A visit to the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount was at the top of my list when I was planning our our trip to Israel. Temple Mount is one of the biggest attractions in Jerusalem, so I didn’t want to miss it. The site has been the most contested piece of territory in the Holy Land since Israel occupied East Jerusalem, in 1967.
- What is the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock?
- The religious significance of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock
- Who can visit the Dome of the Rock?
- How to access the Dome of the Rock
- Visiting hours and admission
- What to expect when visiting the Dome of the Rock
- Other structures to visit on Temple Mount, besides the Dome of the Rock
- How to dress when visiting Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock
- Tips for visiting the Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount
What is the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock?
Temple Mount is a walled compound that sits above the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. The compound is the site of two magnificent structures: the Dome of the Rock to the north and the Al-Aqsa Mosque to the south.
The Dome of the Rock occupies the area where the Holy Jewish Temple previously stood. The structure was completed in 692 AD, making it one of the oldest Islamic structures in the world. The Dome is a monumental building, beautifully decorated with mosaic, faience and marble. Much of these embellishments were added several centuries after its completion.
The religious significance of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock
For Jews, Temple Mount is the holiest place on Earth because it’s the site where their two temples once stood. The First Temple was built by King Solomon and was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC.
The Second Temple was built by Herod the Great in the 6th century BC and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Jews still continue to mourn the destruction of their temple to this day. They believe that that the temple is going to be rebuilt prior to the Messianic Age.
For Muslims, Temple Mount is known as Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and is the third holiest site in Islam. They believe Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from this place in the 7th century. The Dome of the Rock was built over the Foundation Stone that marks the spot where Muhammad ascended into heaven.
Since this place is holy to both Jews and Muslims, religious sensitivities have triggered violence, political chaos and tensions for decades. Despite the current truce, the peace is very volatile and the situation can get out of control at any moment.
Who can visit the Dome of the Rock?
Most tourists to Jerusalem want to visit the Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount. Sadly, while everybody can visit the Temple Mount complex, only Muslims can get inside the Dome of the Rock, or the Al Aqsa Mosque. As a non-Muslim, you can only visit the outside of these grandiose mosques and take pictures of them.
The Temple Mount is a prayer site for Muslims, who can pray here at any time. Christians and Jews may only visit the site as tourists, but are forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount.
How to access the Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock sits at the top of Temple Mount, which is currently under the control of the Jordanian government through the Waqf (the Islamic trust in Amman.) The Israeli government has control over the external security of the compound and can impose entry limits to the site.
Muslims can access the Temple Mount complex through twelve gates, but tourists and non-Muslims can only enter through the Moroccan Gate which (also known as Mugrabi Gate). This gate is located near the Western Wall Plaza, close to Dung Gate.
Visiting hours and admission
Admission for visiting Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock is free. However, the site is only open during very specific times which causes very long lines.
Visiting hours for the Temple Mount are Monday through Thursday:
- Winter: 7:30 am – 10:30 am and 12:30pm – 1:30 pm
- Summer: 8:30am – 11:30am and 1:30pm – 2:30pm
The Temple Mount is closed to visitors on Friday and Saturday. It may also be closed without notice for security reasons.
What to expect when visiting the Dome of the Rock
We wanted to visit the Dome of the Rock without the crowds, so we came very early in the morning. To our surprise we were not the first ones in line, but at least the queue wasn’t very long.
At the checking point we passed through metal detectors and had our backpacks and cameras x-rayed. They asked us if we had any prayer books or Bibles with us. We didn’t of course, so they let us pass. As we started walking up the wooden ramp towards the entrance gate, we noticed several men with semi-automatic rifles. This didn’t surpris, as military forces are omnipresent all over Israel.
Once we passed through the gate, we found ourselves in a large, open area where we could see the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the right and the Dome of the Rock on the left. It was around 7:45 a.m. when we arrived and the golden roof of Dome of the Rock was glittering the morning light.
As we began walking around taking pictures of the beautiful Dome, we noticed there many other structures around worth checking out.
Other structures to visit on Temple Mount, besides the Dome of the Rock
The biggest attraction on Temple Mount is of course the Dome of the Rock. But before rushing to the upper platform visit the Dome of the Rock, we took time to admire the beautiful arches (qanatirs) that frame the terrace. They have been built by the Mamluks, in the 15th century.
Dome of the Chain
Located on the same platform and just adjacent to the Dome of the Rock, is a free-standing dome called the Dome of the Chain, which is one of the oldest structures on the Temple Mount. The dome is used as a prayer house.
While the Dome of the Rock serves more as a shrine, Al Aqsa is a big functioning mosque that can accommodate up to 5000 worshippers at a time. It’s such a pity that we couldn’t get inside this beautiful mosque!
The Purification Fountain
North to the Al Aqsa mosque there is a small fountain used for drinking and purification before prayers. The fountain is surrounded by a green metal fence and marble chairs.
This is where Muslims wash their feet before entering the mosque. According to Islam, every Muslim must purify himself before he prays. You’ll find this kind of fountains in the vicinity of every mosque.
Fountain of Qayt Bay
This beautiful domed fountain that sits on the western esplanade is very easy to miss. Compared to the Dome of the Rock, the fountain is really small but nonetheless one of the most beautiful structures on the Temple Mount.
Also known as Sabil Qaitbay (in Arabic), the Fountain of Qayt Bay was built in the 15th century by the Mamluks of Egypt. Water used to pour from the shaft near the door of the fountain into ditchs below each window.
How to dress when visiting Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock
The Muslim authorities may have different requirements on different days. We friend visited Temple Mount wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts and had no problems.
Our friend visited the compound a few weeks later wearing pants and was told she needed to wear a long skirt. She had to rent a wrap from the entrance. If you know what to expect in Israel, things like these should not surprise you.
It’s better to come prepared, so bring a wrap just in case they ask you to cover your pants. Also, bring a scarf to cover your hair. They say you don’t have to do it, but you never know! I covered my hair anyway just to avoid being kicked out.
As a general rule, women should wear modest clothes that go down below the knees and cover their arms. No sleeveless shirts or shorts for men or women. Also, avoid physical contact with your partner. We have been scolded for trying to get closer together in order to take a selfie!
Tips for visiting the Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount
- Arrive early as the lines may be very long
- Bring water, sunscreen and a hat as there is very little shade around
- Dress modestly and wear clothing that covers your knees and arms
- Bring your passport for the security check point
- Don carry any Bible, prayer book, or religious artifacts with you
- Temple Mount is a holy site, so be respectful
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