The al-Aqsa mosque apparently was constructed by Abd al-Malik or his son, al-Walid (ruled 705—715). It sits at the southern end of the Temple Mount, in the area of Herod's Royal Stoa. Unlike the Dome of the Rock, the al-Aqsa mosque has been modified through repeated repairs and reconstructions. Much of the current mosque, including the facade, is the result of later modifications. The original building is thought to have been a broad hall consisting of a central nave flanked on each side by seven rows of columns, which created seven aisles (a hypostyle plan typical of early Islamic mosques). A niche called a qibla in the south wall at the end of the nave marks the direction of prayer (toward Mecca). The ceiling of the nave immediately in front of the qibla had a dome, but the rest of the building was covered with a flat ceiling carried on wooden beams.
The Dome of the Rock is a monument enshrining a central focal point that was designed to facilitate the circumambulation of multitudes of pilgrims. In contrast, the al-Aqsa mosque is a hall for congregational prayer and worship, analogous to synagogues and churches. For example, when Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem in 1977, he prayed in the al-Aqsa mosque, not in the Dome of the Rock. Although in plan the al-Aqsa mosque is a broad house because of the extra aisles, it is similar to a basilica in having a focal point at the end of the nave.
The Area to the South and West of the Temple Mount
After the Six-Day War in 1967, the Israeli archaeologist Benjamin Mazar conducted large-scale excavations around the southern and western sides of the Temple Mount (the British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon had carried out limited excavations in this area in the 1960s). Mazar's excavations brought to light
17.4 Reconstruction of the Umayyad palatial or administrative buildings around the Temple Mount. From The Mountain of the Lord by Benjamin Mazar, assisted by Gaalyah Cornfield, copyright (CD 1975 by Hamikra Baolam, Ltd. Used by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.