I imagine that if there is a set of encyclopedias on the history and archaeology of Jerusalem that half of that corpus will be devoted to the Temple Mount. Pretty much since David set foot in Jerusalem and claimed it as the capital of Israel (around 3,000 years ago) it has been the focal point of Israel and then Christianity and then Islam. And being a three-way focal point leads to lots of… well… tension. And we certainly noticed that when we went up to the Temple Mount today.
The mount as you see today is a patch-work of ancient old and modern construction. If you look closely at the base/platform like structure you are actually staring at a 2000 year old retaining wall built by Herod the Great (of Matt 2 fame). This retaining wall supported the Jewish Temple and esplanade that Jesus visited on a number of occasions. The entire retaining wall platform was in fact the largest religious enclosure of its day devoted to a single deity and is unfortunate that it wasn’t officially listed in the wonders of the ancient world. (Aside: I would venture that Herod’s constructions would be 3 or 4 out of those 7 if they were to be retallied from what we know of history and arch today.)
The famous Golden dome was a later addition coming in the 7th century AD – originally commemorating Solomon’s temple. It is situated over a tiny piece of exposed bed rock like a small island poking out of a sea of limestone pavers (not Herods but newer). This small piece of bed rock is quite probably the location that the Ark of the Covenant rested in the Holy of Holies. Along with the Dome of the Rock is Al Aqsa mosque which is the place for worship on the Mount – the Dome of the Rock is not actually a mosque. And since Sept of 2000 neither of these structures has been open to the non-Muslim public (unless you have good connections)
Though I could talk about the history and archaeology of the Temple Mount until your eyes glazed, at this point I would direct you to some of the modern additions (or subtractions) from the Temple Mount. Over the last several years the Waqf (Muslims that have jurisdiction over the Mount area) have been digging and digging and digging. Rarely does this show up in the popular press – sadly. (I will give you one guess how this would go over if religious roles were reversed.) According to the official claim they dug an emergency exit off the southeastern corner of the Mount and dumped hundreds – if not thousands – of cubic yards of possibly the closest thing to priceless dirt into the adjacent valley. (see picture above and look for the grey mass on the hill side. the Golden dome is just off the pic to the left.) They didn’t dig with nice little trowels and brushes… but backhoes and tractors. Basically destroying all possibility of archaeological study as well as numerous buried artifacts.
Anyway, we went to look at this emergency exit. It was close to 30 feet wide with a finely crafted set of stairs descending into the subterranean areas of the mount but it looked like the exits and entrances to the VanAndel arena in Grand Rapids, MI. And that’s about as much as I saw because at that point we were highly encouraged to move along and look at something else. Why is looking at the ’emergency exit’ off limits? And where does the exit lead? As far as I can tell there should be hundreds of people trapped down there looking for the way out because I’ve walked on the outside of this area and didn’t see a door.
This summer the busy bees have started a new digging project cutting into prime real estate that skirts to the East of the golden Dome of the Rock area. This trench is for additional utilities coming to the Al Aqsa Mosque. The bedrock is very high here as well. Remember I said that there is exposed bedrock in the Dome? So they pretty much dug out everything down the couple of feet to bedrock which according to eye witness accounts includes walls, mosaics, and other artifacts.
Think of it; the possibility of seeing the remains of walls from the Temple that Jesus walked in!
I feel like the frustration may be hard to convey to those who have little interest/experience with Archaeology. I do recommend some external links for more detailed research of the subject.