Sacred Architecture

The Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock is prominently located in the Old City of Jerusalem on an artificial platform created in the time of King Herod, which is part of an area known as the ‘Haram ash-Sharif’ (the ‘Noble Sacred Enclosure’).

The Dome of the Rock is centrally located above the rock that the Prophet Muhammed, peace and blessings be upon him, alighted from to make his Miraculous Ascension. As it is stated in the Quran, “Glory to Him, who made His servant travel by night from the sacred place of worship (the Kabah in Mecca) to the furthest place of worship (the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem), whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him some of Our signs: He alone is the All Hearing, the All Seeing.” (1:17)

To make this Ascension, the Prophet was mounted on a Buraq, a special steed, led by the Archangel Gabriel. At each stage of their ascent, the Prophet met and conversed with some of the greatest Prophets. In the First Heaven, he met Adam, who presides over this Heaven; Jesus and John the Baptist in the second Heaven; Joseph in the third; Enoch in the fourth; Moses in the fifth; Aaron in the sixth and Abraham in the seventh Heaven, on the threshold of the Divine Realm.

The Lote Tree marks this boundary between the Heavens and the Divine Realm and it was here that even the Archangel Gabriel and the Buraq could not proceed. The Prophet Muhammad was able to traverse this part of the Ascension on his own, to the Realm of the Divine Throne, as confirmed by the Quran, “and then approached – coming down until he was two bow-lengths away or even closer – and revealed to God’s servant what He revealed. The Prophet’s own heart did not distort what he saw. Are you going to dispute with him what he saw with his own eyes? A second time he saw him: by the lote tree beyond which none may pass near the Gardens of Restfulness, when the tree was covered in nameless splendor. His sight never wavered, nor was it too bold, and he saw some of the greatest signs of his Lord.” (53:8)

The Prophet was taught most of the Muslim prayers by the Angels, but the final part of the Muslim prayers were conveyed directly to the Prophet from God, during this meeting.

The Dome of the Rock is one of the first and greatest achievements of Islamic architecture, completed in 691 for the Umayyad caliph Abdul Malik. Set on a traditional holy site, drawing on its Islamic inspiration and incorporating local decoration and construction techniques, the Dome of the Rock exhibits a unique architectural outcome. It displays a harmonious completeness due to the unifying geometry that it is based on, which is used to determine both the plan and the elevations. The dome was originally made of copper but is now covered with gold leaf thanks to the financial support of the late King Hussein of Jordan. In 1545, the Ottoman caliph, Suleyman the Magnificent, replaced the badly damaged external mosaics with multi-coloured tiles that now adorn the external walls.

Internally, the space between the inner and outer arcades forms two ambulatories centred around the Rock, which are adorned with the original mosaics. The inner arcade supports the dazzling interior cupola of the dome, displaying elaborate floral decorations and various inscriptions. Some of these inscriptions commemorate Saladin, who sponsored restoration work on the building.

As previously noted, the Dome of the Rock is located within the Harem ash-Sharif, which also contains the al-Aqsa Mosque that was started less than 20 years after the completion of the Dome of the Rock and has been upgraded and altered throughout the following centuries. This is the Mosque in which the daily Muslim prayers take place, where the Prophet said that a prayer in the al-Aqsa Mosque is given the reward of five hundred prayers prayed elsewhere.
For the minbar in this Mosque, refer to ‘The Minbar of Saladin’, in this section.

Other buildings in the Harem include a number of early madrasas (Islamic colleges) and a museum. There are eight short flights of stairs located around the site which lead to the Dome of the Rock. Each stair is crowned at the top by a slender arcade of columns, called ‘qanatirs’ or ‘mawazin’, that form a distinctive feature of the Harem.

The majestic structure of the Dome of the Rock dominates the skyline of Jerusalem, continuing to be an inspiring symbol of the city.


Sources:- ‘Islamic Art and Architecture 650-1250’ by Richard Ettinghausen, Oleg Grabar and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina.
‘Jerusalem, Israel, Petra and Sinai’. Eyewitness Travel.