Temple Mount (al- Haram al- Sharif), Dome of the Rock in sight, west approach, Old City, Jerusalem
Located in the Old City's Muslim Quarter, this is the world's third holiest shrine to Muslims (after the Kaaba in Mecca and the Tomb of the Propher in Medina), which signifies the spot where the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended into Heaven.
Before the Muslims took over Jerusalem was held by Christians. In the fourth century Constantine the Great built churches over the Holy Sepulcher and on the Mount of Olives, and in the sixth century Justinian dedicated a church to the Mother of God. Justinian's church had a roof structure of large cedar beams; according to Procopius (De Aedificiis, V,6) it stood on the Temple platform.
The period of Muslim rule on the Temple Mount was interrupted by the coming of the Crusaders, who held Jerusalem from 1099 to 1187 and plundered the Dome of the Rock and the El-Aqsa Mosque (less generous than Caliph Omar, who had spared the church of the Holy Sepulcher). The first kings of Jerusalem resided in the El-Aqsa Mosque, but later made it over to the Order of the Temple (founded 1149), which took its name from the Templum Salomonis (El-Aqsa) and Templum Domini (Dome of the Rock).
After Jerusalem was recaptured for Islam by Saladin in 1187 there was much further building on the Temple platform, particularly by the Mamelukes. The Dome of the Rock was damaged by grenades during the fighting between Israelis and Arabs in 1948 but was restored, with a new golden dome, by Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia between 1958 and 1964. During the Six Day War Israeli troops reached the Wailing Wall on June seventh 1967, since when it has been freely accessible again to Jews.
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Modern civilization began right here in the Tigris-Euphrates river valley. Also known as the Fertile Crescent or Mesopotamia, this is the place where, six thousand years ago, agriculture, writing and mathematics were brought into widespread use.
The term "Middle East" comes from the British navy, which used it to describe the countries on the trade route from Europe to India and China. Everything from Afghanistan to Morocco may possibly be classified as "middle eastern", depending on whom you ask -- and when.
Only a partial list of past Empires in the middle eastern territory includes Sumeria, Babylonia, Persia, the Ottoman Empire and the Roman Empire!
When northern Europe was still lurking about in slimy cold stone castles playing chess, the Middle East was enjoying the flowers of poetry, luxurious craftsmanship, music and literature. In fact, the Renaissance in Europe was partly inspired by stories brought back from the middle east by travelers along the trade route.
Strategic location, religious history and the world's largest supply of crude oil have kept the Middle East at the center of world activity for centuries. The saga continues.
Text by Steve Smith.