About a week ago, I paid a visit to the Temple Mount, called in Hebrew הר הבית ("mountain of the House" - the House being the Jerusalem Temple that was destroyed in 70 C.E. by the Roman legions, during the Great Revolt against Roman rule). In Arabic it is the "Noble Sanctuary," referring to the Al Aksa Mosque, built on the southern side of the great platform that forms the Mount. The Dome of the Rock was built over a large rock further north, on a spot that some people believe was also the site of the Holy of Holies of the Temple. The big platform was constructed during the reign of Herod the Great, when the Temple was renovated. What is called the "Western Wall" (called הכותל המערבי in Hebrew) is part of the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, built at the time of the expansion of the platform in order to help support the platform. It is not a remnant of the Second Temple. As Jim Davila has frequently written, many Muslims today (in particular, many Palestinians, including the Islamic Movement in Israel) deny the historical basis for the Jewish claim to the Temple Mount, probably due to the extended political struggle between Jews and Palestinians. Nonetheless, as he points out, the historical basis of the existence of the first and second Temples is irrefutable, and is known from Muslim as well as Jewish (and other) sources. (Karen Armstrong's book on Jerusalem has a wonderful chapter on how the first Muslim conquerors of Jerusalem recognized that the Temple had once stood on the Mount and that this is one important reason that they honored the place and even built the Al Aksa mosque and the Dome of the Rock there).
It is possible for non-Muslims to go up to the Mount for only a limited period each day (not during the time of Muslim prayers), and I managed to get to the Old City at the right time to go up the ramp to the Mughrabi Gate, just to the south of the Western Wall plaza. Before 2000 one could go into Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock as a tourist (upon payment for an entrance ticket), but since then the Waqf (the Islamic trust that controls the Mount) doesn't permit non-Muslims into the Muslim holy places. (This is as a result of the Second Intifada that broke out after Ariel Sharon went to the Temple Mount in late September 2000). I'd been up to the Mount once since then, a couple of years ago, but unfortunately didn't bring my camera that day. This time, however, I brought my camera, so I can show all my readers (all four of you?) some of the beauties of the Mount.
Front Entrance of Al Aksa Mosque
Steps leading up to the Dome of the Rock
Entrance to Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Rock from the eastern side.
Trench being built across the platform northward of the Dome of the Rock - without any archaeological supervision by the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is generally required by Israeli law, but which is not enforced on the Temple Mount because of the political situation.
Fountain for ablutions - down steps from the main platform on the western side.
Olive tree next to ablution fountain
Ablution Gate, going into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City