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 usually comes to mind – in fact, 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 itinerary when in Jerusalem. 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 to plan your visit to Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock and make the most of it. Let me first start with some background information, though.
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, that is the holiest place by the Jews for this is the place 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. Indeed this is supposedly the place where Jesus challenged the corruption that was going on inside the Temple and predicted its destruction.
Finally, Temple Mount is where the Al-Aqsa Mosque is located – this is 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 contested sites in the history of the Israeli – Palestinian conflicts. Both Israel and Palestine claim it as theirs. To say that the conditions of the jurisdiction over Temple Mount are confusing – at least to first time visitors – is an understatement. Many visit Dome of the Rock and haven’t got the slightest idea of its juridical status.
Let me try to make some sense of the status of things.
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, Israel has control over the access to the area where Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock.
However, inside the nine gates of Temple Mount (from where visitors who aren’t Muslim can only exit the area), 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, and pays for the Waqf guards. This has been the case since the time of the Crusades.
In an attempt to avoid clashes, the Israeli government forbids praying inside it for anybody who is not Muslim. It is only since 1967 that non-Muslims can enter the site again – and even then, they are not allowed to pray there.
Temple Mount is open to non-Muslim visitors only four hours a day, and there often are long lines to get in.
Continue reading to find out what you need to know to visit Dome of the Rock and 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 right outside of the Western Wall, near Dung Gate. The entrance is known as Moroccan Gate, or locally as Bab al-Maghariba gate.
There are other gates that allow access to Temple Mount scattered around the Old City, but these can only be used by Muslims to enter the site, and by tourists to exit it. If you happen to approach one of the gates, you will be quickly prompted to turn back and leave.
Before visiting Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock you will need to go through an airport style security checks. Make sure to bring your passport with you, and avoid carrying any items that may look suspicious. Jews and Christians are requested not to bring in or wear any symbol of their religion.
Visiting Temple Mount is actually very safe. All visitors have to go through security and there are armed guards at each gate, so you will definitely feel safe inside.
Cost of visiting Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock
There is no fee to visit Temple Mount. You may want to get a guide to make the most of it – see my recommendations for guided tours below.
Opening times for tourists
Visiting Temple Mount is permitted from Sundays to Thursdays. Temple Mount is closed to tourists and non-Muslims 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
I recommend visiting Temple Mount first thing in the morning. There are significantly less people trying to access the site at 7:30 than there are at 12:30.
If you are visiting Jerusalem in peak season, or intend to enter during the early afternoon slot, make sure to arrive at least one hour in advance as there may be long lines and only a limited number of people can enter.
Dress code for visiting Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock
Much like any other holy site, you will have to be dressed conservatively to be allowed to enter 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. You must make sure that your chest, elbows and shoulders are 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.
Don’t bring religious artifacts inside – Jewish or Christians.
Praying and entering the mosques
Only Muslims are allowed to pray inside Temple Mount. Unless you are a Muslim, you can’t visit Dome of the Rock inside or enter 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 honestly 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.
These are some good guided tours of Jerusalem that all go to Temple Mount:
- Holy City tour of Jerusalem
- Full day city tour of Jerusalem
- Jerusalem Holy City tour from Tel Aviv
- Jerusalem boutique tour
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 views are those from Aish Hatorah Yeshiva, from where you can access Western Wall Plaza; and those 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. I am sure you will also enjoy is the aura of peace and quiet inside. The atmosphere inside Temple Mount is very peaceful, and this is a bit of a (welcome) surprise considering how much this place is contested.
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