If you are in Jerusalem, you really must make it a point of visiting Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock.
Jerusalem is a holy city for the three biggest monotheistic religions. Scattered in the Old City you will find many places of religious significance. One is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, thought to be Jesus’s burial place and shared by six different denominations.
Yet, the image that is usually associated with Jerusalem by international media is that of the Dome of the Rock, the stunning golden dome that can be seen from many places in town.
The Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount should definitely be in your city itinerary. Yet visiting isn’t the easiest of things – limited opening hours, codes of conduct and restrictions for non-Muslims can all be obstacles.
But worry not! In this post, I explain everything you should know for visiting Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock and make the most of it.
Background Information On Temple Mount And Dome Of The Rock
The Dome of the Rock is located inside Temple Mount. Called Mount Moriah by the Jews, this is the place where the first two Temples were built. Inside the Dome of the Rock there is the Foundation Stone, the Holy of Holies – the holiest place for the Jews as this is where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac and where God created Adam.
Jews can’t pray inside Temple Mount – that’s why they pray along the Western Wall, a retaining wall for Temple Mount and the closest place to the Foundation Stone.
For Muslims, the Dome of the Rock is the place from where prophet Muhammed ascended to heaven along with angel Gabriel.
Temple Mount is a holy site for Christians too – it’s the place where Jesus challenged the corruption of the Temple and predicted its destruction.
Finally, Temple Mount is where the Al-Aqsa Mosque is located – the third holiest site for Muslims, after Mecca and Medina. Only Israeli Muslims and Palestinians from East Jerusalem are granted access to the mosque, and only in time of prolonged peace.
The jurisdiction of Temple Mount
Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock are among the most fought over sites in the history of the Israeli – Palestinian conflicts. Both Israel and Palestine claim it as theirs.
The conditions of the jurisdiction over Temple Mount are confusing – at least to first time visitors. Let me try to shed some light.
Jerusalem is completely under the control of Israel – to the despair of Palestinians and the supporters of their cause. In a city that is controlled by Israeli authorities, Israeli authorities control access to Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock.
However, inside the nine gates of Temple Mount (from where visitors who aren’t Muslim must exit), it is the Jerusalem Awqaf Department – the Islamic Religious Endowments Authority, or simply the Waqf (an Islamic religious trust whose guards are Palestinians) – that has control.
The latter is funded and controlled by the government of Jordan, which thus administers the daily life of a site that is, in fact, in Israel. Jordan also pays for the Waqf guards. This has been the case since the time of the Crusades.
It is only since 1967 that non-Muslims can enter the site, and only for four hours a day (and not every day); but in an attempt to avoid clashes, the Israeli government forbids non-Muslims to pray inside Temple Mount.
What To Know Before Visiting Temple Mount And Dome Of The Rock
Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock are located in the Old City of Jerusalem. The only entrance for non-Muslims and tourists is via a walkway located outside the Western Wall, near Dung Gate. The entrance is known as Moroccan Gate, or Bab al-Maghariba gate.
There are other gates scattered around the Old City, exclusively for use by Muslims. Tourists can use them to exit. If you happen to approach one of the gates, you will be quickly prompted to turn back and leave.
Before entering Temple Mount you will need to go through an airport style security check – which makes the site very safe. Bring your passport with you, and avoid carrying items that may look suspicious. Don’t bring in or wear religious symbols. There are armed guards at every gate.
Cost of visiting
There is no fee to visit Temple Mount. You may want to hire a guide to make the most of it.
Opening times for tourists
Temple Mount open to visitors from Sunday to Thursday, and it remains closed on on Fridays (the day of prayer for Muslims), Saturdays and during Muslim holidays. At times it is closed unexpectedly and with no apparent reason.
These are the opening times:
SUMMER SEASON – From April to September: from 8:30 to 10:30 am and from 1:30 to 2:30 pm.
WINTER SEASON – From October to March: from 7:30 to 10:30 am and from 12:30 to 1:30 pm.
Lines to get inside Temple Mount
Make sure to plan your visit first thing in the morning. There are significantly less people trying to access the site at 7:30 am than there are at 12:30 pm.
If you are visiting Jerusalem in peak season, or intend to enter during the early afternoon slot, arrive at least one hour in advance as there may be long lines and only a limited number of people can enter.
Much like any other holy site, you have to be dressed conservatively to walk inside Temple Mount. During winter time, this isn’t much of an issue as you’ll likely be wearing a jacket and pants / a long skirt anyways.
But if you are visiting during the summer months, when Jerusalem tends to get quite hot, you may want to consider covering up for your visit. Your chest, elbows and shoulders must covered. It’s better to wear long pants or a dress / skirt that covers your knees, and a long sleeves shirt (you can carry one with you in your bag). Sandals are permitted. Women don’t need to cover your head.
Make sure to also read my post What To Wear In Israel.
Praying and entering the mosques
Only Muslims are allowed to pray inside Temple Mount. Unless you are a Muslim, you can’t go inside the Dome of the Rock or Al Aqsa Mosque.
Jews can visit Temple Mount
People of Jewish faith can actually visit Temple Mount, but they aren’t allowed to pray or to wear symbols of their faith.
I recommend getting a guide to visit Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock. This is the only way you can really make sense of what you see, to grasp its history, its incredible religious and cultural importance.
The best views of the Dome of the Rock
You can see the Dome of the Rock from many places in Jerusalem. The most impressive are those from Aish Hatorah Yeshiva, from where you can access Western Wall Plaza; and from Mount of Olives – these are best enjoyed at sunset.
Another place from which you can get great views of the Dome of the Rock is the Rooftops of the Old City of Jerusalem – you can access these from various points in the Old City.
Visiting Temple Mount is an incredible experience – and worthwhile, even if you can’t visit Dome of the Rock inside. The views of the Dome of the Rock as you get close to it are simply astonishing.The atmosphere inside Temple Mount is very peaceful, and this is a bit of a (welcome) surprise considering how much this place is fought over.
Further Readings About Israel
Make sure to read my other posts about Israel:
- 33 Tips For Traveling To Israel
- How To Plan The Perfect Trip To Israel
- The Best Places To Visit In Israel
- A Complete Guide To Israeli Food
- 29 Things To Do In Jerusalem You Can’t Miss
- 21 Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Tel Aviv
- Where To Stay In Tel Aviv: Recommendations By An Almost Local
- Tel Aviv Vegan Food Guide: The Best Vegan Restaurants In Tel Aviv
- A Guide To The Things To Do In Haifa, Israel
- 17 Truly Unmissable Things To Do In Eilat, Israel
- Everything You Need To Know To Hike The Jesus Trail
- Masada Sunrise Guide: Hiking The Masada Snake Path
- The 13 Best Day Trips From Tel Aviv
- 9 Fantastic Day Trips From Jerusalem
- What You Need To Know About Shabbat In Jerusalem
- Where To Get The Most Impressive Views Of Jerusalem
- 15 Great Bars In Jerusalem
- The Best Airbnbs In Tel Aviv