So what links the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to the Knights Templar?
The Temple Mount is an artificial platform large constructed by the biblical King Herod in Jerusalem. It supported an enormous Jewish Temple and later – when the city came under Muslim rule – the Al Aqsa mosque. That mosque then became the HQ of the Knights Templar when crusaders took the city in 1099.
They renamed it the Temple or Palace of Solomon believing this had been the residence of the great Jewish king – who built the first Temple. That was destroyed by the Babylonians, restored with the permission of the Persian King Cyrus, vastly embellished by King Herod and then destroyed again by the Romans.
Under the emperor Hadrian – after the Second Jewish Revolt – all vestiges of the Herodian temple were removed and a whole layer of the stone platform was hacked away. As if Hadrian was trying to somehow cleanse it of any Jewish presence. It then was declared a temple to Jupiter though the Romans never seem to have got round to building it.
The Knights Templar were convinced that underneath the vast Temple Mount platform was the original Temple of Solomon, built two thousand years before the Templars and a thousand years before King Herod. So they took over the Al Aqsa mosque, basing themselves directly on the Temple Mount.
Today, you can see the huge stone platform built by Herod but no Temple on top of it. Why? Because under the Roman Empire the Jewish people of Jerusalem revolted twice. And after those revolts the emperors Vespasian, Titus and Hadrian utterly destroyed the temple and carried off its treasures. That grand theft is even celebrated on the ancient arch of Titus that you can still see in Rome.
The trauma of this destruction by the Romans was so great that a small sect called the Christians decided that was the time to put in writing the life of their saviour Jesus Christ. In the resulting gospels you have Jesus predicting the destruction of the Jewish Temple, which in fact had already happened.
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Temple Mount and the Knights Templar HQ
In 1099, Prince Tancred took Jerusalem in an orgy of blood with deaths of Muslims and Jews estimated between 3,000 and 70,000. The former figure is more realistic. But still shocking. The main arena for the massacre was the Temple Mount. By this time, it had gone through an interesting transformation.
When Jerusalem fell to Muslim armies in the seventh century after Christ, it was a thriving Byzantine (late Roman) metropolis. Not the sleepy backwater some say. In fact the population was relatively high. The new Muslim rulers appropriated the Temple Mount weaving the Qur’an’s account of the prophets into new buildings like the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque.
After 1099, the crusaders and Knights Templar took over the Temple Mount. The Al Aqsa was briefly the palace of the king of Jerusalem and the HQ for the Knights Templar. It was believed to sit on top of Solomon’s palace and stables. The Dome of the Rock became the Templum Domini and to the horror of Muslims, a huge gold cross was put on top of the dome. Apparently, wealthy Muslim traders repeatedly offered large sums to the crusaders and Knights Templar to take it down – to no avail.
The Knights Templar legacy on Temple Mount
Even though Jerusalem came back under Muslim control when Saladin kicked out the crusaders, a Templar legacy was left behind. They had significantly enlarged the Al Aqsa mosque. The women’s mosque and the gift shop are all part of large Templar extensions. If you look around the whole Temple Mount area, there are loads of “Frankish” additions – even within the Dome of the Rock.
Just as an aside – for some reason, the Templars didn’t remove the Arabic inscription inside the Dome of the Rock that denies the existence of the Trinity – and declares there is only one God and Muhammad is his prophet (the Shahada). Given that the Knights Templar definitely knew what this meant, I don’t know how or why it remained.
Knights Templar tunnels under the Temple Mount
Intriguingly, the Templars spent a great deal of time digging under the Temple Mount. Believing it was the site of the first Temple, they were clearly keen to see what sacred relics could be discovered. Even though finding the Ark of the Covenant could have proved to be a mixed blessing. It might have given the Templars unlimited military power – equally, it might have blown up in their faces. All depending how Yahweh felt about the knights I suppose!
The tunnels include work in the area known today as the Wailing Wall. It’s actually the western wall of the Herodian temple. This is where Jewish people come to pray and weep over the fate of their beloved temple at the hands of the Romans. The larger blocks of stone towards the bottom of the wall – and those stones are huge – date from King Herod. Further up are medium-sized blocks from the early Muslim period (the Umayyad period) and then above much smaller stones from the Ottoman empire that ruled Palestine up to 1917.
To the west is Wilson’s Arch which was named after a Victorian explorer. It’s actually one of the piers of a bridge that connected the Temple to the old city. It allowed Jewish worshippers to easily access the temple to pray but also conduct mandatory animal sacrifices. The animals in question were bought on the Temple Mount – hence the money changers mentioned in the New Testament. It was good business!
Going under the arch, I found an enclosed area which is now a de facto synagogue. A constant hum of prayer and plastic chairs for older visitors. Here I am below in 2012 paying a visit – without a beard!!!