In all my time living in Jerusalem and even in all my past visits to Israel, I had never made it to the Temple Mount, like many tourists who visit the holy land. Despite being the holiest site in the entirety of Jerusalem, by far, I think the reason many people don't make it there is twofold: it's confusing how to get there and also the visiting hours are not clear as they are constantly changing. Fortunately, I had the chance to visit the Temple Mount recently and I'd like to show you images from my wonderful visit to this special part of the Old City of Jerusalem:
You can access the Temple Mount from the Jewish Quarter next to the Kotel. In the picture above, you will see a ramp or walkway bordering the right hand side of the Western Wall. This is exactly where you will pass security and walk through to get to the Temple Mount. From inside the ramp, you can peek out on your left to see activity going on at the Western Wall below:
To give you some perspective, take a look at this aerial image below of the Temple Mount. In it, you can see the ramp that you will be walking up (in the bottom left hand corner) and the neighboring images of people at the Western Wall. The ramp will deposit you inside the Temple Mount very close to the Al Aqsa Mosque (not pictured, it's just to the right of the bottom right hand corner). The entire Temple Mount is 35 acres, just to give you an idea of how big the area is that you will be exploring:
This map also helps to shed some perspective on the general area of the Temple Mount. If you ever wondered how to get to the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, well then your curiosity will now be satiated:
Once you've made it up the ramp, you will be welcomed into the Temple Mount area and this is the first thing you will see (it's the eastern side of the Al Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites to Muslims and the Islamic religion). We will be getting back to this site a little bit later:
Up on the Temple Mount, you must make sure you are dressed appropriately. That means keep your arms and legs covered, past the knees. Preferably, you might also bring a shawl to cover your head so that you do not disrespect anyone up there. I didn't have a head covering and I only wore a long sleeve shirt and a longer skirt, but I wish I would have brought something for my head. Here's our first glimpse of the Dome of the Rock (where it is believed by the Jewish faith that Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son Isaac and also where the First Temple once stood, by the the Islamic faith that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, and by the Christian faith that Jesus frequented this locale and that it will play an important role in the time of resurrection):
This below is not a fountain but a ritual bathing area used by Muslims before prayer. The entire Temple Mount area is governed by the Waqf, or the Supreme Muslim Religious Council:
After taking in the original awe of the area, it's time to head upward past the stairs to the Dome of the Rock and its surrounding grounds:
Up the stairs, here we are face to face with the Dome of the Rock, a stunning piece of architecture set against a perfect blue Jerusalem sky. Remember that this splendid edifice covered with blue mosaic is a site that is holy to three of the world's largest religions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
You cannot go inside the Dome of the Rock nor the Al Aqsa Mosque unless you are Muslim, so sorry, I have no images from inside these massive structures. You'll have to google it to see what the interior looks like. However, there's still lots to explore around the grounds, 35 acres to be exact, on the Temple Mount (in the 3rd photo down, you will see lines of tape on the ground, that is so Muslims can kneel in organized prayer):
It's really something to see, beautiful in person. But we're not done yet. We saw some kids playing soccer, right up there on the Temple Mount! In the background you can see the gold spires from the Russian Orthodox Church on the Mount of Olives.
And we just could not get enough of the beautiful arches surrounding every side of the Temple Mount, all leading up to different sides of the Dome of the Rock. We had to snap a few photos:
See that gray domed mosque in the photo above? That's the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third most important site to Muslims in the world. To get there, we'll have to walk back across the grand plaza surrounding the Dome of the Rock:
And here we are getting closer to the Al Aqsa Mosque, which you cannot enter unless you are Muslim. We kind of felt like we had watchful eyes on us from Muslims in the area, so we didn't want to get too close nor did we want to be seen taking too many pictures. In general, Muslims don't like having their pictures taken and I am guessing don't appreciate having Al Aqsa photographed either. A group of Muslim men asked my friend and I if we were Muslim, hinting that perhaps we should continue on with our adventure and put the camera away:
What an interesting visit! This holy site is also a controversial one, being such historic property. Some consider it so holy to each of the three religions that they refuse to visit it since it would mean you are visiting a holy site of a religion different from your own. I am open to everything, but that's something to keep in mind if you're considering a visit there. After all that walking and after being out in the sun, we needed somewhere to sit and relax for a few minutes. These egg-shaped chairs inside one of Mamilla Mall's air conditioned stores did the trick:
More or less, the Temple Mount area can be accessed from Sunday to Thursday between the hours of 7:30 am to 10:00 am and from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm. The Temple Mount area is closed on all major and religious holidays and additionally any days that the security staff deems as sensitive. We had waited all month until the end of Ramadan (a 30-day holiday in the Islamic religion) in order to visit the Temple Mount again. So, as you can see, it's not always easy to make it there. However, with some advance planning you can definitely make it happen.
Whoever my next visitor is in Israel, I will be sure to take him or her to the Temple Mount during the Jerusalem portion of their visit. I have a feeling it will be a highlight of their trip since it's already been a welcome highlight of my time living here. You don't want to miss out on this, one of the most holy and yet one of the most controversial sites on planet Earth.