The location of the mosque, resting on a system of vaults from the Second Temple Period, made it highly vulnerable to earthquakes. In 1033, an earthquake occurred in the Holy Land that damaged numerous buildings, including the alAqsa Mosque. Almost no trace remains of the original structure built by Umayyad Caliph alWalid at the start of the 8th century; the building we see today was built in the Middle Ages by the Fatimid dynasty (970-1099).

Al Aqsa Mosque at Night

Photo: Ron Peled

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem. Its Jewish and Muslim residents were murdered or sold into slavery and its streets were filled with monasteries and churches. In the Crusader period, the Templar Order occupied al-Aqsa Mosque, and angel. Another tradition tells about Muhammad’s ascent to Heaven, where he received the command to pray five times a day. In Muslim tradition, the Temple Mount is identified with the site of Muhammad’s ascent to Heaven and the location of the farthest mosque (in Arabic: al-Aqsa).

During the rule of the Umayyad dynasty (661-750), whose capital was Damascus, great importance was attached to Jerusalem, and chief religious and governmental buildings were built there. At the end of the 7th century and at the beginning of the 8th century the Umayyad rulers called it by the name of Templum Salomonis – the “Royal Palace of Solomon.”

Al-Aqsa Mosque’s Interior

Photo: Gad Rize

Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin), an officer of Kurdish origin, succeeded in uniting the Muslim world around the aspiration to liberate Jerusalem from the Crusaders. After Saladin’s victory over the Crusader armies in the Battle of Hattin in 1187, he entered Jerusalem as a victor, and the city returned to the hands of the Muslims.

The external façade of the mosque is an addition built in the 13th century by Saladin’s nephew, al-Malik al-Muazzam Issa, and it incorporates Crusader elements. The façade is built as a colonnade, with seven arches. The central arch is higher than the others, and leads to the mosque’s central passageway.

Mosque of Al-Aqza facade

Photo: Ron Peled

Opposite us is a round ablution fountain – alKas (in Arabic: The goblet, the cup). This is a ritual washing fountain built by Emir Tankiz, the Mameluke governor of Damascus in the 14th century. According to Muslim law, every Muslim must wash his hands, feet and face before prayer.

The Mamelukes were members of the military elite in Egypt, and in the 13th century took over the throne. These were boys who were bought in childhood as slaves from Asiatic tribes and trained their whole lives to be soldiers. Upon completion of their training, they were converted to Islam and became a loyal and very strong army. 

Numerous religious and public buildings were built in Jerusalem during the Mameluke period in a unique style.