The Al Aqsa Mosque was built by the Muslim Caliph Al-Walid 20 years after the erection of the Dome of the Rock, in the year 711, at the far side of the Temple Mount platform to identify the compound as the place from which Mohammed ascended to heaven. Al-Aqsa means the farthest point, and refers to Mohammed’s miraculous night flight on his winged horse, Al-Buraq, from Mecca to Jerusalem and back.
Over the past 1,300 years the building has undergone many alterations, including after parts of it collapsed during earthquakes and wars. In the 12th century the mosque was taken over by the Knights Templar, who used it as their main headquarters in Israel. They called it Templum Salomonis (Royal Palace of Solomon) and architectural elements from that period can still be seen on the façade of the building and its eastern side. Beneath the building, where King Herod built up the hillside, the Crusaders stabled their horses and called the site Solomon’s stables, even though there is no connection between them and the First Temple Period and King Solomon.
After Saladin took over the city in 1187, the mosque was returned to its original purpose and has been under Muslim control ever since. Today it is administered by the Waqf, the Muslim authority that manages the Muslim holy sites in Israel. The mosque’s lead dome can be seen from various observation points around the Old City, but only Muslims are allowed into the prayer hall.