Last Updated on 02/16/22 by quiltripping
Seeing the UNESCO Heritage listed Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is at the top of many visitor’s wish list, and it was on mine also. In fact, on my recent trip to Jerusalem, I visited the Dome of the Rock twice so that I could get all the photos I wanted.
There are many tours available that take you to the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (I like the Sandeman tours). But, the sight is easy enough to visit and tour on your own if you are so inclined.
A Brief History of the Temple Mount
The Temple Mount and its rock is significant to all three major religions represented in Jerusalem. It is believed to be the location where Abraham (a central figure in all three religions) offered to sacrifice his son Isaac. In the Jewish tradition, this site is also where Solomon built the first temple. Muslims believe that this is the rock from which Mohammed ascended into heaven.
Historically, the current geography of the Temple Mount was first constructed by Herod in 19 BCE as he built walls and filled in gaps with dirt and rubble to form a large flat topped plaza on top of the sloping hill. In 691, after the region had come under Arab control, the first dome covered shrine was built over Mohammed’s rock. This octagonal structure has undergone various restorations in the intervening centuries, with its current iteration representing the design put in place by the 16th century Ottoman ruler Suleyman the Magnificent.
The marble and mosaic tiles decorating the Dome of the Rock are indeed a magnificent work of art, and in the bright sunshine, the reflective golden dome only helps to accentuate the distinctive architecture. The gold truly is gold leaf which was funded by King Hussein of Jordan.
The plaza space around the Dome of the Rock is large and open which makes this shrine that much more of a focal point. Also, because there is so much open space, it makes it possible to experience the Dome of the Rock without crushing crowds. And because of its higher location, you can also get nice views of the other areas of Jerusalem surrounding the Temple Mount.
Entry to the Temple Mount
The Temple Mount has eleven gates around its perimeter. However, for tourists, the entrance to see the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount is via a wooden walkway to the Mughrabi Gate only, which is accessed from the Western Wall area in the Jewish quarter.
You will want to get into the entrance line early because it can get quite busy. Alternately, you can get in line an hour before the morning closing time. By then most of the crowds will have passed through and you may be able to get in quite quickly.
After passing through security scanners, you will walk up along the wooden walkway which also provides some nice views looking down onto the Western Wall. The security here is managed by Israeli Police so don’t be surprised to see a security presence all around the Temple Mount plaza.
Seeing the Dome of the Rock
As beautiful as the Dome of the Rock building is, you will have to be satisficed with only seeing the outside unless you are Muslim. Non-Muslims are not allowed to go inside the Dome of the Rock shrine.
It is believed that the eight sided design topped by the massive dome was inspired by the architecture of nearby Byzantine churches. The beautiful tiles that adorn the outside however are from a much later period and are typical Turkish/Ottoman designs.
The Dome of the Chains
Behind the Dome of the Rock is another much smaller shrine that is equally beautifully decorated. This is the Dome of the Chain which is an open sided building where you can see the intricate mosaic details on the inside of its dome.
Other Sights on the Temple Mount
The Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif as it is called in Arabic, also has other structures that can only be appreciated from the outside by non-Muslims. On the southern side of the Temple Mount you can see the Al-Aqsa Mosque which is considered to be the third holiest site in Islam. Compared to the highly colorful Dome of the Rock, the unadorned large mosque appears quite boring. Again, only Muslims are allowed to go inside.
In between the mosque and the Dome of the Rock is the mosque’s main ablution fountain known as the al-Kas which was originally built in 1455.
There are also many arched columns that frame the plaza which provide great photo framing opportunities. There are also all the other entrances. but only Muslims can enter the Temple Mount via these other gates. However, you should be able to leave the area through any gate you choose.
You can use the map below to help guide you around all the sights on the Temple Mount.
Tips for visiting the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount
- Entry to the Temple Mount is via a security checkpoint accessed from the southern end of the Western Wall Plaza.
- The entrance for non-Muslims to the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock is via the Mughrabi Gate only.
- The Dome of the Rock is open to non-Muslim visitors for very limited times each day, Sunday through Thursday only.
- Winter hours are 7:30-10:30 AM and 12:30-1:30 PM.
- Summer hours start one hour later, 8:30-11:30 AM and 1:30-2:30 PM.
- Note that the site may be closed to visitors during Jewish festivals and Israeli holidays.
- Before going, confirm the opening times for visitors on the day that you want to visit. Your hotel should be able to help with this.
- Dress modestly – knees, shoulders and upper arms need to be covered on both men and women.
- Get in line early to avoid long wait times to get in.
- No firearms are allowed or anything that could look like a weapon (I could not take in my tripod and had to leave it at security to pick up again later).
- No religious items are allowed, especially those of Jewish significance.
- Bring your passport as you may be asked to show it.
- As the visiting time ends, guards will start ushering tourists to the exit gate.
- Do not take photos of the guards.
- This is a religious site and respectful behavior is expected and enforced.
- Jewish and Christian prayers are not allowed on the Temple Mount.
Our visit to the Dome of the Rock was a highlight of our day sightseeing in Jerusalem. I hope this information and these tips help to make your trip memorable as well.
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How to spend a day in Jerusalem: One Day in Jerusalem: Where Three Religions Intersect
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