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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Secrets under the Al-Aqsa Mosque: A Photographic Essay

Filed under: Israel, Jerusalem, Jerusalem in Historical Context

The current Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammed Ahmad Hussein, declared on October 25, 2015, that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was a mosque built on the site “3,000 years ago, and 30,000 years ago… since the creation of the world.”

Temple Mount, 1915.
Temple Mount, 1915. Al Aqsa Mosque on the left, Dome of the Rock on the right. The domed Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue is on the horizon between Al Aqsa and the tree. (Photographed by Bernhard Moritz, Library of Congress1 and Ottoman Imperial Archives2 )

In his interview with Israel’s Channel 2, the Mufti also insisted that there never was a Jewish Temple or shrine atop the Temple Mount.3

Short History Lesson

Jews believe that the “foundation rock” beneath the Dome of the Rock is atop Mt. Moriah, the site of the binding of Isaac. King Solomon built his Temple upon the rock in the tenth century before the Common Era (BCE), but it was destroyed in 587 BCE by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Seventy years later, the second Temple was built by Jews returning from Babylon with King Cyrus’s blessing. Years later it was rededicated by the Maccabees in approximately 160 BCE after its defiling by the Seleucids.

Interior of the Dome of the Rock
Interior of the Dome of the Rock and the “Foundation Stone” on which the Jewish Temples were built.
(Maison Bonfils, circa 1870, Library of Congress)

In the first century BCE, the Second Temple, built by the returnees from Babylon, was rebuilt and massively expanded by King Herod. To accommodate the large Temple building and administrative offices, the Mt. Moriah plateau was expanded to become a colossal platform with huge retaining walls. The Western Wall, the prayer site for Jews over the centuries, was part of the retaining walls. Roman armies commanded by Titus destroyed the Temple in 70 CE.

Muslims believe that Muhammed (570 – 632 CE) was transported on a heavenly creature from Mecca to the Al Aqsa Mosque and then to heaven in his “Night Journey.” The mosque was constructed in the late seventh century CE and rebuilt several times after major earthquakes destroyed it.

The golden Dome of the Rock is a shrine built over the foundation stone in 691 CE.

The Crusaders captured Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in 1099 and converted the Al Aqsa Mosque into a palace and the Dome of the Rock into a church. Saladin captured Jerusalem in 1187 and restored the mosque.

The 1927 Earthquake Revealed More about the Mosque

The current Mufti surely knows that the Al Aqsa Mosque suffered a major collapse during an earthquake in 1927. Renovation took several years, and in that period at least two Christian photographers, including British archeologist Robert Hamilton, ventured into and under the mosque. Hamilton, from the British Archaeological Authority, “photographed, sketched, excavated and analyzed” what he saw, according to Nadav Shragai, a scholar on Jerusalem, writing in Yisrael HaYom.4 But Hamilton promised the Islamic Authorities, the Waqf, that he would make “no mention of any findings that the Muslims would have found inconvenient” such as findings from the time of the Jewish Temples. The photographers documented the mosaics, passageways, cisterns, and lumber that apparently were part of the Temples.

Many of Hamilton’s photos may be viewed today on the site of the British Authority’s successor, the Israel Antiquities Authority.5 Other pictures may be found in the Library of Congress’ archives of the American Colony photographers.

Al Aqsa rafters
(Israel Antiquities Authority Archives)
Al Aqsa rafters
After collapse of the roof of Al Aqsa, only the rafters remained. Analyses of the beams showed they were cedar and cypress wood; carbon dating showed some dated back more than 2,000 years, suggesting they had been used in earlier structures.6 In the top picture the Porat Yosef Yeshiva with its white dome can be seen on the right. It was destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948.
(Israel Antiquities Authority Archives)
Al Aqsa after the earthquake
Al Aqsa after the earthquake. The two domes on the horizon are the Hurva and Tiferet Yisrael Synagogues that were destroyed in 1948 by the Jordanians.
(Israel Antiquities Authority Archives)

Under the Al Aqsa Ruins

The two photographers documented what they found under the al Aqsa ruins, on the other side of the sealed “Double Gate” (Sha’arei Chulda) along the interior of the southern wall of the Temple Mount. The American Colony photographer captioned this picture, “The Temple area. The Double Gate. Ancient entrance to temple beneath el Aksa.”7

Subterranean passage
Subterranean passage leading north from the Double Gate toward the center of the Temple Mount.
(Library of Congress)
Column in the subterranean passage
Column in the subterranean passage. The Library of Congress caption reads, “The Temple area. The Double Gate. Ancient entrance showing details of carving.” 8
Subterranean passageway
(Israel Archaeological Authority)
Subterranean passageway
Two pictures taken by Hamilton of columns and subterranean passageways leading from the Double Gate toward the center of the Temple Mount.
(Israel Archaeological Authority) 9

Many of these sites and structures may have been destroyed in recent years by the Waqf’s (Muslim Council) bulldozers during their construction of subterranean mosques under the Temple Mount. Fortunately, photographs still exist and were digitized by archivists so we can document what were probably parts of the Jewish Temple complex and what the Mufti denies.

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2 Ottoman Imperial Archives,
3 “Jerusalem Mufti: Temple Mount never Housed Jewish Temple,” Times of Israel,
6 Journal of Archaeological Science, 1997.


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Lenny Ben-David publishes where many of these pictures first appeared.