Part of Jerusalem's Western Wall, the holiest site for Jews, has started crumbling and needs to be fixed to protect worshippers who bow in prayer before the massive ancient stones, officials said on Tuesday.
Each year, some six million people visit what is also known as the Wailing Wall, revered by Jews as the remnant of their Second Temple and Israel's biggest tourist attraction.
Ironically, the layers of stones that predate the 70 AD destruction of the temple are in fine shape, while smaller ones at the top of the wall, added less than 100 years ago, are showing signs of wear.
"There are two types of stone. Some are from the Second Temple more than two thousand years ago and they are in a good state, generally speaking," said Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall.
"The problem is with the stones added during the British Mandate. Those stones are crumbling and we have to adjust them," he said.
Rabinovitch said repairs are expected to begin soon after the Jewish holiday of Passover, which starts this weekend, and continue through the summer.
But the Western Wall plaza will remain open during the repairs and visitors need not be afraid of being hit by a falling stone, he added.
The Israel Antiquities Authority will be involved in the work and will put protective measures in place in the area where people pray if needed, said Raanan Kislev, director of the authority's conservation department.
He said the state-run archeological body regularly conducts surveys of the wall which will determine the extent of repairs needed.
"Every few months we check the wall," Kislev said. "In the past smaller stones have fallen down."
The authority stressed, however, that the Western Wall was stable.
Its construction dates back to 37 BC when King Herod decided to expand the Second Temple compound -- the center of Jewish worship at the time -- and built four support walls around it.
Much of the 488-meter-long (1,600 foot) Western Wall now runs beneath the streets and houses of the Old City.
The stretch of wall visible at the prayer plaza is only 57 meters (188 feet) long and about 40 meters (130 feet) high. It is there that worshippers bow, sway to-and-fro in prayer and place slips of paper with messages to God in the crevices.
Above the wall is the area known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, which houses the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third-holiest site in Islam.
The Western Wall fell into Jewish hands for the first time since the Roman era after the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel captured and annexed east Jerusalem.
Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and undivided capital, a claim not recognised by the international community. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.