There was one thing we really, really wanted to do in Jerusalem and that was to make a visit to Temple Mount. It’s reputedly the most contested site in the world, is often a flash point for violence and requires significant effort to visit given the heavily restricted access for non-Muslims. However, the allure of Jerusalem’s most recognizable landmark is strong and the massive historical and religious significance of the site make Temple Mount a must see in any Jerusalem itinerary.
If you’re planning to check out Temple Mount check out our how to visit guide here.
Where to stay in Jerusalem
Visiting Jerusalem is an incredible experience but due to the layout of the city and the narrow streets the only real way to explore the city is to walk. We found visiting the Old City early in the morning and later in the evening when crowds were quieter to be the best experience. To allow you to do this we recommend staying as close to the Old City walls as possible. The best hotels we recommend are:
- Harmony Hotel: Where we stayed and a short 5 minute walk from the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City. This stunning boutique hotel really made our stay in Jerusalem special. A delicious breakfast each morning, afternoon drinks on the sun filled terrace and a perfect location make this our top pick for staying beside the Old City of Jerusalem. The local area is lively with a great atmosphere and lots of great restaurants and bars. The hotel also has free parking which was great when we rented a car for a day trip to Massada – Click here for best prices!
- Sephardic House Hotel: located within the Old City itself in the Jewish Quarter (close to the Zion Gate), this hotel is a short walking distance from all of the sights, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Temple Mount and the Western Wall to name a few nearby). Perfect if you want to stay in the Old City itself – Click here for best prices!
- Bezalel Hotel: A fantastic value hotel located 10 minutes walk from the Jaffa Gate. A sister hotel of the Harmony hotel, the Bezalel is a great alternative if the Harmony Hotel is booked out! – Click here for best prices!
Temple Mount compelled us to visit from the moment we entered Jerusalem and caught site of the golden dome dominating the skyline in every direction from the Mount of Olives to as far away as Bethlehem in Palestine. Dome of the Rock, the golden topped shrine on Temple Mount, demands photos from every angle near or far.
Temple Mount from Dominus Flevit where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem:
The Temple Mount Compound
Due to its importance to the 3 major religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam the 37 acres of Temple Mount are the most contested in history. The site has long been managed by the Muslim community of Jerusalem but it remains a boiling point for conflict between the Arab and Israeli communities. To try and avoid clashes the Israeli government has enforced a ban on prayer by non-Muslims.
As a result, Temple Mount is open to non-Muslims for just four hours a day and, having witnessed the long queues that gathered at the gate, we arrived early to secure our place as first in line. After queuing in the intense Israel sun for over 90 minutes watching the constant procession of Bar Mitzvah celebrations on their way to the Wailing Wall, the gate to Temple Mount finally opened. Airport style security checks are in operation and our passports were scrutinized and our clothing was assessed for suitability before we were finally granted access to one of the most religious sites in the world.
Making sure we were suitably attired:
As we passed through the long wooden walkway overlooking the Wailing Wall we were met with hastily discarded riot shields, a stark reminder of the volatility of relations at Temple Mount which had suddenly closed the day before due to unrest.
The entrance walkway:
Overlooking the Western Wall from the Temple Mount walkway:
We entered into a large tree lined courtyard which houses the famous Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The security presence is noticeable and, while the guards were friendly at the point of entry, visitors are under constant surveillance and the underlying tension is the price paid for the constant glare of visitor eyes and cameras placed on those who are there to worship.
First glimpse at Dome of the Rock:
Dome of the Rock
Despite not being allowed access to the inside of the Dome of the Rock it was still incredible to be in in the vicinity of such a beautiful and noteworthy shrine. Dome of the Rock is one of Jerusalem’s most recognizable landmarks and the exquisite blue mosaic covered exterior is in stunning contrast to its golden dome.
The Foundation Stone in the floor of the Dome of the Rock is regarded by the Jewish faith as the holiest site on Earth and is the location from which Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac and where God gathered the dust that created Adam. Jewish prayer is forbidden on Temple Mount and, as a result, the tradition of praying at the closest accessible point to the Foundation Stone, the Western Wall, emerged.
Entrance to Dome of the Rock is closely monitored:
In Islam, some consider Dome of the Rock the location from which the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven accompanied by the angel Gabriel from the Dome of the Rock while other scholars believe it was from the nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque.
For Christians, the site is where Jesus challenged the corrupt practices taking place in the Temple and predicted that the Temple would ultimately be destroyed.
The ‘Farthest Mosque’ is the third holiest site in Islam. Israeli Muslims and East Jerusalem Palestinians are granted access during periods of stability in Jerusalem. Younger men and women are sometimes refused access during Friday prayers when the situation is considered to be most volatile.
Visiting Temple Mount was an incredible experience. It took our breath away to be in the vicinity of such an incredible religious landmark and witness first hand the site of continued acute conflict. Despite the tensions and security the area was calm and serene and we really felt that we were in a special place which was a privilege to visit.
While it’s disappointing not to be allowed to enter the interior of the Dome of the Rock shrine and the Al-Aqsa Mosque given their historic significance, we were aware of the restrictions prior to arriving in Jerusalem and felt that visiting Temple Mount gave us some insight into the conflicts in the region. While it does take some effort to access Temple Mount as a non-Muslim (check out our guide here) it was still one of the highlights of our time in Jerusalem.
If you’re planning to visit Temple Mount check out our step by step guide to gaining access as a tourist here: