Today we made our way to Jerusalem’s Old City. Entering through the Dung Gate, we passed through security on our way up to the top of the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount only opens twice a day, and our guide referred to it as the most “heated” piece of real estate in the world. Why? Because the Temple Mount is the land under the Dome of the Rock.
Our Jewish guide, Hannah, was an absolute treat! Warm, passionate, informed—yet another wonderful teacher. The morning schedule was packed to overflowing, so our pace was fast. We saw the sights, but no doddling allowed this time around!
A few things the average wandering tourist might not know…
- The Dome of the Rock is not actually a mosque. It’s a shrine. The functional mosque here is actually called Al-Aqsa Mosque, and it’s the far less-impressive building on the southern end of the Mount.
- The Al-Aqsa Mosque has space for worshipers both above and below the surface of the Temple Mount. In total, it can handle five thousand worshipers at a time.
- The big deal about the Dome of the Rock isn’t its beauty, though it IS beautiful. (Some claim it to be the most photographed building in the world.) Rather, the big deal is what is inside. The Dome covers a slab of rock held to be Mount Moriah, the site of Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of his son. The name of the son flips between Isaac or Ishmael, depending on who tells the story.
- From the Temple Mount, one can see the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre—three of the holies sites to the three monotheistic faiths. The visual “competition” of the structures side-by-side illustrates well the tensions that exist in Jerusalem AND beyond.
- As impressive as the Dome of the Rock is, our guide claimed that the Jewish Temple before its destruction would have stood twice as high!
- Many Orthodox Jews will not visit the Temple Mount even today. In fact, as one passes through security, this sign can be seen: “Announcement and Warning: According to Torah Law, entering the Temple Mount is strictly forbidden due to the holiness of the site.” It’s signed by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. One explanation said that the Jews see no way of purification without the Temple and sacrificial system, thus “the holiness” cannot be entered or drawn near to. Less strict Jews may choose to go up, but they will limit their tour to the fringes of the site, which were added on after the Temple’s destruction. Thus, “the holiness problem” isn’t in effect on the edges. Jewish visitors will also go escorted by an armed chaperone to “dissuade” any potential confrontations that could arise during their visit, for whatever reason.
As I said, the time here was quick—too quick. So later that day, I caught the second slot of “opening hours” and walked a more leisurely pace over the site again.