Praying at the Kotel or Western Wall When Abraham Lincoln Was President
by James Tabor
Here are two fascinating photos from the amazing Library of Congress collection of photos of Jerusalem. These are of the Western Wall or Kotel, called for centuries “The Wailing Wall” by non-Jews, the central place of prayer for Jews today worldwide. The first was taken in around 1860 by Peter Bergheim when Abraham Lincoln was President. The population of Jerusalem at that time was 8000 Jewish, 6000 Muslim, and 3800 Christian. What few realize today is that at the turn of the 19th century, say when Mark Twain visited, Jerusalem was under Ottoman rule and the Old City was a tiny isolated entity with almost nothing built around it, with a Jewish majority. Jews lived in areas outside the city both west and east, including what is today considered “Arab East Jerusalem.” The Mt of Olives, the City of David area, and Silwan, so densely populated today, were bare, as photos taken at that time clearly show.
The second is a wider view taken in 1946, the year I was born. It shows how restricted the space in front of the Kotel was. I first visited the Wall in 1962 as a teenager. At that time the entire Old City was occupied by Jordan so our family, on a Holy Land tour, like millions of tourist in that time, never entered Israel proper as we had an interest in seeing the traditional Christian sites. After the Six Day War the plaza that exists today was created and the Jewish Quarter, that had been destroyed by the Jordanians, was rebuilt.
Click images to enlarge for viewing