A common misconception regarding the Dome of the Rock, which is perhaps the image most associated with the Temple Mount, is that it is a mosque.
In fact, it is a shrine whose significance is derived from the Foundation Stone, which lies at its heart. Indeed, the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Al Masjid Al-Aqsa in Arabic), often confused with the Dome of the Rock, is where Muslims worship when they come to the Mount, which is considered the third holiest site to Islam after Mecca and Medina.
The mosque is the second oldest in the world, after the Kaaba in Mecca. Although Muslim tradition dates Al-Aqsa back to Isaac’s son, Jacob, the mosque was first built at its present location by the Ummayad Caliph Abd al-Malik and his son al-Walid, and completed in 705 CE. In the ensuing centuries, the structure was destroyed by earthquakes several times, always to be restored by the ruling caliph.
The mosque’s name, Al-Aqsa, literally means “the farthest,” and is a reference to Muhammad’s “Night Journey” from Mecca. In this context, “farthest” means “farthest from Mecca” and is widely believed to connote Jerusalem, although the Koran does not mention the city by name.
Besides the different usages, another thing that distinguishes the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the Dome of the Rock is its design. As opposed to the Dome of Rock’s Byzantine style, Al-Aqsa Mosque is characteristic of early Islamic architecture. It is 35,000 square meters in size and its larger precincts can contain up to 400,000 worshipers. It has four minarets and a beautiful, tile-covered facade with 14 Romanesque arches. The Al-Aqsa Mosque’s main ablution fountain, known as al-Kas (“the cup”), which is used by worshipers to wash their arms and legs, is located between Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. It dates back to 709 CE.
The mosque is on the southern end of the Temple Mount, which visitors can access from the Western Wall plaza. Tourists must dress modestly, and women should cover their hair. Shoes are not allowed inside the mosque, but instead are left outside on shelves or carpeting.