Given how much ink has been spilled about this site over the thousands of years (and with the rise of the digital age – ones and zeroes over the past tens of years), it is difficult to say much that has not already been said…
Although this site has been controlled by Muslims since Jerusalem was taken back from the Crusaders in 1187 (aside from a very brief period during the 1967 Six-Day War after which Israeli commander Moshe Dayan immediately turned the Temple Mount over to Jerusalem’s Muslim leaders), it was not always so… The first Jewish temple was built here at least a thousand years before Christ. However, it and subsequent temples were destroyed by everyone from Nebuchadnezzar II to the Romans before the site became Islam’s third holiest behind Mecca and Medina.
Non-Muslims are only allowed onto the Temple Mount via the Bab al-Maghariba (Gate of the Moors). However, curiously, we may exit through any gate…
Thus one first arrives at the south side of the complex near the al-Aqsa Mosque. However, the first thing one will likely notice are the open plazas of cypress trees and ancient paving stones on the Temple Mount, interspersed with many Muslims that are visiting from all over the world:
The al-Aqsa Mosque is just to the right as one enters the Gate of the Moors… Al-Aqsa stands on what is believed to have been a marketplace on the edge of the Temple Mount. This might be where Jesus supposedly turned over the tables and drove out the moneychangers. The present-day mosque is a mix of restorations, with columns donated, oddly enough, by Benito Mussolini:
This is an attractive photograph I found of the al-Aqsa Mosque which shows what it looked like over 100 years ago… Really, it doesn’t look that much different now:
The crown jewel of the Temple Mount is undoubtedly the Dome of the Rock though… As its name suggests, the dome covers that bit of rock sacred to both Muslims and Jews:
There’s a reason it is one of the most photographed buildings in the world… It really is beautiful:
The original gold dome disappeared long ago, melted down to pay a forgotten caliph’s debts. The current dome is covered with 1.3 millimeters of gold and was donated by King Hussein of Jordan who sold one of his homes in London to pay for it. The more than 175 pounds of gold cost the king $8.2 million at the time:
Because I am not a Muslim, I am not allowed inside the Dome of the Rock. And in fact, your Italian correspondent even got in trouble as it was decided she was standing too close to me. So, they are pretty uptight here… However, you may find plenty of images of the interior of the Dome of the Rock with a simple search on Google.
This is the area surrounding the Dome of the Rock:
The Temple Mount is a soothing contrast to the congestion and noise of Jerusalem’s narrow streets surrounding the complex:
One of the nine exits from the Temple Mount:
You know I like to slip interesting “oh by the ways” into my posts and this one is no exception…
Due to the extreme political sensitivity of the site, no real archaeological excavations have ever been conducted on the Temple Mount itself. Protests commonly occur whenever archaeologists conduct projects even close to the Temple Mount. Thus, aside from the visual observation of surface features, most other archaeological knowledge of the site comes from a 19th century survey carried out by Charles Wilson and Charles Warren.
Supporting the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount platform is a large vaulted area — popularly referred to as King Solomon’s Stables. They were used as stables by the Crusaders, but were built by Herod the Great — along with the platform they were built to support. In the process of investigating the complex, Charles Warren discovered tunnels that lay under this section. These passages lead in erratic directions, some leading beyond the southern edge of the Temple Mount (they are at a depth below the base of the walls); their purpose is currently unknown — as is whether they predate the Temple Mount — a situation not helped by the fact that apart from Warren’s expedition no one else is known to have visited them.
Naturally, and I must say, not without some merit, Israelis claim that Muslims are deliberately removing significant amounts of archaeological evidence about the Jewish past of the Temple Mount. While, of course, Muslims allege that the Israelis are deliberately damaging the remains of Islamic-era buildings found in their excavations. Since the Muslims possess almost full autonomy on the Islamic holy sites, Israeli archaeologists are prevented from inspecting the area; although they have conducted several excavations near the Temple Mount.