Temple Mount

The Temple Mount (Hebrew: הַר הַבַּיִת‎‎, Har HaBáyit, “Mount of the House [of GOD, i.e. the Temple]”), known to Muslims as the Haram esh-Sharif (Arabic: الحرم الشريف‎‎, al-Ḥaram al-Šarīf, “the Noble Sanctuary”, or الحرم القدسي الشريف, al-Ḥaram al-Qudsī al-Šarīf, “the Noble Sanctuary of Jerusalem”), a hill located in the Old City of Jerusalem, is the most important Religious sites in the World. It has been venerated as a holy site for thousands of years by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The present site is dominated by three monumental structures from the early Umayyad period: the al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain, as well as four minarets. Herodian walls and gates with additions dating back to the late Byzantine and early Islamic periods cut through the flanks of the Mount. Currently it can be reached through eleven gates, ten reserved for Muslims and one for non-Muslims, with guard posts of Israeli police in the vicinity of each.

According to the Bible, the Jewish Temples stood on the Temple Mount. According to Jewish tradition and scripture, the First Temple was built by King Solomon the son of King David in 957 BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The second was constructed under the auspices of Zerubbabel in 516 BCE and destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 CE. Jewish tradition maintains it is here that a Third and final Temple will also be built. The location is the holiest site in Judaism and is the place Jews turn towards during prayer. Due to its extreme sanctity, many Jews will not walk on the Mount itself, to avoid unintentionally entering the area where the Holy of Holies stood, since according to Rabbinical law, some aspect of the divine presence is still present at the site.

Among Sunni Muslims, the Mount is widely considered the third holiest site in Islam. Revered as the Noble Sanctuary, the location of Muhammad‘s journey to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven, the site is also associated with Jewish biblical prophets who are also venerated in Islam. Umayyad Caliphs commissioned the construction of the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock on the site. The Dome was completed in 692 CE, making it one of the oldest extant Islamic structures in the world. The Al Aqsa Mosque rests on the far southern side of the Mount, facing Mecca. The Dome of the Rock currently sits in the middle, occupying or close to the area where the Holy Temple previously stood.

In light of the dual claims of both Judaism and Islam, it is one of the most contested religious sites in the world. Since the Crusades, the Muslim community of Jerusalem has managed the site as a Waqf, without interruption. As the site is part of the Old City, controlled by Israel since 1967, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim sovereignty over it, and it remains a major focal point of the Arab–Israeli conflict. In an attempt to keep the status quo, the Israeli government enforces a controversial ban on prayer by non-Muslims.

Location and dimensions

The Temple Mount forms the northern portion of a very narrow spur of hill that slopes sharply downward from north to south. Rising above the Kidron Valley to the east and Tyropoeon Valley to the west, its peak reaches a height of 740 m (2,428 ft) above sea level. In around 19 BCE, Herod the Great extended the Mount’s natural plateau by enclosing the area with four massive retaining walls and filling the voids. This artificial expansion resulted in a large flat expanse which today forms the eastern section of the Old City of Jerusalem. The trapezium shaped platform measures 488 m along the west, 470 m along the east, 315 m along the north and 280 m along the south, giving a total area of approximately 150,000 m2 (37 acres). The northern wall of the Mount, together with the northern section of the western wall, is hidden behind residential buildings. The southern section of the western flank is revealed and contains what is known as the Western Wall. The retaining walls on these two sides descend many meters below ground level. A northern portion of the western wall may be seen from within the Western Wall Tunnel, which was excavated through buildings adjacent to the platform. On the southern and eastern sides the walls are visible almost to their full height. The platform itself is separated from the rest of the Old City by the Tyropoeon Valley, though this once deep valley is now largely hidden beneath later deposits, and is imperceptible in places. The platform can be reached via Gate of the Chain Street – a street in the Muslim Quarter at the level of the platform, actually sitting on a monumental bridge; the bridge is no longer externally visible due to the change in ground level, but it can be seen from beneath via the Western Wall Tunnel.

Religious significance

The Temple mount has historical and religious significance for all three of the major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It has particular religious significance for Judaism and Islam, and the competing claims of these faith communities has made it one of the most contested religious sites in the world.

Judaism

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, which regards it as the place where GOD’s divine presence is manifested more than in any other place, and is the place Jews turn towards during prayer. Due to its extreme sanctity, many Jews will not walk on the Mount itself, to avoid unintentionally entering the area where the Holy of Holies stood, since according to Rabbinical law, some aspect of the divine presence is still present at the site. It was from the Holy of Holies that the High Priest communicated directly with GOD.

According to the rabbinic sages whose debates produced the Talmud, it was from here the world expanded into its present form and where GOD gathered the dust used to create the first human, Adam. Since at least the first century CE, the site has been associated in Judaism with Mount Moriah (Hebrew: הַר הַמוריה‎‎, Har HaMōriyā); Mount Moriah is the name given by the Hebrew Bible to the location of Abraham’s binding of Isaac, this identification being perpetuated by Jewish and Christian tradition.

Jewish connection and veneration to the site arguably stems from the fact that it contains the Foundation Stone which, according to the rabbis of the Talmud, was the spot from where the world was created and expanded into its current form. It was subsequently the Holy of Holies of the Temple, the Most Holy Place in Judaism. Jewish tradition names it as the location for a number of important events which occurred in the Bible, including the Binding of Isaac, Jacob’s dream, and the prayer of Isaac and Rebekah. Similarly, when the Bible recounts that King David purchased a threshing floor owned by Araunah the Jebusite, tradition locates it as being on this mount. An early Jewish text, the Genesis Rabba, states that this site is one of three about which the nations of the world cannot taunt Israel and say “you have stolen them,” since it was purchased “for its full price” by David. According to the Bible, David wanted to construct a sanctuary there, but this was left to his son Solomon, who completed the task in c. 950 BCE with the construction of the First Temple.

According to the Bible, both Jewish Temples stood at the Temple Mount, though archaeological evidence only exists for the Second Temple. However, the identification of Solomon’s Temple with the area of the Temple Mount is widespread. According to the Bible the site should function as the center of all national life—a governmental, judicial and religious center. During the Second Temple period it functioned also as an economic center. According to Jewish tradition and scripture, the First Temple was built by King Solomon the son of King David in 957 BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The second was constructed under the auspices of Zerubbabel in 516 BCE and destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 CE. In the 2nd century, the site was used for a temple to Jupiter Capitolinus. It was redeveloped following the Arab conquest. Jewish texts predict that the Mount will be the site of a Third and final Temple, which will be rebuilt with the coming of the Messiah. A number of vocal Jewish groups now advocate building the Third Holy Temple without delay in order to bring to pass God’s “end-time prophetic plans for Israel and the entire world.”

Several passages in the Bible indicate that during the time when they were written, the Temple Mount was identified as Mount Zion. The Mount Zion mentioned in the later parts of the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 60:14), in the Book of Psalms, and the First Book of Maccabees (c. 2nd century BCE) seems to refer to the top of the hill, generally known as the Temple Mount. According to the Book of Samuel, Mount Zion was the site of the Jebusite fortress called the “stronghold of Zion”, but once the First Temple was erected, according to the Bible, at the top of the Eastern Hill (“Temple Mount”), the name “Mount Zion” migrated there too. The name later migrated for a last time, this time to Jerusalem’s Western Hill.

Christianity

The Temple was of central importance in Jewish worship, in the Tanakh and the Christian Old Testament. In the New Testament, Herod’s Temple was the site of several events in the life of Jesus, and Christian loyalty to the site as a focal point remained long after his death. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, which came to be regarded by early Christians, as it was by Josephus and the sages of the Jerusalem Talmud, to be a divine act of punishment for the sins of the Jewish people, the Temple Mount lost its significance for Christian worship with the Christians considering it a fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy at, for example, Matthew 23:28 and 24:2. It was to this end, proof of a biblical prophecy fulfilled and of Christianity’s victory over Judaism with the New Covenant, that early Christian pilgrims also visited the site. Byzantine Christians, despite some signs of constructive work on the esplanade, generally neglected the Temple Mount, especially when a Jewish attempt to rebuild the Temple was destroyed by the earthquake in 363. and it became a desolate local rubbish dump, perhaps outside the city limits, as Christian worship in Jerusalem shifted to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Jerusalem’s centrality was replaced by Rome.

During the Byzantine era, Jerusalem was primarily Christian and pilgrims came by the tens of thousands to experience the places where Jesus walked. After the Persian invasion in 614 many churches were razed and the site was turned into a dumpyard. The Arabs conquered the city from the Byzantine Empire which had retaken it in 629. The Byzantine ban on the Jews was lifted and they were allowed to live inside the city and visit the places of worship. Christian pilgrims were able to come and experience the Temple Mount area. The war between Seljuqs and Byzantine Empire and increasing Muslim violence against Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem instigated the Crusades. The Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099 and the Dome of the Rock was given to the Augustinians, who turned it into a church, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque became the royal palace of Baldwin I of Jerusalem in 1104. The Knights Templar, who believed the Dome of the Rock was the site of the Solomon’s Temple, gave it the name “Templum Domini” and set up their headquarters in the Al-Aqsa Mosque adjacent to the Dome for much of the 12th century.

In Christian art, the Circumcision of Jesus was conventionally depicted as taking place at the Temple, even though European artists until recently had no way of knowing what the Temple looked like and the Gospels do not state that the event took place at the Temple.

Though some Christians believe that the Temple will be reconstructed before, or concurrent with, the Second Coming of Jesus (also see dispensationalism), pilgrimage to the Temple Mount is not viewed as essential in the beliefs and worship of most Christians. The New Testament recounts a story of a Samaritan woman asking Jesus about the appropriate place to worship, Jerusalem or the Samaritan holy place at Mount Gerizim, to which Jesus replies,

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”(John 4:21-24)

This has been construed to mean that Jesus dispensed with physical location for worship, which was a matter rather of spirit and truth.

Islam

Almost immediately after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 638 CE, Caliph ‘Omar ibn al Khatab, disgusted by the filth covering the site, had it thoroughly cleaned, and granted Jews access to the site. Among Sunni Muslims, the Mount is widely considered the third holiest site in Islam. Revered as the Noble Sanctuary, the location of Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven, the site is also associated with Jewish biblical prophets who are also venerated in Islam. Muslims preferred to use the esplanade as the heart for the Muslim quarter, since it had been abandoned by Christians, to avoid disturbing the Christian quarters of Jerusalem. Umayyad Caliphs commissioned the construction of the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock on the site. The Dome was completed in 692 CE, making it one of the oldest extant Islamic structures in the world. The Al Aqsa Mosque rests on the far southern side of the Mount, facing Mecca. The Dome of the Rock currently sits in the middle, occupying or close to the area where the Holy Temple previously stood.

A 13th-century claim to an extended region of holiness was made by Ibn Taymiyyah who asserted: “Al-Masjid al-Aqsa is the name for the whole of the place of worship built by Sulaymaan…” which, according to western tradition, presents: “…the place of worship built by Solomon” known as Solomon’s Temple. Ibn Taymiyyah had also opposed giving any undue religious honors to mosques (even that of Jerusalem), to approach or rival in any way the perceived Islamic sanctity of the two most holy mosques within Islam, Masjid al-Haram (in Mecca) and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (in Madina).

Muslims view the site as being one of the earliest and most noteworthy places of worship of GOD (ALLAH). For a few years in the early stages of Islam, Muhammad instructed his followers to face the Mount during prayer.

The site is also important as being the site of the “Farthest Mosque” (mentioned in the Quran as the location of Muhammad’s miraculous Night Journey) to heaven.:

“Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram (the Sacred Mosque) to al-Masjid al-Aqsa (the Further Mosque), whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.” Quran 17:1

The hadith, a collection of the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad, confirm that the location of the Al-Aqsa mosque is indeed in Jerusalem:

“When the people of Quraish did not believe me (i.e. the story of my Night Journey), I stood up in Al-Hijr and ALLAH displayed Jerusalem in front of me, and I began describing Jerusalem to them while I was looking at it.” Sahih Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 58, Number 226.

Muslim interpretations of the Quran agree that the Mount is the site of a Temple built by Sulayman (King Salomon), considered a prophet in Islam, that was later destroyed.

After the construction, Muslims believe, the temple was used for the worship of one GOD by many prophets of Islam, including Jesus. Other Muslim scholars have used the Torah (called Tawrat in Arabic) to expand on the details of the Temple.

History

Israelite period

The hill is believed to have been inhabited since the 4th millennium BCE. Assuming colocation with the biblical Mount Zion, its southern section would have been walled at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE, in around 1850 BCE, by Canaanites who established a settlement there (or in the vicinity) named Jebus. Jewish tradition identifies it with Mount Moriah where the binding of Isaac took place. According to the Hebrew Bible, the Temple Mount was originally a threshing-floor owned by Araunah, a Jebusite. The prophet Gad suggested the area to King David as a fitting place for the erection of an altar to YHWH, since a destroying angel was standing there when God stopped a great plague in Jerusalem.

David then bought the property from Araunah, for fifty pieces of silver, and erected the altar. YHWH instructed David to build a sanctuary on the site, outside the city walls on the northern edge of the hill. The building was to replace the Tabernacle, and serve as the Temple of the Israelites in Jerusalem. The Temple Mount is an important part of Biblical archaeology.

Persian, Hasmonean and Herodian periods

Much of the Mount’s early history is synonymous with events pertaining to the Temple itself. After the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by Nebuchadnezzar II, construction of the Second Temple began under Cyrus in around 538 BCE, and was completed in 516 BCE. Evidence of a Hasmonean expansion of the Temple Mount has been recovered by archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer. Around 19 BCE, Herod the Great further expanded the Mount and rebuilt the temple. The ambitious project, which involved the employment of 10,000 workers, more than doubled the size of the Temple Mount to approximately 36 acres (150,000 m2). Herod leveled the area by cutting away rock on the northwest side and raising the sloping ground to the south. He achieved this by constructing huge buttress walls and vaults, and filling the necessary sections with earth and rubble. A basilica, called by Josephus “the Royal Stoa”, was constructed on the southern end of the expanded platform, which provided a focus for the city’s commercial and legal transactions, and which was provided with separate access to the city below via the Robinson’s Arch overpass. In addition to restoration of the Temple, its courtyards and porticoes, Herod also built the Antonia Fortress, abutting the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount, and a rainwater reservoir, Birket Israel, in the northeast. As a result of the First Jewish–Roman War, the fortress was destroyed in 70 CE by Titus, the army commander and son of Roman emperor Vespasian.

Middle Roman period

The city of Aelia Capitolina was built in 130 CE by the Roman emperor Hadrian, and occupied by a Roman colony on the site of Jerusalem, which was still in ruins from the First Jewish Revolt in 70 CE. Aelia came from Hadrian’s nomen gentile, Aelius, while Capitolina meant that the new city was dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus, to whom a temple was built on the site of the former second Jewish temple, the Temple Mount.

Hadrian had intended the construction of the new city as a gift to the Jews, but since he had constructed a giant statue of himself in front of the Temple of Jupiter and the Temple of Jupiter had a huge statue of Jupiter inside of it, there were on the Temple Mount now two enormous graven images, which Jews considered idolatrous. It was also customary in Roman rites to sacrifice a pig in land purification ceremonies. In addition to this, Hadrian issued a decree prohibiting the practice of circumcision. These three factors, the graven images, the sacrifice of pigs before the altar, and the prohibition of circumcision, are thought to have constituted for non-Hellenized Jews a new abomination of desolation, and thus Bar Kochba launched the Third Jewish Revolt. After the Third Jewish Revolt failed, all Jews were forbidden on pain of death from entering the city or the surrounding territory around the city.

Late Roman period

From the 1st through the 7th centuries Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, gradually became the predominant religion of Palestine and under the Byzantines Jerusalem itself was almost completely Christian, with most of the population being Jacobite Christians of the Syrian rite.

Emperor Constantine I promoted the Christianization of Roman society, giving it precedence over pagan cults. One consequence was that Hadrian’s Temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount was demolished immediately following the First Council of Nicea in 325 CE on orders of Constantine.

The Bordaeux Pilgrim, who visited Jerusalem in 333–334, during the reign of Emperor Constantine I, wrote that “There are two statues of Hadrian, and, not far from them, a pierced stone to which the Jews come every year and anoint. They mourn and rend their garments, and then depart.” The occasion is assumed to have been Tisha b’Av, since decades later Jerome related that that was the only day on which Jews were permitted to enter Jerusalem.

Constantine’s nephew Emperor Julian granted permission in the year 363 for the Jews to rebuild the Temple. In a letter attributed to Julian he wrote to the Jews that “This you ought to do, in order that, when I have successfully concluded the war in Persia, I may rebuild by my own efforts the sacred city of Jerusalem, which for so many years you have longed to see inhabited, and may bring settlers there, and, together with you, may glorify the Most High GOD therein.” Julian saw the Jewish GOD as a fitting member of the pantheon of gods he believed in, and he was also a strong opponent of Christianity. Church historians wrote that the Jews began to clear away the structures and rubble on the Temple Mount but were thwarted, first by a great earthquake, and then by miracles that included fire springing from the earth. However, no contemporary Jewish sources mention this episode directly.

Byzantine period

Archaeological evidence in the form of an elaborate mosaic floor similar to the one in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and multiple fragments of an elaborate marble Templon (chancel screen) prove that an elaborate Byzantine church or monastery or other public building stood on the Temple Mount in Byzantine times.

Sassanid period

In 610, the Sassanid Empire drove the Byzantine Empire out of the Middle East, giving the Jews control of Jerusalem for the first time in centuries. The Jews in Palestine were allowed to set up a vassal state under the Sassanid Empire called the Sassanid Jewish Commonwealth which lasted for five years. Jewish rabbis ordered the restart of animal sacrifice for the first time since the time of Second Temple and started to reconstruct the Jewish Temple. Shortly before the Byzantines took the area back five years later in 615, the Persians gave control to the Christian population, who tore down the partially built Jewish Temple edifice and turned it into a garbage dump, which is what it was when the Rashidun Caliph Umar took the city in 637.

Early Muslim period

In 637 Arabs besieged and captured the city from the Byzantine Empire, which had defeated the Persian forces and their allies, and reconquered the city. There are no contemporary records, but many traditions, about the origin of the main Islamic buildings on the mount. A popular account from later centuries is that the Rashidun Caliph Umar was led to the place reluctantly by the Christian patriarch Sophronius. He found it covered with rubbish, but the sacred Rock was found with the help of a converted Jew, Ka’b al-Ahbar. Al-Ahbar advised Umar to build a mosque to the north of the rock, so that worshippers would face both the rock and Mecca, but instead Umar chose to build it to the south of the rock. It became known as the Al-Aqsa Mosque. According to Muslim sources, Jews participated in the construction of the haram, laying the groundwork for both the Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques. The first known eyewitness testimony is that of the pilgrim Arculf who visited about 670. According to Arculf’s account as recorded by Adomnán, he saw a rectangular wooden house of prayer built over some ruins, large enough to hold 3,000 people.

In 691 an octagonal Islamic building topped by a dome was built by the Caliph Abd al-Malik around the rock, for a myriad of political, dynastic and religious reasons, built on local and Quranic traditions articulating the site’s holiness, a process in which textual and architectural narratives reinforced one another. The shrine became known as the Dome of the Rock (قبة الصخرة, Qubbat as-Sakhra). (The dome itself was covered in gold in 1920.) In 715 the Umayyads, led by the Caliph al-Walid I, transformed the temple shops Chanuyot nearby into a mosque, corresponding to the Islamic belief of Muhammad’s miraculous nocturnal journey as recounted in the Quran and hadith. The term “Noble Sanctuary” or “Haram al-Sharif”, as it was called later by the Mamluks and Ottomans, refers to the whole area that surrounds that Rock.

For Muslims, the importance of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque makes Jerusalem the third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina. The mosque and shrine are currently administered by a Waqf (an Islamic trust). The various inscriptions on the Dome walls and the artistic decorations imply a symbolic eschatological significance of the structure.

Crusader and Ayyubid period

The Crusader period began in 1099 with the First Crusade’s capture of Jerusalem. After the city’s conquest, the Crusading order Knights Templar was granted use of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount by Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem, probably at the Council of Nablus in January 1120, giving the Templars a headquarters in the captured Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Temple Mount had a mystique because it was above what were believed to be the ruins of the Temple of Solomon. The Crusaders therefore referred to the Al Aqsa Mosque as Solomon’s Temple, and it was from this location that the new Order took the name of Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, or “Templar” knights.

In 1187, once he retook Jerusalem, Saladin removed all traces of Christian worship from the Temple Mount, returning the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque to their original purposes. Even during the relatively short periods of diplomatically-won Crusader rule after that date, the Temple Mount remained in Muslim hands.

Mamluk period

There are several Mamluk buildings on and around the Haram esplanade. The Mamluks also raised the level of Jerusalem’s Central or Tyropoean Valey bordering the Temple Mount from the west by constructing huge substructures, on which they then built on a large scale. The Mamluk-period substructures and over-ground buildings are thus covering much of the Herodian western wall of the Temple Mount.

Ottoman period

Following the Ottoman conquest of Palestine in 1516, the Ottoman authorities continued the policy of prohibiting non-Muslims from setting foot on the Temple Mount until the early 19th century, when non-Muslims were again permitted to visit the site.

In 1867, a team from the Royal Engineers, led by Lieutenant Charles Warren and financed by the Palestine Exploration Fund (P.E.F.), discovered a series of underground tunnels near the Temple Mount. Warren secretly excavated some tunnels near the Temple Mount walls and was the first one to document their lower courses. Warren also conducted some small scale excavations inside the Temple Mount, by removing rubble that blocked passages leading from the Double Gate chamber.

British Mandatory period

Between 1922 and 1924, the Dome of the Rock was restored by the Islamic Higher Council.

Jordanian period

Jordan undertook two renovations of the Dome of the Rock, replacing the leaking, wooden inner dome with an aluminum dome in 1952, and, when the new dome leaked, carrying out a second restoration between 1959 and 1964.

Neither Israeli Arabs nor Israeli Jews could visit their holy places in the Jordanian territories during this period.

Israeli period

On 7 June 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israeli forces advanced beyond the 1949 Armistice Agreement Line into West Bank territories, taking control of the Old City of Jerusalem, inclusive of the Temple Mount.

The Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Defense Forces, Shlomo Goren, led the soldiers in religious celebrations on the Temple Mount and at the Western Wall. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate also declared a religious holiday on the anniversary, called “Yom Yerushalayim” (Jerusalem Day), which became a national holiday to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem. Many saw the capture of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount as a miraculous liberation of biblical-messianic proportions. A few days after the war was over 200,000 Jews flocked to the Western Wall in the first mass Jewish pilgrimage near the Mount since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Islamic authorities did not disturb Goren when he went to pray on the Mount until, on the Ninth Day of Av, he brought 50 followers and introduced both a shofar, and a portable ark to pray, an innovation which alarmed the Waqf authorities and led to a deterioration of relations between the Muslim authorities and the Israeli government. The then Prime Minister of Israel, Levi Eshkol, gave control of access to the Temple Mount to the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf. The site has since been a flash-point between Israel and local Muslims.

In June 1969 an Australian tried to set fire to Al-Aqsa; on April 11, 1982 a Jew hid in the Dome of the Rock and sprayed gunfire, killing 2 Palestinians and wounding 44; in 1974, 1977 and 1983 groups led by Yoel Lerner conspired to blow up both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa; on 26 January 1984 Waqf guards detected members of B’nei Yehuda, a messianic cult of former gangsters turned mystics based in Lifta, trying to infiltrate the area to blow it up. On October 8, 1990, Israeli forces patrolling the site blocked worshipers from accessing it. A tear gas canister was detonated among the female worshipers, which caused events to escalate. On 12 October 1990 Palestinian Muslims protested violently the intention of some extremist Jews to lay a cornerstone on the site for a New Temple as a prelude to the destruction of the Muslim mosques. The attempt was blocked by Israeli authorities but demonstrators were widely reported as having stoned Jews at the Western Wall. According to Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi, investigative journalism has shown this allegation to be false. Rocks were eventually thrown, while security forces fired rounds that ended up killing 21 people and injuring 150 more. An Israeli inquiry found Israeli forces at fault, but it also concluded that charges could not be brought against any particular individuals. In December 1997, Israeli security services preempted an attempt by Jewish extremists to throw a pig’s head wrapped in the pages of the Quran into the area, in order to spark a riot and embarrass the government.

Between 1992 and 1994, the Jordanian government undertook the unprecedented step of gilding the dome of the Dome of the Rock, covering it with 5000 gold plates, and restoring and reinforcing the structure. The Salah Eddin minbar was also restored. The project was paid for by King Hussein personally, at a cost of $8 million. The Temple Mount remains, under the terms of the 1994 Israel–Jordan peace treaty, under Jordanian custodianship.

On September 28, 2000, Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. He toured the site, together with a Likud party delegation and a large number of Israeli riot police. The visit was seen as a provocative gesture by many Palestinians, who gathered around the site. Demonstrations quickly turned violent, with rubber bullets and tear gas being used. This event is often cited as one of the catalysts of the Second Palestinian Intifada. Evidence reveals, however, that one month earlier, Palestinian Authority Justice Minister Freih Abu Middein warned that: “Violence is near and the Palestinian people are willing to sacrifice even 5,000 casualties.” A few weeks before the outbreak, the official PA publication, Al-Sabah, declared: “The time for the Intifada has arrived… the time for jihad has arrived.” Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti would later admit that the Intifada was planned and Sharon merely “provided a good excuse” for the violence.

Panorama of the Temple Mount, seen from the Mount of Olives

Status quo

Since 1757 a status quo has been applied for the ruling of the Holy places in Jerusalem.

The situation between Jews and Muslims was confirmed in 1919 and Faisal–Weizmann Agreement concluded that:

Article V. No regulation nor law shall be made prohibiting or interfering with the free exercise of religion; (…)
Article VI. The Mohammedan Holy Places shall be under Mohammedan control.

In 1929 tensions around the Western Wall in which Jews were accused of violating the status quo generated riots during which 133 Jews and 110 Arabs were killed.

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the status quo was not respected any more after Jordan took control of the Old City of Jerusalem and Jews were prohibited from visiting their Holy Places in the city.

Under Israeli control

A few days after the Six-Day War, on June 17, 1967, a meeting was held at al-Aqsa between Moshe Dayan and Muslim religious authorities of Jerusalem reformulating the status quo. Jews were given the right to visit the Temple Mount unobstructed and free of charge if they respected Muslims’ religious feelings and acted decently, but they were not allowed to pray. The Western Wall was to remain the Jewish place of prayer. ‘Religious sovereignty’ was to remain with the Muslims while ‘overall sovereignty’ became Israeli. Dayan’s offer was objected to by the Muslims, as they totally rejected the Israeli conquest of Jerusalem and the Mount. Some Jews, led by Shlomo Goren, then the military chief rabbi, had objected as well, claiming the decision handed over the complex to the Muslims, since the Western Wall’s holiness is derived from the Mount and symbolizes exile, while praying on the Mount symbolizes freedom and the return of the Jewish people to their homeland. The President of the High Court of Justice, Aharon Barak, in response to an appeal in 1976 against police interference with an individual’s putative right to prayer on the site, expressed the view that, while Jews had a right to prayer there, it was not absolute but subject to the public interest and the rights of other groups. Israel’s courts have considered the issue as one beyond their remit, and, given the delicacy of the matter, under political jurisdiction. He wrote:

The basic principle is that every Jew has the right to enter the Temple Mount, to pray there, and to have communion with his maker. This is part of the religious freedom of worship, it is part of the freedom of expression. However, as with every human right, it is not absolute, but a relative right… Indeed, in a case where there is near certainty that injury may be caused to the public interest if a person’s rights of religious worship and freedom of expression would be realized, it is possible to limit the rights of the person in order to uphold the public interest.

Police continued to forbid Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. Subsequently, several prime ministers also made attempts to change the status quo, but failed to do so. In October 1986, an agreement between the Temple Mount Faithful, the Supreme Muslim Council and police, which would allow short visits in small groups, was exercised once and never repeated, after 2,000 Muslims armed with stones and bottles attacked the group and stoned worshipers at the Western Wall. During the 1990s, additional attempts were made for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, which were stopped by Israeli police.

Until 2000, non-Muslim visitors could enter the Dome of the Rock, al-Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Museum by getting a ticket from the Waqf. That procedure ended when the Second Intifada erupted. Fifteen years later, negotiation between Israel and Jordan might result in reopening of those sites once again.

In the 2010s, fear arose among Palestinians that Israel planned to change the status quo and permit Jewish prayers or that the al-Aqsa mosque might be damaged or destroyed by Israel. Al-Aqsa was used as a base for attacks on visitors and the police from which stones, firebombs and fireworks were thrown. The Israeli police had never entered al-Aqsa Mosque until November 5, 2014, when dialog with the leaders of the Waqf and the rioters failed. This resulted in imposing strict limitations on entry of visitors to the Temple Mount. Israeli leadership repeatedly stated that the status quo would not change. According to then Jerusalem police commissioner Yohanan Danino, the place is at the center of a “holy war” and “anyone who wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount should not be allowed up there”, citing an “extreme right-wing agenda to change the status quo on the Temple Mount”; Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to erroneously assert that the Israeli government plans to destroy Al-Aksa Mosque, resulting in chronic terrorist attacks and rioting.

There have been several changes to the status quo: (1) Jewish visits are often prevented or considerably restricted. (2) Jews and other non-Islamic visitors can only visit from Sunday to Thursday, for four hours each day. (3) Visits inside the mosques are not allowed. (4) Jews with religious appearance must visit in groups monitored by Waqf guards and policemen.

Many Palestinians believe the status quo is threatened since right-wing Israelis have been challenging it with more force and frequency, asserting a religious right to pray there. Until Israel banned them, members of Murabitat, a group of women, cried ‘Allah Akbar’ at groups of Jewish visitors to remind them the Temple Mount was still in Muslim hands.

Management and access

An Islamic Waqf has managed the Temple Mount continuously since the Muslim reconquest of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187. On June 7, 1967, soon after Israel had taken control of the area during the Six-Day War, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol assured that “no harm whatsoever shall come to the places sacred to all religions”. Together with the extension of Israeli jurisdiction and administration over east Jerusalem, the Knesset passed the Preservation of the Holy Places Law, ensuring protection of the Holy Places against desecration, as well as freedom of access thereto. The site remains within the area controlled by the State of Israel, with administration of the site remaining in the hands of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf.

Although freedom of access was enshrined in the law, as a security measure, the Israeli government currently enforces a ban on non-Muslim prayer on the site. Non-Muslims who are observed praying on the site are subject to expulsion by the police. At various times, when there is fear of Arab rioting upon the mount resulting in throwing stones from above towards the Western Wall Plaza, Israel has prevented Muslim men under 45 from praying in the compound, citing these concerns. Sometimes such restrictions have coincided with Friday prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Normally, West Bank Palestinians are allowed access to Jerusalem only during Islamic holidays, with access usually restricted to men over 35 and women of any age eligible for permits to enter the city. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, which because of Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem, hold Israeli permanent residency cards, and Israeli Arabs, are permitted unrestricted access to the Temple Mount. The Mughrabi Gate is the only entrance to the Temple Mount accessible to non-Muslims.

Jewish attitudes towards entering the site

Due to religious restrictions on entering the most sacred areas of the Temple Mount (see following section), the Western Wall, a retaining wall for the Temple Mount and remnant of the Second Temple structure, is considered by some rabbinical authorities to be the holiest accessible site for Jews to pray at. A 2013 Knesset committee hearing considered allowing Jews to pray at the site, amidst heated debate. Arab-Israeli MPs were ejected for disrupting the hearing, after shouting at the chairman, calling her a “pyromaniac”. Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben-Dahan of Jewish Home said his ministry was seeking legal ways to enable Jews to pray at the site.

Jewish religious law concerning entry to the site

During Temple times, entry to the Mount was limited by a complex set of purity laws. Those who were not of the Jewish nation were prohibited from entering the inner court of the Temple. A hewn stone measuring 60 x 90 cm. and engraved with Greek uncials was discovered in 1871 near a court on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in which it outlined this prohibition:

ΜΗΟΕΝΑΑΛΛΟΓΕΝΗΕΙΣΠΟ
ΡΕΥΕΣΟΑΙΕΝΤΟΣΤΟΥΠΕ
ΡΙΤΟΙΕΡΟΝΤΡΥΦΑΚΤΟΥΚΑΙ
ΠΕΡΙΒΟΛΟΥΟΣΔΑΝΛΗ
ΦΘΗΕΑΥΤΩΙΑΙΤΙΟΣΕΣ
ΤΑΙΔΙΑΤΟΕΞΑΚΟΛΟΥ
ΘΕΙΝΘΑΝΑΤΟΝ

Translation: “Let no foreigner enter within the parapet and the partition which surrounds the Temple precincts. Anyone caught [violating] will be held accountable for his ensuing death.” Today, the stone is preserved in Istanbul’s Museum of Antiquities.

Maimonides wrote that it was only permitted to enter the site to fulfill a religious precept. After the destruction of the Temple there was discussion as to whether the site, bereft of the Temple, still maintained its holiness or not. Jewish codifiers accepted the opinion of Maimonides who ruled that the holiness of the Temple sanctified the site for eternity and consequently the restrictions on entry to the site are still currently in force. While secular Jews ascend freely, the question of whether ascending is permitted is a matter of some debate among religious authorities, with a majority holding that it is permitted to ascend to the Temple Mount, but not to step on the site of the inner courtyards of the ancient Temple. The question then becomes whether the site can be ascertained accurately. A second complex legal debate centers around the precise divine punishment for stepping onto these forbidden spots.

There is debate over whether reports that Maimonides himself ascended the Mount are reliable. One such report claims that he did so on Thursday, October 21, 1165, during the Crusader period. Some early scholars however, claim that entry onto certain areas of the Mount is permitted. It appears that Radbaz also entered the Mount and advised others how to do this. He permits entry from all the gates into the 135×135 cubits of the Women’s Courtyard in the east, since the biblical prohibition only applies to the 187×135 cubits of the Temple in the west. There are also Christian and Islamic sources which indicate that Jews accessed the site, but these visits may have been made under duress.

Opinions of contemporary rabbis concerning entry to the site

A few hours after the Temple Mount came under Israeli control during the Six-Day War, a message from the Chief Rabbis of Israel, Isser Yehuda Unterman and Yitzhak Nissim was broadcast, warning that Jews were not permitted to enter the site. This warning was reiterated by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate a few days later, which issued an explanation written by Rabbi Bezalel Jolti (Zolti) that “Since the sanctity of the site has never ended, it is forbidden to enter the Temple Mount until the Temple is built.” The signatures of more than 300 prominent rabbis were later obtained.

A major critic of the decision of the Chief Rabbinate was Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the chief rabbi of the IDF. According to General Uzi Narkiss, who led the Israeli force that conquered the Temple Mount, Goren proposed to him that the Dome of the Rock be immediately blown up.  After Narkiss refused, Goren unsuccessfully petitioned the government to close off the Mount to Jews and non-Jews alike. Later he established his office on the Mount and conducted a series of demonstrations on the Mount in support of the right of Jewish men to enter there. His behavior displeased the government, which restricted his public actions, censored his writings, and in August prevented him from attending the annual Oral Law Conference at which the question of access to the Mount was debated. Although there was considerable opposition, the conference consensus was to confirm the ban on entry to Jews. The ruling said “We have been warned, since time immemorial [lit. for generations and generations], against entering the entire area of the Temple Mount and have indeed avoided doing so.” According to Ron Hassner, the ruling “brilliantly” solved the government’s problem of avoiding ethnic conflict, since those Jews who most respected rabbinical authority were those most likely to clash with Muslims on the Mount.

Rabbinical consensus in the post-1967 period, held that it is forbidden for Jews to enter any part of the Temple Mount, and in January 2005 a declaration was signed confirming the 1967 decision.

While Rabbi Moshe Feinstein permitted, in principle, entry to some parts of the site, most other Haredi rabbis are of the opinion that the Mount is off limits to Jews and non-Jews alike. Their opinions against entering the Temple Mount are based on the current political climate surrounding the Mount, along with the potential danger of entering the hallowed area of the Temple courtyard and the impossibility of fulfilling the ritual requirement of cleansing oneself with the ashes of a red heifer. The boundaries of the areas which are completely forbidden, while having large portions in common, are delineated differently by various rabbinic authorities.

However, there is a growing body of Modern Orthodox and national religious rabbis who encourage visits to certain parts of the Mount, which they believe are permitted according to most medieval rabbinical authorities. These rabbis include: Shlomo Goren (former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel); Chaim David Halevi (former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and Yaffo); Dov Lior (Rabbi of Kiryat Arba); Yosef Elboim; Yisrael Ariel; She’ar Yashuv Cohen (Chief Rabbi of Haifa); Yuval Sherlo (rosh yeshiva of the hesder yeshiva of Petah Tikva); Meir Kahane. One of them, Shlomo Goren, held that it is possible that Jews are even allowed to enter the heart of the Dome of the Rock in time of war, according to Jewish Law of Conquest. These authorities demand an attitude of veneration on the part of Jews ascending the Temple Mount, ablution in a mikveh prior to the ascent, and the wearing of non-leather shoes. Some rabbinic authorities are now of the opinion that it is imperative for Jews to ascend in order to halt the ongoing process of Islamization of the Temple Mount. Maimonides, perhaps the greatest codifier of Jewish Law, wrote in Laws of the Chosen House ch 7 Law 15 “One may bring a dead body in to the (lower sanctified areas of the) Temple Mount and there is no need to say that the ritually impure (from the dead) may enter there, because the dead body itself can enter”. One who is ritually impure through direct or in-direct contact of the dead cannot walk in the higher sanctified areas. For those who are visibly Jewish, they have no choice, but to follow this peripheral route as it has become unofficially part of the status quo on the Mount. Many of these recent opinions rely on archaeological evidence.

In December 2013, the two Chief Rabbis of Israel, David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, reiterated the ban on Jews entering the Temple Mount. They wrote, “In light of [those] neglecting [this ruling], we once again warn that nothing has changed and this strict prohibition remains in effect for the entire area [of the Temple Mount]”. In November 2014, the Sephardic chief rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, reiterated the point of view held by many rabbinic authorities that Jews should not visit the Mount. On the occasion of an upsurge in Palestinian knifing attacks on Israelis, associated with fears that Israel was changing the status quo on the Mount, the Haredi newspaper Mishpacha ran a notification in Arabic asking ‘their cousins’, Palestinians, to stop trying to murder members of their congregation, since they were vehemently opposed to ascending the Mount and consider such visits proscribed by Jewish law.

 

Current features

Dome of the Rock platform

A flat platform was built around the peak of the Temple Mount, carrying the Dome of the Rock; the peak just breaches the floor level of the upper platform within the Dome of the Rock, in the shape of a large limestone outcrop, which is part of the bedrock. Beneath the surface of this rock there is a cave known as the Well of Souls, originally accessible only by a narrow hole in the rock itself; the Crusaders hacked open an entrance to the cave from the south, by which it can now be entered.

There is also a smaller domed building on the upper platform, slightly to the east of the Dome of the Rock, known as the Dome of the Chain — traditionally the location where a chain once rose to heaven.

Several stairways rise to the upper platform from the lower; that at the northwest corner is believed by some archaeologists be part of a much wider monumental staircase, mostly hidden or destroyed, and dating from the Second Temple era.

Lower platform

The lower platform – which constitutes most of the surface of the Temple Mount – has at its southern end the al-Aqsa Mosque, which takes up most of the width of the Mount. Gardens take up the eastern and most of the northern side of the platform; the far north of the platform houses an Islamic school.

The lower platform also hou lower platform, designed to collect rain water as a water supply. These have various forms and structures, seemingly built in different periods, ranging from vaulted chambers built in the gap between the bedrock and the platform, to chambers cut into the bedrock itself. Of these, the most notable are (numbering traditionally follows Wilson’s scheme):

  • Cistern 1 (located under the northern side of the upper platform). There is a speculation that it had a function connected with the altar of the Second Temple (and possibly of the earlier Temple), or with the bronze sea.
  • Cistern 5 (located under the south eastern corner of the upper platform) — a long and narrow chamber, with a strange anti-clockwise curved section at its north western corner, and containing within it a doorway currently blocked by earth. The cistern’s position and design is such that there has been speculation it had a function connected with the altar of the Second Temple (and possibly of the earlier Temple), or with the bronze sea. Charles Warren thought that the altar of burnt offerings was located at the north western end.
  • Cistern 8 (located just north of the al-Aqsa Mosque) — known as the Great Sea, a large rock hewn cavern, the roof supported by pillars carved from the rock; the chamber is particularly cave-like and atmospheric, and its maximum water capacity is several hundred thousand gallons.
  • Cistern 9 (located just south of cistern 8, and directly under the al-Aqsa Mosque) — known as the Well of the Leaf due to its leaf-shaped plan, also rock hewn.
  • Cistern 11 (located east of cistern 9) — a set of vaulted rooms forming a plan shaped like the letter E. Probably the largest cistern, it has the potential to house over 700,000 gallons of water.
  • Cistern 16/17 (located at the centre of the far northern end of the Temple Mount). Despite the currently narrow entrances, this cistern (17 and 16 are the same cistern) is a large vaulted chamber, which Warren described as looking like the inside of the cathedral at Cordoba (which was previously a mosque). Warren believed that it was almost certainly built for some other purpose, and was only adapted into a cistern at a later date; he suggested that it might have been part of a general vault supporting the northern side of the platform, in which case substantially more of the chamber exists than is used for a cistern.

Gates

The retaining walls of the platform contain several gateways, all currently blocked. In the eastern wall is the Golden Gate, through which legend states the Messiah would enter Jerusalem. On the southern face are the Hulda Gates — the triple gate (which has three arches) and the double gate (which has two arches, and is partly obscured by a Crusader building); these were the entrance and exit (respectively) to the Temple Mount from Ophel (the oldest part of Jerusalem), and the main access to the Mount for ordinary Jews. In the western face, near the southern corner, is the Barclay’s Gate – only half visible due to a building (the “house of Abu Sa’ud”) on the northern side. Also in the western face, hidden by later construction but visible via the recent Western Wall Tunnels, and only rediscovered by Warren, is Warren’s Gate; the function of these western gates is obscure, but many Jews view Warren’s Gate as particularly holy, due to its location due west of the Dome of the Rock. Traditional belief considers the Dome of the Rock to have earlier been the location at which the Holy of Holies was placed; numerous alternative opinions exist, based on study and calculations, such as those of Tuvia Sagiv.

Warren was able to investigate the inside of these gates. Warren’s Gate and the Golden Gate simply head towards the centre of the Mount, fairly quickly giving access to the surface by steps. Barclay’s Gate is similar, but abruptly turns south as it does so; the reason for this is currently unknown. The double and triple gates (the Huldah Gates) are more substantial; heading into the Mount for some distance they each finally have steps rising to the surface just north of the al-Aqsa Mosque. The passageway for each is vaulted, and has two aisles (in the case of the triple gate, a third aisle exists for a brief distance beyond the gate); the eastern aisle of the double gates and western of the triple gates reach the surface, the other aisles terminating some way before the steps – Warren believed that one aisle of each original passage was extended when the al-Aqsa Mosque blocked the original surface exits.

In the process of investigating Cistern 10, Warren discovered tunnels that lay under the Triple Gate passageway. 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.

Altogether, there are six major sealed gates and a postern, listed here counterclockwise, dating from either the Roman/Herodian, Byzantine, or Early Muslim periods:

  • Bab al-Jana’iz/al-Buraq (Gate of the Funerals/of al-Buraq); eastern wall; a hardly noticeable postern, or maybe an improvised gate, a short distance south of the Golden Gate
  • Golden Gate (Bab al-Zahabi); eastern wall (northern third), a double gate:
Bab al-Rahma (Door of Mercy) is the southern opening,
Bab al-Tauba (Door of Repentance) is the northern opening
  • Warren’s Gate; western wall, now only visible from the Western Wall Tunnel
  • Bab an-Nabi (Gate of the Prophet) or Barclay’s Gate; western wall, visible from the al-Buraq Mosque inside the Haram, and from the Western Wall plaza (women’s section) and the adjacent building (the so-called house of Abu Sa’ud)
  • Double Gate (Bab al-Thulathe; possibly one of the Huldah Gates); southern wall, underneath the Al-Aqsa Mosque
  • Triple Gate; southern wall, outside Solomon’s Stables/Marwani Mosque
  • Single Gate; southern wall, outside Solomon’s Stables/Marwani Mosque
Open gates of the Haram

There are currently eleven open gates offering access to the Muslim Haram al-Sharif.

  • Bab al-Asbat (Gate of the Tribes); north-east corner
  • Bab al-Hitta/Huttah (Gate of Remission, Pardon, or Absolution); northern wall
  • Bab al-Atim/’Atm/Attim (Gate of Darkness); northern wall
  • Bab al-Ghawanima (Gate of Bani Ghanim); north-west corner
  • Bab al-Majlis / an-Nazir/Nadhir (Council Gate / Inspector’s Gate); western wall (northern third)
  • Bab al-Hadid (Iron Gate); western wall (central part)
  • Bab al-Qattanin (Gate of the Cotton Merchants); western wall (central part)
  • Bab al-Matarah/Mathara (Ablution Gate); western wall (central part)

Two twin gates follow south of the Ablution Gate, the Tranquility Gate and the Gate of the Chain:

  • Bab as-Salam / al-Sakina (Tranquility Gate / Gate of the Dwelling), the northern one of the two; western wall (central part)
  • Bab as-Silsileh (Gate of the Chain), the southern one of the two; western wall (central part)
  • Bab al-Magharbeh/Maghariba (Moroccans’ Gate/Gate of the Moors); western wall (southern third); the only entrance for non-Muslims

A twelfth gate still open during Ottoman rule is now closed to the public:

  • Bab as-Sarai (Gate of the Seraglio); a small gate to the former residence of the Pasha of Jerusalem; western wall, northern part (between the Bani Ghanim and Council gates).

Solomon’s Stables/Marwani Mosque

East of and joined to the triple gate passageway is a large vaulted area, supporting the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount platform – which is substantially above the bedrock at this point – the vaulted chambers here are popularly referred to as 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.

Minarets

The existing four minarets include three near the Western Wall and one near the northern wall. The first minaret was constructed on the southwest corner of the Temple Mount in 1278. The second was built in 1297 by order of a Mameluk king, the third by a governor of Jerusalem in 1329, and the last in 1367.

Alterations to antiquities and damage to existing structures

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 near the Mount. This sensitivity has not, however, prevented the Muslim Waqf from destroying archeological evidence on a number of occasions. Aside from visual observation of surface features, most other archaeological knowledge of the site comes from the 19th-century survey carried out by Charles Wilson and Charles Warren and others.

After the Six-Day War of 1967, Israeli archeologists began a series of excavations near the site at the southern wall that uncovered finds from the Second Temple period through Roman, Umayyad and Crusader times. Over the period 1970–88, a number of tunnels were excavated in the vicinity, including one that passed to the west of the Mount and became known as the Western Wall Tunnel, which was opened to the public in 1996. The same year the Waqf began construction of a new mosque in the structures known since Crusader times as Solomon’s Stables. Many Israelis regarded this as a radical change of the status quo, which should not have been undertaken without first consulting the Israeli government. The project was done without attention to the possibility of disturbing historically significant archaeological material, with stone and ancient artifacts treated without regard to their preservation.

In October 1999, the Islamic Waqf, and the Islamic Movement conducted an illegal dig which inflicted much archaeological damage. The earth from this operation, which has archeological wealth relevant to Jewish, Christian and Muslim history, was removed by heavy machinery and unceremoniously dumped by trucks into the nearby Kidron Valley. Although the archeological finds in the earth are already not in situ, this soil still contains great archeological potential. No archeological excavation was ever conducted on the Temple Mount, and this soil was the only archeological information that has ever been available to anyone. For this reason Israeli archaeologists Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Zweig established a project sifting all the earth in this dump: the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Among finds uncovered in rubble removed from the Temple Mount were:

  • The imprint of a seal thought to have belonged to a priestly Jewish family mentioned in the Old Testament’s Book of Jeremiah.
  • More than 4300 coins from various periods. Many of them are from the Jewish revolt that preceded the destruction of the Second Temple by Roman legions in 70 CE emblazoned with the words “Freedom of Zion”
  • Arrowheads shot by Babylonian archers 2,500 years ago, and others launched by Roman siege machinery 500 years later.
  • Unique floor slabs of the ‘opus sectile’ technique that were used to pave the Temple Mount courts. This is also mentioned in Josephus accounts and the Babylonian Talmud.

In late 2002, a bulge of about 700 mm was reported in the southern retaining wall part of the Temple Mount. A Jordanian team of engineers recommended replacing or resetting most of the stones in the affected area. In February 2004, the eastern wall of the Mount was damaged by an earthquake. The damage threatened to topple sections of the wall into the area known as Solomon’s Stables. A few days later, a portion of retaining wall, supporting the earthen ramp that led from the Western Wall plaza to the Gate of the Moors on the Temple Mount, collapsed. In 2007 the Israel Antiquities Authority started work on the construction of a temporary wooden pedestrian pathway to replace the Mugrabi Gate ramp after a landslide in 2005 made it unsafe and in danger of collapse. The works sparked condemnation from Arab leaders.

In July 2007 the Muslim religious trust which administers the Mount began digging a 400-metre-long, 1.5-metre-deep trench from the northern side of the Temple Mount compound to the Dome of the Rock in order to replace 40-year-old electric cables in the area. Israeli archaeologists accused the waqf of a deliberate act of cultural vandalism.

 

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