The Israel Antiquities Authority began its bi-annual process of inspecting the Western Wall’s stones to make sure the holy site is safe for the throngs of visitors expected to come during the upcoming Passover holiday.
“The wall’s 2,000-year-old stones are subject to natural weathering and we are making sure to strengthen them,” said Yossi Vaknin, the Israel Antiquities Authority’s head conservator of the Western Wall area.
“The Western Wall is a unique ecological environment that supports its own life forms,” Vaknin added. “A lot of plants have taken root in the wall’s stones – particularly thorny capers, golden drops and golden henbanes. Added to this, many birds nest in the wall, including the common swift which arrives every year, ravens, and doves.”
To maintain the structural integrity of the ancient structure, the conservators have catalogued each and every stone in the wall’s 45 layers of stonework, 17 of which are underground.
“We have an ‘identity card’ for each of the hundreds of stones in the plaza and monitor dozens of features. Our most recent survey revealed that it was necessary to treat the ‘peel’, or outer layer, of several stones,” Vahnin explained, specifying that the process is non-destructive to either the stones or the ecosystem of flora and fauna they house.
According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, some 12 million people visit the site in an average year, though that number has dipped significantly in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, some of the busiest times at the wall are Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – which are known as pilgrimage festivals. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of people visited the wall during those holidays.
In the summer of 2018, a massive boulder dislodged from the wall and fell onto the prayer annex at Robinson’s Arch, which once stood at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount.