Western Wall Plaza

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Western Wall Plaza with the Western Wall in the background

The Western Wall Plaza is a large public square situated adjacent to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was formed in 1967 as a result of the razing of the Moroccan Quarter neighborhood in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War.

Location[edit]

The Western Wall Plaza abuts the Western Wall, part of the ancient retaining wall erected by Herod the Great to surround and increase the surface area of the Temple Mount. Apart from the Western Wall to the east, the plaza is bordered on its north side by the Chain of Generations Center, Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh and the Western Wall Tunnel, the latter also affording access to the Muslim Quarter via an additional connection to HaGay Street; by Aish HaTorah, Porat Yosef Yeshiva and the Jewish Quarter via the Yehuda HaLevi Stairs on its west side; and by the Jerusalem Archaeological Park on its south. Access to the plaza from the south is through the Dung Gate.

The plaza measures 20,000 square meters and can accommodate up to 400,000 persons per day.[1][2]

History[edit]

The site was the location of the Moroccan Quarter, a neighbourhood founded by El Afdal, son of Saladin, in 1193 for Moroccan Muslims. Access to the Western Wall was limited to a narrow street through the neighbourhood which sometimes caused friction with the local population. In 1887, Baron Rothschild tried unsuccessfully to purchase the neighborhood and resettle its inhabitants in better accommodation elsewhere.

Three days after the conquer of the Old City by the Israel Defence Forces in the Six-Day War of 1967, workers guarded by troops proceeded to remove a public lavatory connected to the Western Wall. Immediately afterwards a request went out to the inhabitants of the Moroccan Quarter to evacuate all 135 houses, which along with the Sheikh Eid Mosque were bulldozed to make way for the plaza. This was done in anticipation of the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, during which it was anticipated that many thousands would seek to visit the site. It was also seen as opportunity that would not return due to the chaotic situation during the immediate aftermath of the war. The only surviving relic from the neighborhood was the Mughrabi Bridge, which overlooked the plaza and terminated at the Mughrabi Gate, allowing for access to the Temple Mount above.

On 8 October 1990, during the First Intifada, Jewish worshipers in the plaza were pelted with stones hurled by Palestinians attending prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is situated above the plaza on the Temple Mount.[3]

Archaeology[edit]

Archaeological excvations took place at the northwestern edge of the Western Wall Plaza, c. 100 meters west of the Temple Mount.[4]

Late First Temple period[edit]

The archaeologists made numerous Late First Temple period findings characteritic of the Kingdom of Judah in the time between the end of the 8th century BCE and the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.[4] These included building remains, some preserved to a height of more than 2 meters.[4] A large quantity of pottery was discovered, including numerous fertility and animal figurines and jar handles with the stamped inscription "LMLK".[4] Another inscription in ancient Hebrew script reads "[belonging] to the king of Hebron".[4]

A First Temple period seal made of semi-precious stone containing ancient Hebrew writing which includes the name "Netanyahu ben Yaush" was found aswell. Netanyahu is a name mentioned several times in the Book of Jeremiah while the name Yaush appears in the Lachish letters. However, the combination of names was unknown to scholars.[5]

Late Roman period[edit]

During the same excvations part of the Roman 2nd-century CE Eastern Cardo was uncovered,[4] as well as a street segment dated around 130 CE and leading westwrds towards the Temple Mount.[citation needed]

Usage[edit]

The plaza is divided by a low wall of Jerusalem stone into two sections. A smaller section immediately adjacent to the Western Wall, and further divided into two sections by a mechitza for opposite genders, serves as an open-air synagogue. It has since become a popular place to hold bar mitzva ceremonies.[6]

The larger section immediately west and south of the smaller one acts as a crowd overflow area for the first, but by itself serving as the location for induction ceremonies of IDF soldiers.

While the plaza is open to all, the Ministry of Religious Services employs Modesty guards to ensure visitors dress appropriately to the holiness of the site and as a courtesy to worshipers.

Other plans[edit]

In August 1967, the architect Yosef Shenberger was called upon to present a design for the plaza, but his idea quickly became the first of many to be torpedoed by planning boards.

In 1970, landscape architect Shlomo Aronson proposed digging the eastern plaza down to the street level of the Second Temple period.

In 1972, Moshe Safdie was hired to submit a proposal for the plaza. He followed Aharonson's plan somewhat, with a series of terraced plazas descending to the Herodian era street level adjacent to the Western Wall, but his proposal was scrapped as well.[7]

In 1976, Irwin Shimron headed the Shimron Committee, which was set up to explore all the options for the development of the plaza. The committee recommended implementing Safdie's proposal, with nothing coming of it to date.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ricca, Simone "Heritage, Nationalism and the Shifting Symbolism of the Wailing Wall", Open Edition Journals
  2. ^ Abowd, Thomas "The Moroccan Quarter: A History of the Present", Journal of Palestine studies
  3. ^ Anthony Lewis (12 October 1990). "ABROAD AT HOME; The Israeli Tragedy". nytimes.com/opinion. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Israel Antiquities Authority, Building remains from First Temple period exposed west of Temple Mount, 13 March 2008, accessed 11 February 2019
  5. ^ "Building Remains From The Time Of The First Temple Were Exposed West Of The Temple Mount". Israel Antiquities Authority. 13 March 2008. Retrieved 11 May 2015. a personal Hebrew seal made of a semi-precious stone that was apparently inlaid in a ring. The scarab-like seal is elliptical and measures c. 1.1 cm (0.4 in) x 1.4 cm (0.6 in). The surface of the seal is divided into three strips separated by a double line: in the upper strip is a chain decoration in which there are four pomegranates and in the two bottom strips is the name of the owner of the seal, engraved in ancient Hebrew script. It reads: לנתניהו בן יאש ([belonging] to Netanyahu ben Yaush). The two names are known in the treasury of biblical names: the name נתניהו (Netanyahu) is mentioned a number of times in the Bible (in the Book of Jeremiah and in Chronicles) and the name יאש (Yaush) appears in the Lachish letters. The name Yaush, like the name יאשיהו (Yoshiyahu) is, in the opinion of Professor Shmuel Ahituv, derived from the root או"ש which means “he gave a present” (based on Arabic and Ugaritic). It is customary to assume that the owners of personal seals were people that held senior governmental positions. It should nevertheless be emphasized that this combination of names – נתניהו בן יאוש (Netanyahu ben Yaush) – was unknown until now.
  6. ^ Koopmans, Ofira (3 May 2016) "Fifty Holocaust Survivors Celebrate Bar and Bat Mitzvah Ceremonies at Western Wall", Haaretz
  7. ^ MacFarquhar, Larissa (20 January 2003) "Truth in Architecture", New Yorker