The Western Wall that we know today is not merely the area that people use for prayer or for official ceremonies. It actually includes the entire western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, including what is known today as Robinson's Arch. Located on the southern end of the Wall, Robinson's Arch was originally thought to be a series of bridges leading from the Upper City to the Temple Mount. Many tour books still reflect this misperception.
The original thinking of Robinson's Arch was that when Herod enlarged the area of the Temple Mount during the 1st century BCE, the wall was higher in the southern part and a valley was created. This valley separated the Western Wall from the Upper City, making difficult direct access to the Temple Mount. A series of bridges and arches over the valley to the Temple Mount was created to solve this problem. One of these arches, located close to the southern end of the Western Wall, is known as Robinson's Arch. The arch was discovered in 1838 and named after its discoverer, American researcher Edward Robinson.
In fact, however, that theory was disproven during the archaeological excavations of 1968-1977. Evidence showed that the arch had spanned over paved streets at multiple angles. A row of small vaults was also discovered. This row of vaults, together with Robinson's arch, supported a flight of steps leading from the street to the Temple Mount. Geographically, the arch is on the southern end of the Western retaining wall to the Temple Mount.
In the past few years, the Israeli government has used Robinson's arch as a place for groups to pray that do not meet the approval of the Ministry of Religious Affairs as the arch area is not under the control of the Religious Affairs Ministry. Since 2000, egalitarian prayer has taken place at the site under the auspices of the Conservative/Masorti movement. The Reform movement was also offered Robinson's Arch as a prayer site but they refused. The woman's prayer group "Women of the Wall" was offered Robinson's Arch in May 2000 as an alternative to the Kotel for their Orthodox women's prayer group but they were then allowed to continue their traditional prayer at the Western Wall as the court ruled that Robinson's Arch would not be suitable for their prayer. However, in April 2003, the Supreme Court refused to allow Women of the Wall to continue their Orthodox prayer group and instead required the government to prepare an area at Robinson's arch within 12 months. Women of the Wall members do not feel that the Robinson's Arch-area is a suitable prayer area. Their attorney, Frances Reday, notes, "There are a lot of stones next to the wall in that area, which would need to be removed to allow for access." In the early twenty-first century, Israel opened up an archaelogical park in the area around Robinson's Arch.