When King Shlomo built the Bais HaMikdash the Temple Mount (Har HaBayit) did not not look like it does today. Today the area of the Har HaBayit is a whopping 37 acres (25 football fields!) Today the compound is an almost rectangular plateau. Back in Shlomo’s days, to our knowledge, it was a typical odd shaped raggedly mountain.
In the last 100 years of the Second Temple King Hurdus (Herod) undertook a massive renovation of the Bais HaMikdash and the entire Temple Mount. He flattened it and extended several fold from Shlomo’s mountain. The mountain alone took about eight years to finish.
It was surrounded by a retaining wall on each side of which traditionally only the western wall was not destroyed during the Roman destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. It is this Western Wall called by Jews “The Kotel” or “The Wall” that is considered the holiest place in Judaism today.
The area we call the Kotel today is only 57 meters out of a total of 488 as the wall extends all the way through the Moslem Quarter until it reaches its northern end. Not only that but from the 45 rows of stones 17 are buried underground. Moreover from the original huge Herodian stones with its distinguishing receded borders only a few layers are visible as most of the visible layers are smaller stones added by later Moslem conquerors.
The entire wall can be seen by going underground in the tunnels that span the entire wall. Down below you will see the largest Kotel stone which measures 45 feet in length and 11 feet in height. Its depth is still in question but the lowered revised estimates put the stones weight at a minimum of at least 300 tons!
The Holiest place on earth is the place where the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies) stood in the Bais HaMikdash on the Temple Mount. This spot is north of today’s visible part of the Kotel. There is a spot in the tunnels that is situated right opposite the Kodesh HaKodashim. An underground Shul was built there and can be attended under the right conditions.
History of Prayer
From the days of Hadrian in 132 CE for the next 500 years Jews were not allowed into Jerusalem under the penalty of death. During these dark years it was the Eastern wall of the Old City where Jews davened opposite the Kodesh HaKodashim outside the city. This spot is between Har HaZeisim (Mount of Olives) and the Old City. When the Jews returned after 2 centuries of Crusader destruction the Western Wall once again became the favored spot.
However from the days of the Ramban until 1967 the Kotel Plaza was a thin area as the homes of Mughrabi Quarter encroached upon the wall. After the Six Day War the Israeli government cleared away the Mughrabi Quarter to give us the spacious Kotel Plaza that we have today.
Mughrabi Quarter in Red. Today that area has been cleared.
The Bais HaMikdash is called Tel Talpiyos, a play on words that means “the hill where all our mouths are turned to.” We await the rebuilding of our Bais HaMikdash so once again we will have a true home where all our prayers are answered.
Jerusalem Old City Tours