Believe it or not, I did not really have a whole lot on my "to-do" or "must see" lists when we decided to come to Jerusalem. I didn't do a whole lot of research either, I just sort of thought there's a lot to see and we will be able to easily do so. Some quick research led me to information about Temple Mount and quite quickly I had this at the top of my non-existent list.
I'm not going to get into the history and various details about Temple Mount itself, there are plenty of websites out there that can provide so much more than I can, but suffice it to say it is considered a to be a very holy place for Muslims, Jews and Christians. Seeing as our time in Jerusalem corresponded with both Easter and Passover, we had some concerns about the kinds of crowds we might find here during this time.
Based on what I'd read on the internet, I knew there to be only one gate that is open for non Muslims to enter through to the Temple Mount which is located near the Western Wall. I also knew that there would be security to go through and that there are limited times for visitors (at the time of writing this 7:30 - 10:30 and 1:30 -2:30 Mon-Thurs). I also knew that they could decide to close the entrance at any time without warning and that we should expect a long line if we get there too late. The other thing I knew was to dress "modestly" and understood one could not wear shorts or show shoulders. I had also read that knees should not be showing as well, so I made sure to wear the longest skirt I have.
Our journey to Temple Mount
We found ourselves up early the Monday after Easter and headed out to Temple Mount. Our walk took us around the Western Wall and into the "Moroccan Gate". There were very few people in line and so we whisked right through security and up into the complex. I want to note that we saw a couple of Jewish guys who needed to show their ID, remove their shoes and leave their bags behind before they were allowed through security. I'm not sure what this was all about, but it certainly piqued my curiosity as we did not have to do the same.
As I walked inside, I was quickly met with a brusque "You cannot come in like this. Do you have a long scarf or something to wrap around your legs?" I did not. I had a scarf in case I needed to wrap my head but it was not big enough to cover my calves and allow me to move. I was so disappointed because I felt I had planned for this. And the guys were super rude. Not nearly as rude as when they asked a German fellow behind us if he thought he was going to the beach (to be fair he was wearing shorts and had his shoulder exposed). It seemed as if I was going to be turned back when one of the men told me and the German fellow to head across to the other gate where we could be "helped".
And so we walked across to the other gate where we found a handful of additionally rude men. One of them told me to wait there and he came back with a box of clothes. He handed me a really cheap long purple knit skirt and said "25 shekels" (which amounts to about $6). I was super irritated at having to pay the money but it was either that or I would have to come back and chance not being able to get in. So we paid the 25 shekels and I pulled my Grimace colored skirt on over the one I was wearing. The German guy was not so kind about paying the money but also did so.
I was really taken aback by this behavior and request for money. We've been to religious sites and Buddhist temples all over the world and they always have a stash of wraps or covers for people to borrow while they are in the temple if they are inappropriately dressed for the site. It felt as if they just wanted to make money off of me and were put out that I wasn't dressed modestly enough for them. Honestly, I did my research and nothing stated I needed to cover down to my ankles. I was frustrated, felt bad and looked like a grape, but was undaunted and headed into the complex.
once inside Temple Mount
Once inside the walls, you are instantly met with the focal point of the entire complex, the Dome of the Rock. I have been obsessed with getting in to see this beautiful structure since we arrived in Jerusalem. You can see it from so many points throughout the region, that it is almost beckoning you to come in, come in. It is beautiful. It is huge. It is covered in beautiful tiles and mosaics and the gold dome just sparkles.
But something was off. There are guards everywhere roughly telling people "no" around every corner, "No" you can't walk there. "No" you need to cover your legs. "No" you can't go in. It's not a very welcoming environment and didn't provide me with a very calm feeling. I was so worrying about being yelled at again and told "no" that I didn't want to go anywhere that didn't seem "right".
I'm all for respecting boundaries and I understand cultural and language differences. But there was a palpable sense that they really didn't want non-observant individuals there and they just sort of suffer through because they have to.
We took our time wandering around the plaza and looking at the other amazing domed structures on site. The olive trees are beautiful as well, and there are several shady places for a respite. There's also what seems to be a school on premises, which we sort of quickly grazed by, lest we be "advised" by a guard that we were not allowed there.
It was getting on 10:30 and so we decided to head out. We had seen enough and felt the magnificence of the dome. We had another destination after this and Google Maps was telling us to go back through the same gate from which we entered. This seemed without controversy as I had read that we could exit any gate though only allowed to enter through the one. Well, that's not true. While you can enter through the Moroccan Gate you cannot exit and if you try, you will be likely met with another harsh "No. Go back" from the guard. And so we walked on to the other gate. I started to remove my "over skirt" and was quickly told to just put it there with a dismissive hand gesture.
Sure enough there was a pile of other skirts sitting there and I tossed mine on top. I asked if I get my money back and the guy said no so we decided we were going to keep it. As Zac bent down to pick it up, the one guard started saying "exit now, over here" to which I said "I know" and he started back with "if you know, then exit now". So we shoved our new possession in Zac's bag and headed for the gate.
our last impressions
From beginning to end this was not a very pleasant experience. But this is the same for the kind of interactions we've had throughout Jerusalem (but I'll save that for another post). The site is beautiful and provides moments of tranquility and reflection. I'm so glad we went to see the Temple Mount (and Dome of the Rock) and I'm glad that I was able to get the skirt so we could get in.
If you go, make sure you are covered (though I saw women with capri pants on that came just below the knee) or have something that you can cover with and be prepared to be told "no" a whole lot. But if you've been in Jerusalem for a few days you will be used to it.
images from temple mount