The Old City is a .35 square mile walled area within the modern city of Jerusalem. Until the 1860s this area constituted the entire city of Jerusalem. The Old City is home to several sites of key religious importance: the Temple Mount and its Western Wall for Jews, the Church of the Resurrection for Christians, and the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims.
Traditionally, the Old City has been divided into four quarters, although the current designations were introduced only in the 19th century. Today, the Old City is roughly divided into the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter.
During the era of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, there were four gates to the Old City, one on each side. The current walls, built by Suleiman the Magnificent, have a total of eleven gates, but only seven are open. Until 1887, each gate was closed before sunset and opened at sunrise.
The Dome of the Rock is an Islamic shrine which houses the Foundation Stone, the holiest spot in Judaism, and is a major landmark located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It was completed in 691, making it the oldest extant Islamic building in the world. Its significance stems from the religious beliefs regarding the rock at its heart. According to Islamic tradition, the rock is the spot from where Muhammad ascended to Heaven accompanied by the angel Gabriel.
The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall is an important Jewish religious site located in the Old City of Jerusalem. Just over half the wall, including its 17 courses located below street level, dates from the end of the Second Temple period, being constructed around 19 BCE by Herod the Great. The remaining layers were added from the 7th century onwards.
In Judaism, the Western Wall is venerated as the sole remnant of the Holy Temple. It has become a place of pilgrimage for Jews, as it is the closest permitted accessible site to the holiest spot in Judaism. Jewish tradition teaches that King David built the Western Wall and that the wall we see today is built upon his foundations, which date from the time of the First Temple.
Until the 1920s, Muslims referred to the Wall as El-Mabka “the place of wailing”. They then began calling it the Al-Buraq Wall. Muslims defend that the Wall is [also] an Islamic endowment site. Some sources identify the Western Wall as the place where the Islamic prophet Muhammad tethered his winged steed, Buraq.
There is a much-publicized practice of placing slips of paper containing written prayers into the crevices of the Wall. More recently, the Israeli Telephone Company has established a fax service to the Western Wall where petitioners can send notes to be placed in the Wall.
In July 2008, President Barack Obama placed a written prayer in the wall, which was later reportedly removed and published in the Maariv newspaper. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI also deposited a message in the wall and also released its contents to the media. More than a million notes are placed each year. The notes are collected twice a year and buried on the Mount of Olives.