
It is forbidden to destroy these prayer requests. This is because, in the Jewish religion, you can’t destroy anything that has the name of God on it.
After the workers collect the notes, the notes get buried on the Mount of Olives. This is the same practice that people take with damaged prayer books or Torah scrolls.
Virtual Western Wall Prayer Notes
If you aren’t able to get to the wall yourself, there are still ways you can get your prayer to the Western Wall. People who can’t get to the wall send their prayer requests by mail, digitally, or by text. People transcribe these prayers and place them on the wall on behalf of the people who send them.
Add Your Prayer Request to the Western Wall
The Western Wall is a symbol of hope, faith, and resilience to people around the world. Adding Western Wall prayer request notes allows visitors to partake in the history and connect with God.
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