James E. Lancaster, Ph.D.
© 1998

These views show the Western Wall, the most sacred site in Judaism, in 1952 and 1990.
Except for erosion of the stone blocks (called ashlars) the wall itself (at least the lower part) looks much like it probably did when Herod the Great enlarged the Temple Mount a little over two thousand years ago. The area in front of the wall, however, has changed many times over the centuries.

The left photo was taken in 1952 when the Old City was under Jordanian control. The area where Dr. Welles' family and a guide are standing was a narrow alley in front of the Wailing Wall (as it was then called) with buildings along the opposite side. Jews were not allowed to worship at the wall during this period.

During the six-day war in June 1967, Israeli forces gained control of the Old City. Following the war the Israeli government tore down the buildings in front of the wall to create a large prayer plaza. The wall is now referrred to as the Western Wall since it is part of the western retaining wall of Temple Mount.

The major change that occurred when the plaza was constructed was the lowering of the plaza level to expose two additional courses of Herodian ashlars. This change is evident between the 1952 and 1990 photos, below, in which four of the courses have been numbered in each photo.

Although lower than in the 1952 photo, the current plaza level is still somewhat above the level of the Herodian street that lies underneath. A 1995-96 excavation has exposed the Herodian street south of the Western Wall plaza at the southwest corner of Tempele Mount. In a November 1998 lecture at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, Dan Bahat, former district archaeologist for Jerusalem, revealed plans to excavate down to the level of the Herodian street in front of the Western Wall itself. No date for the excavation was given.

View larger versions of the 1952 and 1990 photos:

The 1952 photo was taken by Dr. Marshall Welles. The 1990 photo is by the author.
Photos may be reproduced only with the consent of the author.