No trip to Jerusalem is complete without a visit to Temple Mount and the Western Wall, two of the world’s most important religious sites.
Facts About Temple Mount And The Western Wall of Jerusalem
Temple Mount is located on top of one of the hills in Jerusalem’s old city. It is the holiest site in Judaism and the third most sacred site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.
For Jewish people, Temple Mount is also known as Mount Moriah. It is on this site that the first two Temples were built and is the location for the Holy of Holies.
To avoid stepping on the Holy of Holies, many Jewish people will not walk on Temple Mount, as the precise location of the Holy of Holies is not known.
Jewish people pray at the Western Wall, which is structurally a retaining wall for Temple Mount. The Western Wall, aka the Wailing Wall or the Kotel, is the most religiously significant site in the world for the Jewish people.
For Muslims, Temple Mount is also known as the Noble Sanctuary or Haram al-Sharif. The Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Temple Mount complex is the third holiest site in the world for Islam.
The Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, one of Jerusalem’s most recognizable structures, is a shrine that contains the Foundation Stone, which marks the spot where Muhammad ascended into heaven. The golden dome can be seen from all over Jerusalem, especially from the Mount of Olives.
Muslims once faced this site to pray, until Muhammad, after a revelation from Allah, changed the direction of prayers to Mecca.
Did You Know?
The Western Wall is the only remaining section of the limestone wall of the Second Jewish Temple that was built by King Herod the Great. The wall dates back to the 2nd century BC. It is one of three supporting walls of the Temple Mount, the ancient site of the First and Second Jewish Temples.
The Second Jewish Temple was the holy temple that stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between 516 BCE and 70 CE.
Thousands of Jewish people from many different Jewish groups visit the wall every year to pray. These prayers are either spoken or written down and then placed in the cracks of the wall. There are separate entrances for men and women.
For those wishing to leave a prayer but are unable to visit the Western Wall, you can, apparently, send your prayer by email now. Really! The service is free, but you can super-charge your prayer by donating to charity.
How To Get To Temple Mount And The Western Wall In Jerusalem
Temple Mount and The Western Wall are located in the southeast corner of Jerusalem’s Old City. The closest entrances are the Damascus Gate, the Jaffa Gate, the New Gate, and the Zion Gate.
Passing Through Security Check To Enter The Western Wall Area
To enter the Western Wall area, you will have to pass through a security check. It’s just like being at airport security; you have to put your bag through an X-ray machine and walk through a scanner. There’s a separate entrance for males and females.
It’s a good idea to have your passport on you as sometimes they ask to see ID.
Opening Hours For The Western Wall
- The Western Wall is open 24 hours a day. Not surprisingly, it gets hectic during Shabbat.
- If travelling independently and want to experience the Western Wall without the crowds, visit in the evening when all the tour groups have departed.
When Is Shabbat?
Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest. It begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday.
Is Photography Permitted at the Wailing Wall?
You are allowed to take photos but do respect people’s privacy. You are requested to refrain from photography during Shabbat.
There are also other strict behaviour codes during Shabbat and Jewish festivals that include no smoking, no eating, no writing, and no using any form of digital equipment, especially smartphones.
How To Enter Temple Mount?
The visitors’ entrance for Temple Mount is via the wooden walkway that is seen by the Western Wall. To access this walkway, you’ll need to head outside of the Western Wall area, and queue up to enter near Jerusalem’s Dung Gate.
Admission to Temple Mount is free, but the site is only open during very specific and limited times. Because of this, the queue can be very long to enter, but it does move quite fast. We recommend arriving early as the grounds are quite extensive, and they are strict about how long you can stay there.
Who Controls The Temple Mount?
The Waqf, a Jordanian based Islamic religious trust organization administers the Temple Mount. Since Judaism and Islam both make claims on the Temple Mount, it is one of the most contested religious sites in the world. The Temple Mount is surrounded by Jerusalem’s Old City, which has been in Israel’s control since 1967.
You will need to pass through security metal detectors and put your belongings through the x-ray scanners. You will then walk along the wooden bridge and enter through the Bab al-Maghariba gate.
Again, it’s a good idea to carry some form of ID on you, as you may be asked to show it.
Visitors are welcome to explore and take photos of the grounds and the Dome of the Rock. But non-Muslims are unfortunately NOT allowed to enter the building of the Dome of the Rock. We tried to take a peek inside but alas, were not allowed.
Temple Mount Opening Hours
- Temple Mount is closed on Fridays and Saturdays and Muslim holidays for visitors.
- Open Sunday to Thursday from 07:30 to 10:30 and 12:30 to 13:30 in winter.
- Open Sunday to Thursday from 08:30 to 11:30 and 13:30 to 14:30 in summer.
- Occasionally, the entrance to Temple Mount is closed without notice, even when it says it’s scheduled to be open.
Dress Code For Visiting Temple Mount and Western Wall
- As both sites are religiously significant, you’ll need to dress respectfully.
It’s not that strict for visiting the Western Wall plaza, but if you want to go up close to the wall itself, there is a dress code.
- Men are required to keep their head covered, either by wearing a skull cap or a cap. Paper skull caps are available at the entrance to the prayer section.
- Women need to dress respectfully and wear a shirt with sleeves and long skirts or trousers: no bare shoulders, nor short skirts and shorts. Modest shawls and a wraparound skirt are available to borrow at the entrance to the prayer section.
- To visit Temple Mount, men should wear long trousers and long sleeves, and women need long pants or a long skirt with a shirt that covers their shoulders and elbows.
- Clothes should be loose-fitting. My jeans were considered too tight (probably from all that hummus I’d been eating), and I had to wear a wrap-round skirt.
- You can wear open-toe shoes, and you don’t need to wear a headscarf.
Our Experiences at Temple Mount And The Western Wall of Jerusalem
It was fascinating seeing the Western Wall and Temple Mount up close. If you get the chance, do visit the wall on a Friday at the start of Shabbat.
The current plaza around the wall was built in 1967 after the six-day war and is used for public gatherings, Bar Mitzvah celebrations, and swearing-in ceremonies of Israeli soldiers. There was a group of young soldiers celebrating when we were there. Seeing young soldiers screaming, shouting, and waving machine guns in the air was a little bit disconcerting.
We can understand why they would need such a vast plaza, but compared to the characterful narrow streets of the old city; it feels a little cold and soulless.
The Temple Mount complex was also huge and was a popular place for Muslim families to relax. Muslim women gossiped together under the shade of a gazebo while their children played. Walking around Temple Mount was lovely, calm, and peaceful (especially after walking the Via Dolorosa) until our hour was up, and the guards started rounding up the non-Muslims to leave.
We recommend arriving early in the morning. You’ll have better light for photos and more time to explore. Easier said than done for us!
Have you ever visited Jerusalem? Tell us about your experience.