- Old City
Lonely Planet review for Al-Aqsa Mosque
The name Al-Aqsa means 'farthest mosque' and is in reference to the isra Mohammed is believed to have made on his way to heaven to join Allah. While the Dome of the Rock serves more as a masthead than a mosque, Al-Aqsa is a functioning house of worship, accommodating up to 5000 praying supplicants at a time.
Believed by some to be a conversion of a 6th-century Byzantine church, Muslims maintain that Al-Aqsa was built from scratch in the early 8th century by the son of Abd al-Malik, patron of the Dome. Clarification of the issue is complicated because nothing much remains from the original structure, which was twice destroyed by earthquakes in its first 60 years. The present-day mosque is a compendium of restorations, with columns donated, strangely enough, by Benito Mussolini and the elaborately painted ceilings courtesy of Egypt's King Farouk. The intricately carved mihrab (prayer niche indicating the direction of Mecca), however, does date from the time of Saladin, as did an equally magnificent carved wood pulpit that was lost in a 1969 fire started by a deranged Australian Christian.