Dome of the Rock. Monument in Jerusalem, Israel

Dome of the Rock

Monument in Jerusalem, Israel

The Dome of the Rock Photo © Asim Bharwani

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Dome of the Rock

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The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Israel is recognized as one of the earliest works and a masterpiece of Islamic architecture. Also called Qubbat, it is the third holiest shrine in Islam after the Kaaba (Wikipedia Article) at Mecca, and the Prophet’s Tomb in Medina. One of the most recognizable landmarks in Jerusalem, it is located on the Temple Mount. Contrary to general belief, the Dome of the Rock is not a mosque but a ciborium constructed on a site that is considered holy. The edifice is of immense significance to Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. The rock within the shrine, Muslims believe, is the rock from where Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven during Isra (Wikipedia


The shrine is located at the center of the Temple Mount, called ‘Mount Moriah’ in the Bible. Both Jews and Muslims concur that Mount Moriah was also the hill where Abraham prepared an altar to sacrifice to God, his only son Isaac, upon His command. The Dome of the Rock is believed to have been on a site where once stood the Jewish Second Temple, built in 516 BC under Darius the Great, to replace the First Temple. The First Temple, built by Solomon in 957 BC, was destroyed in 586 BC by the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar.

The Second Temple was razed in 70 AD by the Romans, who built a temple dedicated to Jupiter, the King of Greek Gods, on the site. In the fifth century, with the disintegration of the Roman Empire, The Byzantines took over Jerusalem. The then-Christians thronged the temple to be in the same place that Jesus once walked upon. In 638 AD, the Umayyad (Wikipedia Article) captured Jerusalem. They ruled over a vast empire for more than 4 centuries.

Construction and architecture

The Ummayad Caliph Abd al-Malik ordered the Dome of the Rock to be built, and the task was assigned to two engineers. Raja ibn Haywah al-Kundi was an Arabic calligraphist and artist, while Yazid ibn Sallam was native of Jerusalem and a Muslim. The construction of the shrine was spread over three years between 689 and 691. It is believed that by building the Dome of the Rock, Abd al-Malik wanted to usurp the privilege enjoyed by Mecca as the holiest site in Islam. Abd al-Malik also renovated and expanded the Al Aqsa Mosque, built by Caliph Umar a few years earlier.

The construction of the shrine, as can be seen from the architecture, was greatly influenced by the Christian churches and shrines and other buildings constructed during the Byzantine era. The buildings were either circular or octagonal in shape. The Dome of the Rock is octagonal in shape. It is also the first instance when a dome was constructed atop a mosque or a shrine in Islamic history. The size of the dome looks like an effort to rival the dome on the Church of Holy Sepulcher close by. Christian churches at that time and other Byzantine buildings were replete with domes.

The dome, 20.20 meters in diameter, is constructed on a double frame made of wood and is mounted on a cylindrical drum which has 12 columns and 4 piers. Outside the circle is an octagonal arcade consisting of 16 columns and 8 piers. Inside, the dome is decorated and gilded with stuccos. The outside of the dome was originally covered in lead. The lead was later replaced with copper, followed by aluminum. The aluminum is now covered with beaten gold leaves. On the top of the dome is a full moon. A person looking through the aperture in the moon will be looking in the direction of Mecca.

The building, following the octagonal arcade that supports the dome, is itself octagonal with each side 18 meters long and 8 meters high. Both the dome and the walls have many windows. The walls are covered with porcelain tiles, blue and gold in color, and were installed during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1500s. The artwork on the walls, done with wood, marble, stone, and other materials, indicate that the work was done during different regimes and periods.

The interior walls, surrounding the rock of Isra, are richly decorated with mosaic and intricate geometrical shapes and patterns. As in other Muslim shrines and mosques, all decoration is artwork or calligraphy since Allah cannot be depicted in a figurative form. It is believed that Prophet Mohammed was escorted by Gabriel and convinced by Abraham, Moses, and other prophets to lead the prayer at the Dome of the Rock before he ascended to heaven on Buraq, the heavenly steed.

Later History

In 1095, Pope Urban II, sanctioned the Crusades (Wikipedia Article) aimed at restoring access to Christians to the sites they considered holy in and around Jerusalem. Four years later, in 1099, the Crusaders captured Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock was occupied by the Augustinians and converted into a church. The Al-Aqsa Mosque was set up as the headquarters of the Crusaders. They called the Dome of the Rock the ‘Templum Domini’, believing it to be the site of the First Temple, the Temple of Solomon.

The Ayyubid (Wikipedia Article), led by Saladin, recaptured Jerusalem in the late 12th century and replaced the cross on the top of the dome, set up by the crusaders, with an Islamic crescent. They were followed by the Ottomans in the the early 16th century who, under Suleiman the Magnificent, contributed largely to the beautification of the shrine. Over the next four centuries, the Ottomans built the Dome of the Prophet next to the edifice. In the early 19th century, Mahmud II had major renovations made to the Dome of the Rock.

In 1917, the British gained control of Palestine and the present-day Jordan, then called Palestine. The British, after the Second World War proposed a plan for the formation of a Jewish state, to which the United Nations Organization agreed on 17th November 1947. Conflicts between Jews and the Palestinian Muslims had started long before the British left the region, and the Jewish leaders declared the formation of the state of Israel. Wars with the combined might of the neighboring Arab nations ensued. Israel prevailed and scored a decisive victory in the six-day war in 1967.

Since then, the Dome of the Rock has been maintained by Jordan. The Israeli police enforce the restrictions that have been drawn to prevent any unrest in the city. Access to non-Muslims is restricted and they are not permitted to pray on the Temple Mount. Access to Muslims too is restricted on days of major Islamic festivals.

Visiting the Dome of the Rock

Since 2006, non-Muslims can visit the Temple Mount from 7.30 AM to 11.30 AM and from 1.30 PM to 2.30 PM. They are not allowed entry on Fridays, Saturdays, and on Muslim festival days. The security screening for visitors is strict. It is better to start early in the morning, and entry for non-Muslims is through a narrow entrance at the Wailing Wall.

Jerusalem is just 60 kilometers away from Tel Aviv, the capital city of Israel, and the Ben Gurion International Airport. It is well connected by road to other important towns and cities in Israel. The best time to visit Jerusalem is the months of April and May, and later October and November, when the temperatures and weather are mild. Crowds are usually less in these months. A visitor must, however, check for Jewish and Muslim holidays when the place is crowded and accommodation is costlier.

Places of interest in Jerusalem

On the Temple Mount itself, there is the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Western Wall, or the Wailing Wall, is the holiest of Jewish shrines. A personal prayer written on a piece of paper and stuck between the stones of the wall, it is believed, is always answered.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is close to the Temple Mount. Built in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine, and was rebuilt by the Crusaders in the mid twelfth century. Almost all sects of Christians share the church for celebrating their traditions.

Yad Vashem is a memorial to the Holocaust victims, and some of the oldest synagogues are located in the Jewish Quarter.

The Tower of David Museum, or the Museum of the History of Jerusalem, is interesting and affords a panoramic view of Jerusalem as is also seen from The King David Hotel.

The Mahane Yehuda Market, more than a century old is a good stop for souvenir and shopping.

Hekezia’s Tunnel, built more than 2,700 years ago is a tunnel with gushing water connecting the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Sloam.

The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens has some of the near-extinct animals of the region, some of them dating back to Biblical times, and also has a model of Noah’s Ark.

Staying in Jerusalem

There are many hotels close to the Donme of the Rock, and in Old Jerusalem. The Abraham Hostel (Davidika Square), Citadel Guest House (St. Mark Road), Jaffa Gate Hostel (Jaffa Gate) and the Jerusalem Panorama Hotel (Hill of Gethsamane) are all budget hotels. Hotel Yehuda, Arthur Hotel Jerusalem, Inbal Jerusalem Hotel, David Citadel Hotel, Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, and Harmony Hotel Jerusalem are all starred and high-end hotels in the Old City.

The food that one gets to eat depends on which quarter of Jerusalem one is in. In Old Jerusalem there are the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter.

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Author: jackmartis. Last updated: Oct 19, 2014

Pictures of Dome of the Rock

Jerusalem "Dome of the Rock" - Dome of the Rock
Jerusalem "Dome of the Rock" - Photo by Florian Seiffert

Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock as seen from David's Tower - The Citadel of David - Dome of the Rock
Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock as seen from David's Tower - The Citadel of David - Photo by Brian Negin

Interior of the dome and semi-domes - Dome of the Rock
Interior of the dome and semi-domes - Dome of the Rock. Photo by Landahlauts


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