There are times when a certain custom, way of life, or creative expression make so much sense to the human race that they are adapted to fit other circumstances, with the hope a similar result will occur. “What goes around comes around” – or maybe “the best inventions never lose their purpose” might be sayings that would apply in this scenario. Such is the case with the Paris Wall for Peace, the creation of artist Clara Halter, who conceived of the scheme, and architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, the man who drew the plans and delivered the idea to constructive reality. Wilmotte has earned international fame as the designer of “urban interior architecture,” a voguish name for the construction of public buildings that appeal to the same respect and reverence as your own home. Even before joining with Wilmotte, Halter had been very active in the propagation of peace through her efforts with Eléments, a European publication promoting and tracking the progress of peace in the Middle East. Given this experience in her life, it was quite natural that she would draw upon the symbols of Mid-Eastern culture in her conceptualization of the Wall for Peace. In particular, she reached into the religion of Judaism and the traditions surrounding the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem.
The Wailing Wall carries strong meaning to those of the Jewish religion, serving as a monument to their faith, a place of prayer, and symbol of Judaism’s tenacity in the face of persecution. According to tradition, the Wailing Wall at one time served as the western wall of the courtyard that enclosed the Jewish Temple Mount – upon which rested the actual temple initiated by Herod the Great in the year 19 BC. For this reason it is often referred to as the Western Wall, but it is also denoted as “Kotel” in Hebrew. With the exception of the temple mount itself, the Wailing Wall is held as the most revered site in Judaism and has been frequently photographed – making it a familiar landmark to people around the world. Many historians believe that the custom of praying before the wall gained popularity in the years following the Ottoman conquest of Jerusalem in 1517 – and it has been a point of friction between Judaism and Islam ever since. According to the long-held teachings of Judaism, the very gate of heaven is situated at the Wailing Wall and waiting to hear the prayers of those that approach.
Of particular significance to understanding the thinking behind the Peace Wall of Paris is the Jewish custom of placing slips of paper in the crevices of the Wailing Wall, containing wishes and hopes for the future. Ever since the earliest description of this tradition in 1743, there has been a running debate on whether or not worshippers are allowed to place their finger in the crevices of the wall – since in the tradition of more orthodox teaching such an action would breach the very holiness of the temple that once stood on the mount. At one time, the ritual of approaching the wall included the need to remove one’s shoes, but this parameter of worship eventually gave way – while the stricture to cover the head has remained. Today more than a million slips of paper are placed in the wall each year, and there are actual online services available – similar to “Window on the Wall” – through which Jews can email their notes to Jerusalem at a time of great spiritual need. The Christian Broadcasting Network goes so far as to advertise that “people all over the world can tweet their prayers, have them printed and placed in the wall.”
Through the combined talents of Halter and Wilmotte, the Wall for Peace is a masterful and respectful transference of the Wailing Wall to Parisian society – and it has gained unexpected international fame and survived long past its intended staying time. Originally designed and intended to mark the millennium for the City of Paris, the President of the French Republic inaugurated its presence on the Champs de Mars on March 30, 2000. Sitting in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, the Wall for Peace consists of a metal structure that is covered with glass, stainless steel and wood of exotic origins. In the true spirit of the Wailing Wall, mailboxes are included as “chinks” in the design, intended for handwritten messages – thereby liberally borrowing from Judaic tradition. Inscribed on the monument is the word “peace,” written in 32 different languages. In another obvious replication of Jewish tradition, onsite computer hookups allow anyone in the world to send an email message to the monument – which is accordingly displayed on monitors at the actual site. You can send you own message this very minute by visiting the link at the website. Designed to include a scenic walkway, the location is now a gathering spot for progressive thinkers that mill about discussing and debating world issues. Tremendously popular, the Parisian Wailing Wall was originally intended to stand for a short period of time, and it has survived threats for its removal.
An obvious question in reference to this website is whether or not the concepts surrounding the Paris Wall for Peace could be adapted to the design of a national monument dedicated to the victims of terrorism. We think in the affirmative, especially in respect to the topic of world peace. However, you have your own opinion and you can express it with the survey below.
You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.