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  General and Old World HistoryAsiaIsrael (Palestine)Jerusalem
Dome of the Rock

holy sight for Jews, Christians, and Muslims

Dome of the Rock

Also known as Qubbet el-Sakhra, the Dome of the Rock stands atop Jerusalem's Temple Mount. The Sacred Rock (as-Sakhra) it was built around is believed by Jews and Christians to be the spot where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac, and Muslims believe that Muhammad made his Night Journey (Miraaj) to Heaven from the same rock. Muslims also believe that an angel will come back to the Rock to sound the trumpet call of the Last Judgment. The Dome of the Rock stands where the Temple of Solomon and Herod's Temple once stood.

The structure seen today was built by the Caliph Abd al-Malik between 688 and 691 and has remained structurally unchanged since, making it the oldest Islamic shrine in the world. The dome, which is meant to represent Muhammad's "upward journey," was originally built of wood covered with gold but is now made of aluminum covered with gold. The dome is topped by a full moon oriented so that by looking through it you look in the direction of Mecca. The rest of the structure is constructed of marble. The octagonal shape of the building represents the Earth. Each outer wall is 67 feet long, which is also the dome's exact diameter and height (as measured from the ground to the base of the drum).

close up of tile work on exteriorThe exterior of the Dome of the Rock was originally decorated with glass tiles. Many of those tiles were damaged over the centuries, and they were replaced by ceramic tiles during the Mamluk Period. The tiles were again replaced during restoration work commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1545. Suleiman also had the 16 stained-glass windows that originally adorned the upper walls removed and replaced with mosaic work. Verses from the Qur'an are "written" in the mosaic band around the top of the octagonal walls, and the band just below the dome "tells" the story of Muhammad's Ascension as described in the Qur'an. All of the inscriptions were added during Suleiman's restoration work.

interior of the Dome of the RockThe interior of the Dome of the Rock is also richly decorated with mosaics featuring stylized representations of vegetation and related themes (Muslim law forbids the representation of living beings in art), as well as representations of the many Persian crowns sent to Mecca by Caliph Omar. The decoration includes an exhortation for Christians to recognize the truth of Islam, written in classical Arabic, that generally translates to: "O you People of the Book, overstep not bounds in your religion, and of God speak only the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only an apostle of God, and his Word which he conveyed unto Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from him. Believe therefore in God and his apostles, and say not Three.  It will be better for you. God is only one God. Far be it from his glory that he should have a son." The cupola features elaborate floral decorations in red and gold, and various inscriptions; the main inscription commemorates Saladin.

the rock around which the Dome of the Rock was builtInside the Dome of the Rock, an octagonal arcade follows the exterior shape. An open space between it and a central circle forms an ambulatory around the Rock and is carpeted in lush red. An area between the inner and outer octagons forms another ambulatory, which is carpeted in green. The ambulatories recall the ritual circular movement of pilgrims around the Ka'ba in Mecca. The columns inside the Dome are of different sizes, as they were recycled from previous structures. The mihrab (a niche showing the direction of Mecca) is original to the structure, making it the oldest in the world.

The sacred rock around which the Dome of the Rock was built sits directly below the dome. Once directly exposed to pilgrims, a wooden screen was erected around the Rock by Ayyubid sultan al-Aziz in 1198. The wooden screen was replaced by one of wrought-iron during the Crusades by the Knights Templar, who located their headquarters here. The iron screen was removed and placed on display in the Islamic Museum in 1960 and a more "pilgrim-friendly" protective screen was put in its place.

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This page was last updated on January 01, 2015.

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