Sorry for the delay in posting. I've been swamped since returning from Jerusalem, with work and with house blessings, which is a very interesting experience, as we go door-to-door in the days around Theophany asking people if they would like their houses blessed.
Anyway, to resume the narrative of the Jerusalem trip. On our third day, we decided to go early to the Temple Mount in order to avoid the long lines we had seen the previous day. As I mentioned previously, non-Muslims' entrance to the Temple Mount is strictly controlled, and subject to constant change at the whim of the Muslim authorities. So we arrived around 7:20 (it opened at 7:30) and got in right away. One Israeli guard--whose curiosity, I suppose, was piqued by my attire--approached me as we entered and asked where I was from. When I said "the US" he seemed satisfied, or at least unwilling to make more of an issue of it. Probably the issue for him was the controversial ban on prayer by non-Muslims on the Temple Mount. Jews are removed if their lips are seen moving in silent prayer and, ironically, Israel enforces this rule.
Since it was so early, the place was nearly deserted and blessedly free of the usual tour groups, so it was actually surprisingly quiet and peaceful up there, above the chaos that was already brewing down on the streets in the Old City. Above, I am standing in front of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Behind us here is the inside of the dome in the small Dome of the Chain, which is like a gazebo sitting just outside the Dome of the Rock.
The view out to the east from the Temple Mount. The golden domes you see belong to the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Mary Magdalene, which is situated on the Mount of Olives.
Here is a view of the famous Dome of the Rock, which is a massive shrine built on top of "the rock" -- the peak of Mt. Moriah, which most believe was the center of the Holy of Holies in both the first and second Temples.
Interestingly, the whole Temple Mount plateau--which equals 18 footfall fields--is basically a man-made construction, another engineering feat in Jerusalem, this time from Herod the Great. In renovating the Second Temple shortly before Christ's time, Herod had one mountain partially excavated--the remnants formed one corner of the plateau and the rock from the mountain was used as fill between the four retaining walls he constructed (one of which is the famous Western Wall).
At this moment in time, the Dome of the Rock is closed to non-Muslims, but there are times when the Muslim authorities randomly decide to open it again to non-Muslims. From what I understand, it is then possible to touch the rock which is the peak of Mt. Moriah, the site of so much sacred history (Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac, etc.).
Here is a close-up of one section of the wall of the Dome of the Rock. If you look closely, you can see a bird perched in one of the holes in the right-hand pane.
As I mentioned in a previous post, here is one of the many entrances/exits to the Temple Mount which only Muslims can enter through.
After we finished exploring the Temple Mount, we found a little hole-in-the-wall cafe where we had an interesting anis flavored coffee and a snack for breakfast.
For more photos from the third day, click here.