The Western Wall Plaza
The Scroll of Ahima’az, a Jewish historical document from the Moslem period, written in the year 1050 C.E. (4810 A.M.), mentions the Western Wall. At the time, Jews were forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount, and it is obvious that the document describes the Western Wall of the Temple Mount as a place of prayer. Another document from a century later (from the end of the Crusader period, ca. 1170 C.E., 4930 A.M.) is found in the Travels of Benjamin, by the Jewish traveler and tourist Benjamin of Tudela. He also describes the Western Wall as a place where Jews gather to pray. Rabbi Obadiah of Bartenura in 1488 (5248) also identified the Western Wall as a site of prayer. Nevertheless, most historians believe that the Western Wall became a popular prayer area only since the Ottoman conquest of Jerusalem in 1517 (5277).
According to an old legend, the Western Wall was rediscovered in about 1540 C.E. (5400): "That day, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent noticed a woman coming with a basket of rubbish balanced on her head, and he saw her tossing the rubbish at the foot of the Western Wall. When he asked her, "What is that on your head?" she answered him that it was rubbish.
"Where are you taking it?" he asked her,
and she answered, "To some specific place."
"Where are you from?" he continued.
"From Bethlehem," she answered.
"Is there no other place to throw out your trash between here and Bethlehem?" he asked.
The woman explained: "We have a tradition that whoever throws their rubbish on this place is fulfilling a commandment."
When Suleiman heard this, he ordered his men to clear the rubbish from the site. They soon uncovered the holy site, and Suleiman ordered them to respect it and consider its importance, and to wash it with rose water.” (Midrash be-Hiddush, Commentary on Passover Haggada, of Eliezer Nahman Foa, Printed in Venice, 1648)
In 1546 (5406) there was an earthquake in Jerusalem that caused the collapse of many houses adjacent to the Western Wall. Thus, a northern section of the plaza was revealed. The Ottoman architect Kusa Sinan, who designed and built the city walls, also renovated the Western Wall Plaza.
Until the Six Day War, the Western Wall Plaza was only 3.60 meters wide and 28 meters long. When the fighting ended, the decision was made to expand the plaza by removing the houses of the Moghrabi Quarter that blocked the Wall and moving the residents to alternative housing elsewhere. Later, Minister of Religion, Dr. Zerach Warhaftig z”l, decided to expand the Western Wall Plaza and deepen it by exposing stone courses that had until then been underground. In the prayer section of the Western Wall Plaza (in the Men's Section), there is a niche from the Jordanian period (1948-1967 C.E.; 5708-5728 A.M.), which once held a street sign with the name of the street at the time, "Al-Burak Alley"(1948-1967). With careful scrutiny, one can still see names engraved on the Western Wall by visitors in the nineteenth century. After the Six Day War, the Wall was sandblasted and the names faded.
The plaza is now 56.5 meters, or 185 feet, long and 37.5 meters, or 123 feet, wide and can hold prayer services and gatherings for thousands of men, women, and children.