Visiting The Temple Mount

by Lambert Dolphin

Walk about Zion,
go round about her,
number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
go through her citadels;
that you may tell the next generation that this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
He will be our guide for ever.
(Psalm 48:12-14)

The Old City and the Temple Mount

Today a visitor can enter the Old City of Jerusalem by one of seven gates. Some gates were named by location. The Jaffa Gate faces West towards Tel Aviv and Joppa. The Damascus Gate is in the North wall where a traveler would enter if he had come from Galilee, the Golan Heights and Damascus. The Zion Gate is, logically, on Mt. Zion near the traditional Tomb of David and site of the Upper Room of the Last Supper. The Dung Gate faces South towards the Hinnom Valley where refuse from the city was dumped in former times into the Hinnom Valley. The Sheep Gate (or, St. Stephen's Gate, or Lion's Gate) is next to the sheep market, and so on.

The present walls around the Old City were built from 1537 to 1541 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent after the Ottoman conquest of Israel. At that time most of the ancient walls were reduced to rubble. Suleiman ordered that Jerusalem be fortified to protect its people against marauding Bedouins.

The walls were rebuilt upon the foundations of the walls constructed during the time of the Second Temple and the later Roman expansion. For the most part, the modern gates of the city are not closely related to the walls and gates that existence in Roman times or earlier. There is some debate about the correct location of some of the ancient gates and walls. However visitors to the recently restored Jewish Quarter in the Old City can see an uncovered section of the wall built by Nehemiah at the time of the return from the Babylonian exile.

The Old City retains its charm and fascination to this days. Narrow crowded shops and the Oriental bazaar with its many markets offer endless adventure for visitors and pilgrims. It is hard to escape the feeling that one has stepped in the timeless, changeless past. Each quarter of the Old City brings an immediate shift in architecture and shops, in passers-by and inhabitants alike.

The Temple Mount is conspicuous whether viewed from the Mount of Olives, or from the Lutheran church tower across from the Holy Sepulcher, or from the Citadel Museum roof. Normally tranquil and peaceful with its park like setting, one would hardly guess that this small parcel of land - less than 50 acres - is the center of the world and the hottest piece of real estate anywhere on earth. Biblically speaking, it's most exciting history lies yet ahead.

The Golden Gate

The Golden Gate is the most important and most impressive gate in Jerusalem, and the only visible entrance to the city of Jerusalem from the East. This oldest of all the gates to the city was the only one not rebuilt by Suleiman the Magnificent in AD 1539-42. Monolithic stones in the wall just above ground have been identified as 6th Century BC masonry from the time of Nehemiah, (Biblical Archaeological Review [BAR], Mar/Apr 1992, p40).

The Golden Gate was walled up by the Arabs in the year 810. It has remained closed now for nearly 12 centuries.

The Muslim name of the gate is Bab al-Dhahabi. It is a now-closed double gate. The North portal is known as Bab al-Tawba, the Gate of Repentance, and the Southern Portal, Bab al-Rahma, the Gate of Mercy.

The ancient Eastern gate to Jerusalem could be the one mentioned as the "Beautiful Gate" in Acts 3:2,10. The term Golden Gate may have been derived from the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible:

"In the earliest Greek New Testament, the word for 'beautiful' is oraia. When Jerome translated the New Testament into Latin in the 4th Century he changed the Greek oraia into the similar sounding Latin aurea, rather than to the Latin word for 'beautiful.' So the Latin Vulgate text read 'Golden Gate' instead of 'Beautiful Gate.'" (BAR, Jan/Feb 1983, p.27).

[Addendum: It is now clear that the "Beautiful Gate" was not the the "Golden Gate" in the Eastern Wall, but rather the outermost entrance to the temple itself.]

The Golden Gate has long interested many Muslims, most Jews and Christians as the place of the Last Judgment. Historically, judgments were rendered in the gates of the city (Gen. 19:1, 23:10, for instance). Since the Messiah was to come from the East (Matthew 24:27), it was concluded that his judgment would be at the eastern gate. This is one reason for the many Muslim, Christian, and Jewish graves on the Eastern slopes of the Temple Mount, in the Kidron Valley, and on the Western slopes of the Mount of Olives

Some Muslims place Allah's final judgment at this location also. Jews link the Messiah's arrival with this gate and Christians have for centuries associated the Golden Gate with Palm Sunday and also with the Second Advent (Luke 19:35-38).

Jews expect the Messiah to come through the Golden Gate, Muslims also expect Jesus to return to our world at the end of the age to participate in the final judgment. Christians believe it will be Jesus Christ who will conduct that final judgment. Zechariah 14:4-5 clearly states that the Messiah of Israel will return to Jerusalem from the summit of the Mount of Olives and then surely proceed into Jerusalem from the East, in the direction of the Golden Gate.

Muslims compare the final judgment of mankind to the crossing of a narrow knife blade which stretches from a mountain (the Mount of Olives is often mentioned in Arab legend) to the "gate of heaven." This knife-edged bridge evidently spans the Kidron Valley - as did an ancient stone bridge in Roman times.

Because of the Messianic association with the Golden Gate - which clearly symbolizes both judgment and mercy because of the Arabic names attached to the gate - adherents to all three faiths have wanted to be buried as close as possible to the Golden Gate. The assumption was that the dead in the immediate vicinity would be the first to be raised. In the Middle Ages the Jews were forbidden to bury on Mount Moriah. Instead they buried their dead opposite the gate and to the South on the Mount of Olives. This Jewish cemetery is the oldest in continuous use anywhere in the world. A burial plot, it is said, if it were available there, could cost $50,000 or more. The Christian cemetery lies in the bottom of the Kidron Valley (in sad condition) while the Muslim burial area covers the eastern Temple Mount hillside up to and surrounding the Golden Gate.

At the end of the First Temple period the eastern gate was closed (see Ezekiel XLIV, I. "Then he brought me back the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it was shut.")During the Second Temple period this was the site of the Shushan Gate, mentioned in the Mishnah (Middot 1, 3), or the Eastern Gate (Nehemiah III, 29). A causeway supported by arches ran from the gate across the Kidron Valley, and was known as the Causeway of the Heifer, since the High Priest used this way to reach the Mount of Olives where the ritual burning of the Red Heifer took place, to purify the pilgrims with its ashes (Parah 111, 6; Shekalim IV, 2).

The Mercy Gate, 257 m north of the south-eastern corner of the Temple Mount, is the most beautiful of all the gates of Jerusalem. It is approached from within the Temple Mount by twenty-two stairs, which lead into a magnificent entrance, decorated with unusually intricate carvings of acanthus leaves, which appear to be moving. The gateroom is a hall with six domes supported by huge marble pillars. On the east side of the hall are two gateways, now blocked up, beautifully decorated on the outside.

The New Testament (Acts IlI 2) calls this the Beautiful Gate; it may therefore be assumed to have existed during the period of Aelia Capitolina. However, its present beauty was not attained until the reign of Justinian, in honour of the Christian tradition which fixes this as the site of Jesus' entry to the Temple courtyard. The gate was probably open during the Byzantine period, and the Emperor Heraclius entered through it after taking Jerusalem in 629. After the Muslim Conquest, when the Dome of the Rock and the EI-Aksa Mosque were built, it was blocked to prevent unsupervised access to the mosque area.

AI-Muqaddasi (985) mentions two arches to this gate, the southern one called Bab e-Rahma (Gate of Mercy) and the northern one Bab e-Tauba (Gate of Repentance); both were closed. The double gate is also mentioned by Nasir i-Khosrau (1047) and Mujir e-Din (1496). Shams e-Din e-Suyuti, who visited Jerusalem in 1470, ascribes a reference in the Koran (LVII, v3) to this gate: "Then there will separate them a wall wherein is a gate, the inner side whereof containeth mercy, while the outer side thereof is toward the doom." According to this verse the inner gate, containing mercy, is Bab e-Rahma, while the outer one is Bab e-Tauba, indicating the punishment in Gehenna. The Kidron Valley is known in Arabic, among other names, as Wadi Jehennum (Valley of Gehenna) implying punishment and torture. The gate is also known in Arabic as Bab el-Dahariyeh (Gate of Eternity), recalling the visions of Joel (IV, 2 and 12), or the Twin Gate, because of its shape, which can be seen quite clearly from the Mount of Olives. In the time of the Crusaders it was opened twice a year on Christian festivals: once in the spring, on Palm Sunday, recalling Jesus' triumphal entry to the city through this gate (St. Matthew XXI, 1-8); and once in the autumn, to commemorate the entry of the Emperor Heraclius. The gate was finally closed under Turkish rule.

Charles Warren examined the gate in 1867-69 and found a wall descending 13 m below the level of the gate, the wall of the Temple Mount at this point is thus 20 m high. 80 m further north Warren found the base of the wall at a depth of 40 m. Schick cleaned the gate in 1891. It is to be hoped that this magnificent gate will again served its original purpose, making possible pilgrimages to the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives. (Menashe Har-El, This is Jerusalem, Canaan Publishing House, PO Box 7645, Jerusalem 1977)

The pillars of the Golden Gate are said to be a gift of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon according to one ancient legend, but these would not be part of the present gate above the surface of the ground which is too recent.

Some scholars have noted that the double gates of repentance and mercy contrast not only Law and Grace but are reminders of the two bronze pillars, Jachin, "in his counsel" and Boaz, "by his strength" which stood in the front of the First Temple. James 2:13 notes that God is just, but that his mercy "triumphs" over judgment. According to James, although God is just and must judge the world with equity and impartiality, the mercy of God is a greater and higher attribute of the God of the Bible. He is ready to forgive all who seek him, and his mercy abounds.

Penitents to the Temple entering the courts through the Northern Gate of Repentance in Temple Times could seek the forgiveness of the living God by sacrifice and petition in the Temple, and leave by the Southern Gate having obtained mercy and grace. The Golden Gate is thus a wonderful reminder of the unchanging character of God.

The interior corridors of the Golden Gate are exceptionally beautiful and well-built according to published reports. Sadly, visitors to the Temple Mount today are not allowed to inspect the interior of the Golden Gate. Nor can tourists walk through the Muslim cemetery along the Eastern Wall to inspect the exterior of the gate. One can only hope that this gate can be reopened in the near future and fully restored for access to the Temple site by all nations.

Thus says the LORD: "Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil." Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely separate me from his people"; and let not the eunuch say, "Behold, I am a dry tree." For thus says the LORD: "To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off. "And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, every one who keeps the sabbath, and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant - these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:1-7)

In the year 1969 Jerusalem archaeologist James Fleming was investigating the Eastern wall of the Temple where a Muslim cemetery has long been located. It had rained heavily the night before and the ground remained soggy the next day. As he investigated the area immediately in front of the Golden Gate, the ground beneath his feet gave way and he dropped into a hole about eight feet deep. Fleming found himself "knee-deep in bones" and became suddenly aware he had fallen into a mass burial site. To him, the most amazing aspect of this incident was his clear view of five large wedge-shaped stones set into a massive arch. It appeared he had discovered an ancient gate under the present Golden Gate:

"Then I noticed with astonishment that on the eastern face of the turret wall, directly beneath the Golden Gate itself, were five wedge-shaped stones neatly set in a massive arch spanning the turret wall. Here were the remains of an earlier gate to Jerusalem, below the Golden Gate, one that apparently had never been fully documented." (BAR, Jan./Feb. 1983, p30)

Very soon after this discovery the Muslims covered the chamber, cemented over the top, and surrounded the mass grave with a protective iron fence. Sadly, this means it is unlikely that Israeli archaeologists will be able to excavate the gate under the Golden Gate in the near future. In contrast visitors to the Damascus Gate are now able to visit an ancient, restored old Roman gate beneath the present Damascus Gate (the present upper Damascus Gate was reconstructed in 1537-38).

Josephus states (Wars V, 184-189) that the Eastern temple enclosure wall was the only one not rebuilt by Herod the Great. The ancient gate beneath the Golden Gate may therefore date from Solomonic times or at least from the time of Nehemiah. Such a view of consistent with Asher Kaufman's view that the First and Second Temples were located 110 meters North of the Dome of the Rock in the immediate vicinity of the small Dome of the Tablets shrine on the main temple platform.

"Moreover, it now seems clear that before the Golden Gate was constructed, the entrance to the Temple Mount from outside the city was in exactly the same location. Recently, part of an arch was discovered directly beneath the Golden Gate. This partial arch definitely belongs to an older gate, a gate that many date even to Solomonic times." (Asher Kaufman, BAR, March/April 1983, p. 45).

The mid-point of the Golden Gate is 348 feet North of the East-West center line of the Dome of the Rock allowing a straight-line access into the temple courts from the East assuming Kaufman's theory is correct. Kaufman's model for the location of the First and Second Temples lines up the Temples, the Golden Gate and the Red Heifer Altar on the Mount of Olives. Kaufman's location for the site of the Red Heifer offering is a small walled garden owned by the Armenian Church. It is located just across the summit road from the Muslim Mosque of the Ascension which is a traditional location for the place of the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. Kaufman believes the Red Heifer altar site would have been sanctified ground made holy by a system of underground arches beneath the garden designed to prevent any defilement from dead bodies from seeping upwards to the sanctified ground. There are locked cisterns in the garden which could be explored to test Kaufman's hypothesis. Our scientific team sought to obtain the necessary permission to explore the garden cisterns from the Armenian Patriarch in our science and archaeology work in Israel in 1983, however it was not granted to us at that time.

Rubble and earth, and the Muslim cemetery, extend high up on the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount. Thus very little is known about the lower portions of this wall below the present ground level.

Ezekiel 43:1-9 supports the Jewish tradition that the entire Temple Mount as well as the Temple itself is set aside in a special way for the service of the Holy One of Israel. God has evidently been, over many centuries, offended by the many defilements of this area. Cemeteries, tombs and burial places as well as idolatrous shrines are clearly inappropriate in the vicinity of the Temple Mount. Apparently these graves must all be removed before a temple acceptable to Yahweh can be built there:

Afterward he [the Angel of the LORD] brought me [Ezekiel] to the gate, the gate [of the temple] facing east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel [the Shekinah] came from the east; and the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with his glory. And the vision I saw was like the vision which I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and like the vision which I had seen by the river Chebar; and I fell upon my face. As the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up, and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple.

While the man was standing beside me, I heard one speaking to me out of the temple; and he said to me, "Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel for ever. And the house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, neither they, nor their kings, by their harlotry, and by the dead bodies of their kings, by setting their threshold by my threshold and their doorposts beside my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them. They have defiled my holy name by their abominations which they have committed, so I have consumed them in my anger. Now let them put away their idolatry and the dead bodies of their kings far from me, and I will dwell in their midst for ever.

The Western Wall of the Temple Mount

The Western Wall is a one quarter mile long retaining wall that today forms the western boundary of the Temple Mount. A 185 foot section that is exposed is an open air prayer area, Ha Kotel - known in earlier times as the Wailing Wall. The Western Wall was not part of either Temple. Rather it was one of the four retaining walls that surrounded the Temple Mount supporting the platform on which the Temple formerly stood. It was built by Herod the Great in order to enlarge the Temple Mount so that he could enlarge the worship area, beautify it and add more buildings to the Temple complex. When the Romans destroyed the Temple in AD 70 they left standing most of the retaining walls to commemorate the magnitude of their victory. It is the only remaining portion of the Second Temple.

About fifty percent of the Western Wall is below ground at the present plaza level. The Tyropoean (or Cheesemaker's) Valley in the vicinity of Robinson's arch has been filled to great depth over the years, (that is, not far from the Southwest corner of the Temple Mount wall). To the left as one faces the wall only the tops of huge gigantic arches are exposed above ground. See Cross Sectional Maps of the Temple Mount area).

The now-famous "Rabbinical Tunnel" runs underground at the plaza level through the North end of the room formed by the arch closest to the Western Wall. (See The Rabbinical Tunnel).

The Southern Wall of the Temple Mount

The late Benjamin Mazar and Meir Ben Dov cleared the Southern Wall and surrounding area in recent decades exposing late Islamic palaces, and the bedrock and original steps leading onto the Temple Mount from the City of David which is to the South (and much lower in elevation). Three groups of gates (closed) may be seen in the southern wall. The Single Gate, 100 feet from the south-east corner, probably dates from the Crusaders and was repaired by the Mamelukes. The Triple Gate, about 275 feet from the SE corner, is at the site of one of the two pairs of Huldah Gates of the Second Temple. The Double Gate, south of El-Aksa mosque is the second pair of the Huldah Gates (Mishnah Middot 1:3). During the Second Temple period these two gates divided the Temple Mount into three almost equal sections. The interior of these gates and their openings onto the Temple Mount have long been closed to visitors by the Muslims. (See Solomon's Stables and the Southern Gates).

The Temple Esplanade

The Haram esh-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, as the Muslims call the Temple Mount, is a garden plaza containing many varied structures such as paved platforms, domes (qubbeh), prayer niches (mihribs), fountains and arcades (mawwazin). In the course of time the Temple Mount has acquired a large number of fountains (sabil) and small shrines, minarets from the Mamaluk period (manara or maazneh), prayer platforms (mutasalla) Many of these Islamic features were installed as gifts from important visitors caliphs and potentates. Religious schools (madraseh) and various offices may be found around the perimeter. In the compound today there are about one hundred structures, both large and small.

Entering the Mount from the Mograbi Gate the visitor will find an Islamic Museum immediately to the right. The Islamic Museum contains a good collection of Byzantine and Islamic antiquities.

Slightly east of the Museum is the cavernous El-Aksa Mosque, a huge rectangular, largely unadorned, structure featuring a small gray dome. This present building dates from the 10th Century when it accepted that Jerusalem was masjid el-aksa, "the furthermost sanctuary." The glacial marble columns, a gift from Mussolini, date from the most recent major restoration of 1938-1942. The first mosque on the site, that of the Caliph Abd el Malek ibn Mirwan, (or his son El-Walid), was built between 709 and 715 AD, but was twice destroyed by earthquakes in the first 60 years of its existence. After the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, the mosque became the first royal residence and then the headquarters of the Knights Templars. Saladin tore down many of the Crusader additions and later Mamluk sultans made additions and changes. An ascending passage from the walled-up double gates in the Southern Wall of the temple compound rises to the surface of the present platform just North of the mosque.

While the Dome of the Rock rests on the bedrock of Mt. Moriah, El-Aksa mosque is supported on pillars, fill, and vaults from below. This makes the building more susceptible to earthquakes of course. Severe earthquake damage occurred in 774, 777, and 1033 according to historic records. The building was built on the foundations of a Byzantine church built during the reign of Justinian and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Byzantine historian Procopius wrote that the church was built in 560 AD and burned down by the Persians in 614.

The dome of the El-Aksa mosque is approximately 50 feet high, constructed of wood sheathed in lead. The dome is supported by four arches and eight pillars and was last restored in 1927.

The mosque today capable of housing 5000 worshipers, is divided by a central nave and two transepts. The North-South nave is supported by seven arches. The building contains 114 columns and 135 windows and is vast in size: 240 feet long (N-S) and 165 feet wide. El-Aksa has been much modified during its history, after the Ummayyad period especially. The Crusader occupation of Jerusalem brought numerous changes after 1099 and of course these were reversed and additional changes made after Saladin restored Jerusalem to Muslim control.

Solomon's Stables are underground vaulted chambers at the southeast corner of the Temple Esplanade, built by Herod to support the Temple platform. The name suggests one of the many stables for horses built by Solomon, but these rooms were not in existence in the time of Solomon. These rooms were stables during the time the Crusaders occupied Jerusalem. As we have noted, the bedrock of Mount Moriah is more or less level from the Dome of the Rock northwards, but to the south the elevation drops very rapidly. The entire southern end of the Temple Mount compound was built up by Herod the Great. The south-eastern corner, for instance, has a retaining wall almost 150 feet high with at least 100 feet of rubble fill on the inside. In places the walls of the temple mount are 15 feet thick with individual ashlars weighing 150 tons or more. The two halls comprising Solomon's Stables have an area of nearly 5000 square feet. Eighty-eight rows of pillars and arches as much as 30 feet wide were used to raise the ceiling some 36 feet to the level on the present paved area East of El-Aksa mosque.

The Pinnacle of the Temple where Jesus was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11) has been traditionally associated with the south-eastern corner of the Temple Mount because of the great height above the Kidron Valley below. The recent discovery on an inscribed stone at the south-west corner indicated that corner was "the place of trumpeting" (blowing of the Shofar) has raised the possibility that the second temptation of Jesus took place there.

Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, 2:23) tells us that James the Just, brother of Jesus and pastor of the early Christian church in Jerusalem was martyred by being thrown down from the pinnacle of the temple mount. He survived the fall and was then stoned, praying for forgiveness for his persecutors as he died. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church (Acts 6:8-7:60) was also martyred near the temple mount ("outside the city"). The gate that bears his name commemorates the traditional area where he finally died.

North of the Mosque is the Al Kas Fountain, first built in 709. It is used by the Muslims for ritual washing before prayer. Older guide books say the fountain is fed from the ancient aqueduct that brought water to the Temple Mount from Solomon's Pools and the hills of Bethlehem. Mameluke Emir Tankaz es-Nasr enlarged the fountain in 1327-28. Although originally supplied with water from Solomon's pools, today it is connected by pipes to the city water supply.

The Sabil Quait Bay is an ornate fountain which was a gift from Sultan Quait Bey in 1487. It lies below the platform area West of the Dome of the Rock.

At the top of eight stairways are the Graceful Arcades (qanatir) which lead to the raised platform of the Mount. According to Muslim tradition, scales (mawazin) to weight the souls of humanity will be hung from these Arcades at the end of time. Near the north-west qanatir is the Dome of the Spirits or Dome of the Tablets, a small cupola with floor of bedrock. The reference is said to be either to the Spirit of God, or to the tablets of the Law of Moses housed originally in the Ark of the Covenant. Asher Kaufman places the location of the Holy of Holies at this Dome in his studies of the location of the First and Second Temples.

The Dome of the Chain (Qubbet es-Silsileh), constructed in the 8th Century and ascribed to Abd el-Malek, was probably used as a treasury by Arabs to store silver. When the Crusaders conquered the Mount they dedicated it as a chapel to St. James the Less. The structure has six inner and eleven outer supporting pillars. They can all be seen simultaneously when viewed from any angle.

The Summer Pulpit (Minbar es-Saif) , of marble, was probably built by Saladin in 1190 and later restored in 1456 by Burhan ed Din (his name is inscribed thereon). It was later restored again by the Turkish emir Mohammed Rashid in 1483. It is sometimes referred to as Minbar Omar and is used for Muslim open-air prayers to this day, during summer months.

The Dome of the Ascension (Qubbet el-Mi'Araj), built around 1200, commemorates Mohammed's leap into the heavens, or at least the place he has supposed to have prayed before his ascension. It is a copy of a Byzantine Dome on the Mount of Olives that marks the spot of Jesus' Ascension according to Islamic tradition. The existence of this structure, built from Crusader materials, suggests that the Dome of the Rock may not have been the exact spot of Mohammed's alleged ascent into paradise.

A small dome, the Dome of the Prophet (E-Nabi), stands east of the Dome of the Rock and was built by the Turkish governor of Jerusalem, Muhammed Bey in 1538. It houses a well-built mihrab, or prayer niche facing Mecca.

Grammar Dome (Qubbet es-Nahawwiyah) stands at the southwest corner of the platform. It was built during the reign of Sultan Mu'atham 'Issa in 1217 of marble slabs probably taken from a Crusader building. As the name suggests it was originally a place for studying Arab literature and grammar.

The Dome of the Prophet Elijah (Qubbet el-Khadr) is an open dome at the northwest corner of the platform supported by six marble columns with an interior place for prayer.

Popular guidebooks of Jerusalem will allow visitors to the Temple Mount to identify other interesting features on the Mount. Sadly, the Muslim guides may not allow those interested to approach or inspect many of these historically and archaeologically interesting structures. The Temple Mount is often open only a few days per week, and for at most a few hours. These days it is difficult to see anything more than the main features of the Temple Mount area.

The Dome of the Rock is not true mosque but a shrine. Begun about 688 and finished about 691 (other writers say 692 to 697) - it is the first and oldest Islamic shrine in the world. This octagonal structure is one of the most beautiful edifices in the Middle East. The interior contain two concentric rows of pillars - the inner circle supports the dome, and the outer circle the best of the building. The inner circle of pillars, about 60 feet in diameter - encloses exposed bed rock which rises several feet above the floor. This is traditionally the famous Foundation Stone. The dome-supporting pillars are sixteen in number, twelve of marble and four of granite. Sixteen windows in the cupola are made of colored glass against a background of gold. Some of these windows go back to the 15th Century, but most date from the 18th and 19th. The octagonal walls of the building itself contain 56 windows, 7 in each wall. The outer circle of pillars supporting the building consists of eight of marble and sixteen of colored granite - 24 in all. These pillars are topped by capitals which may have come from Herod's temple, or possibly from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher destroyed by the Persians in 614 AD At the beginning of the tenth century the cupola was sheathed in brass and then covered with gold. This was later changed to lead.

Two earthquakes in the 11th Century shook the Dome at which time the upper mosaic was replaced. Fires and earthquakes over the centuries have necessitated further repairs and changes. Most recently, persistent leaks in the roof have led to major renovations and a million-dollar gift of gold leaf from the government of Saudi Arabia has made possible the recovering of the Dome with real gold leaf replacing the previous gold-colored anodized aluminum.

The underground areas of the Temple Mount are the most interesting features in the whole area from the standpoint of history and archaeology. Largely inaccessible for centuries, many of the cisterns and a few of the tunnels and rooms were explored more than a hundred years ago by the Palestine Exploration Society. Nevertheless a fair understanding of what lies beneath the surface has been pieced together by diligent and careful researchers, some motivated by archaeology, and others by a desire to locate the foundation of the First and Second Temples and associated storage rooms.

Addendum: The Wall of Jerusalem

Guardians of the city

Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, a brilliant military strategist, cunning politician and eloquent poet, was having a very bad night. He tossed and turned, dreaming that lions had chased him in a field and greedily fed upon his body. Waking up in a sweat, he called frantically for his advisers. "What does it all mean?" he asked shakily. "You must do a good deed," he was told. "Why not rebuild the crumbling walls of the Holy City of Jerusalem?"

Scholars have a different explanation for the Turkish walls that have surrounded Jerusalem since 1538 and never been breached. Some say that Suleiman heard rumors of a new Crusade in the making - and that's why he decided to fortify Jerusalem. Others think he repaired the walls to ward off Bedouin marauders.

Whatever the reason, the Old City of Jerusalem has been completely enclosed in strong, decorative walls since the 16th century. Four kilometers in length, the walls are 12 meters high, studded with towers and topped with crenelations.

A wonderful half-day outing takes you on a circular stroll around the Old City walls with stops at seven Turkish gates, each with a very special name and design, and one that is far more ancient. Take into account a fairly steep ascent between the Golden Gate and Zion Gate. There is a nice little park along the northern wall.

Begin at the colorful and bustling Damascus Gate market, where you can buy anything from tennis shoes to electric teapots. This area of the city is the hub of east Jerusalem commerce, and Damascus Gate is the loveliest of all entrances to the Old City. As you walk around the walls, you will find them topped by continuous crenelations - tooth-like projections. It is only here at Damascus Gate that they are replaced by decorative statuettes.

Called Sha'ar Shechem in Hebrew, the gate faces north, and in the past a road led directly to Nablus (Shechem) and from there to Damascus. In Arabic, it is called Bab al-Amud - Gate of the Pillar - because in Roman times a giant column topped with a full statue of the Emperor Hadrian stood in the center of its inner plaza. During the Byzantine period, this was known as St. Stephen's Gate for, according to Christian tradition, the martyr Stephen was dragged out of the city through this gate and stoned to death somewhere on the other side of today's road.

There is a small entrance to the right of the gate below today's street level. Flanked by two massive, broken columns, it was part of a monumental triple victory arch built in 135 after Emperor Hadrian crushed the Bar Kochba Revolt and turned Jerusalem into the Roman city called Aelia Capitolina.

Five different parapets are built into the walls and towers as a defensive measure. Their floors contain machicolations, openings from which soldiers could dump boiling oil or hot tar on an enemy invader beneath the walls.

FOLLOW THE stone pedestrian walkway to Zedekiah's Cave, an enormous cavern over 200 meters long and chock full of labyrinths and inner grottoes. Early masons quarried stones from inside this cave to build the Second Temple - and perhaps even the first.

During the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, King Zedekiah managed to flee the city, only to be captured in Jericho. Since he is believed to have run straight for this cave, tradition holds that at the time it stretched all the way to Jericho. Inside, you can explore its depths and study the art of quarrying. At the far end, a little spring drips Zedekiah's tears.

Soon you reach Flower Gate, which was added in 1875. The original Turkish entrance is on the side, where you will see the flower decoration that may have given this gate one of its names. A few centuries ago, pilgrims who mistook a fancy Muslim house for Herod's Palace gave the entrance yet another name: Herod's Gate.

Continue east, not forgetting to examine the walls and towers for unusually decorative elements. Just before the traffic light at the corner, climb two short flights of stairs to reach a monument to Jordanian soldiers who fell during the Six Day War. This spot offers a dazzling view of the Mount of Olives and northern Jerusalem - especially if it has recently rained.

Directly across from you a sprawling Brigham Young (Mormon) University covers the slopes. To its right, the beautiful Augusta Victoria Church tower reaches to the heavens, while on its other side you can easily make out the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. The university's architect, who also planned Brigham Young, designed it to resemble the Old City with its crowded buildings and uneven skyline; the result is meant as a kind of architectural dialog.

Turn around to view Stork's Tower, situated on the wall's northeastern corner. Until 1948, when the Old City Walls marked the Jordanian border, hip Arab hostesses liked to serve fancy moonlit dinners on the stone floor of the massive, square tower. A Star of David from an earlier period is set into the wall.

NOW RETURN to the pedestrian walkway. Your next stop is at Lions' Gate, where the lions on both sides probably gave rise to the legend about Suleiman and his dream. A careful look will reveal, however, that the "lions" are really panthers - the emblem of a 13th-century Muslim conqueror named Baybars. This is where Israeli paratroopers broke into the city during the Six Day War.

By now you will have reached the spectacular Golden Gate, which opened directly onto the Temple Mount. Unlike the other gates, this was not built by the Turks. It was constructed in the seventh century over ruins dating back at least to Nehemiah (fifth century BCE) and possibly even to the time of Solomon.

The Golden Gate faces the Mount of Olives and is the oldest continuous Jewish cemetery in the world. The popularity of this cemetery derives from its proximity to the Golden Gate, through which Jews believe that the Messiah will pass when he enters Jerusalem. And, of course when the dead are resurrected and return to the city, they want to be first in line to follow him in.

Muslim rulers knew about this Jewish tradition, and they sealed the gate permanently shut. But they were afraid this might not be enough. So, aware that the Messiah would be of priestly lineage and unable to come anywhere near a cemetery, Muslims began burying their dead in front of the gate.

During the Middle Ages, and for some years afterward, Jewish pilgrims to the Holy Land would walk all the way around the walls of Jerusalem. When they reached this gate, so close to the Temple Mount, they would stop and beseech the Almighty to show His people compassion. And that may be how the gate got its second name of Sha'ar Harahamim: Mercy Gate.

Look up to see a pillar sticking horizontally out of the wall. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad will one day sit on top and pass judgment on the people below.

Around the corner, a grayish black dome protruding above the wall tops the al-Aksa Mosque. Al-Aksa means "the edge" - and according to the Koran, Mohammed undertook a mysterious night journey to "the edge." While Jerusalem is never mentioned by name, Muslim tradition places "the edge" right here, making Jerusalem one of Islam's holy cities.

Your next stop is Dung Gate, which leads to the Western Wall. For thousands of years, residents of the city took their trash out through this gate, which offered easy access to an even better refuse site in the valley below. Some people believe the name derives, instead, from the horrid smell of tanners tanning their hides.

Just past Dung Gate stand the ruins of a tower from medieval times. It had a rear wicket for the tanners to use and now leads to Jerusalem's Ophel Excavations and Davidson Center. From the sidewalk, look inside and you will see Romans doing their shopping on a Cardo that originally stretched from Damascus Gate to the Temple Mount and from there to the City of David. (You are actually looking at a painting but, believe me, for a moment it can seem real.)

SOON YOU reach Zion Gate, which leads to the Jewish Quarter and stands between Mount Zion inside the walls of the Old City, and the portion of Mount Zion that was left outside. The gate's scarred exterior, riddled with bullet holes, offers mute witness to a battle that could have changed the course of Israeli history during the War of Independence.

Although Israeli forces conquered Mount Zion on the night of May 18th and broke the Jordanian siege of the Jewish Quarter, the following night most of the soldiers were withdrawn. And the handful of exhausted Jewish defenders that remained could not hold out against the might of the Jordanian army. Less than two weeks later, on May 28, the Jewish Quarter was forced to capitulate to the Arab Legion and the Old City fell to the Jordanians.

Just before a ceasefire was scheduled to make the situation permanent, Israel made a last-ditch attempt to break into the Old City. Continue about 100 meters to reach a large cone and a concrete slab inscribed with the date 18.7.1949. Soldiers lugged a 150-kilogram homemade cone-shaped bomb up Mount Zion stretcher-style, and set it down against the wall. Although the bomb caused a deafening explosion, it only scratched the surface. Jerusalem was doomed to remain a divided city for the next 19 years.

Turn at the corner and walk towards Jaffa Gate. Just past a tower built on Hasmonean and Herodian ruins, you will see 2,000-year-old steps that probably led to Herod's palace. What makes this theory so logical is the Herod family tomb located across the valley to your left and above Yemin Moshe. Climb the steps and turn left and you will be walking towards Jaffa Gate on what remains of the Hasmonean wall.

You may wonder about an incongruous hill of brown dirt, left here after tons of debris were cleared away from the walls in 1967. Believe it or not, until that time the top of that hill was street level and all these ancient ruins were buried underneath.

The Tower of David, actually a minaret from a mosque built for Muslim troops in the 14th century, now bursts into view in all its glory. The wide road leading into the city is new, and was prepared especially for the visit of Emperor Wilhelm II in 1898. Ottoman rulers breached a gap in the wall that connected Jaffa Gate with the Citadel, plugged up the adjacent moat and created a second and wider point of entry suitable for the emperor and his extensive entourage.

Exit through the smaller, original gate, from which a road once led directly to Jaffa. The 16th-century Arabic inscription over the entrance gives Suleiman's name, the year of construction and the following words: "there is no God but Allah and Abraham is his friend." That's why the Sultan's name for this entrance was Bab al-Khalil, the Gate of the Friend.

Follow the walkway to IDF Square (Kikar Tzahal) and then turn right. In back of the garden, at the bottom of the wall, stands the base of a tower. Legend has it that King David buried Goliath's head on this site - giving rise to the name "Goliath Tower." It is also called Tancred's Tower, for the Crusader commander who attacked the city from this direction on July 15, 1099.

Your last stop is at the New Gate, built at the end of the 1880s to make it easier to travel between Old Jerusalem and the Christian institutions built across the street. Until 1967, when Jerusalem was reunited, the road from here to Damascus Gate was strewn with twisted barbed wire and remnants from scorched armored vehicles. This was the border between Israel and Jordan called No-Man's Land.

One day, a terminal patient at the French Hospital across the road leaned out a window and coughed, her false teeth dropping right into No-Man's Land. It took meticulous maneuvering, and the good will of Israel, Jordan and the United Nations for a nun from the hospital to retrieve the set of teeth!

For permission to enter Zedekiah's Cave call: (02) 627-7550 ext. 4. The cost is NIS 16 per person (in a group). (From [link changed 6/17/13] for February 25, 2005).

End Notes

1. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, The Holy Land, Oxford University Press, New York, 1992

2. Menashe Har-El, This is Jerusalem, Canaan Publishing House, Jerusalem 1977.


Web Pages:

revised June 22, 1995, April 19, 1996, July 24, 1998, March 17, 2005, June 17, 2013 (addendum added).

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