Qantara Qantara

The Dome of the Rock

  • Name : The Dome of the Rock
  • Place : Jerusalem, Palestine
  • Construction date/period : 691
  • Construction materials : Stone, brick, wood, marble, re-used pillars and capitals, lead
  • Architectural pattern : decoration: marble and coloured stones, mosaics on a gold background, mother-of-pearl, bronze repoussé work (hammered into relief from the reverse side); painted and sculpted wood, ceramic tiles (1554, restoration under Solomon the Magnificent, mashrabiyas(a type of oriel window with carved wood latticework)
  • Recipient/Mandatory : Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik
  • Dimensions : Exterior octagon: total H 35.5m; W 20.6m; dome 20.44m H wall 12.1m; Porches: 1 a little over 9m; depth 2.80m; Doors: H. 4.30m; l. 2.60 m
  • Inscriptions :

    Main inscription: in frieze at the top of the walls of the interior octagon, 240m long. Simple Kufic script, without points or signs: Kor. CXIII; XXXIII, 54; XVII, 3; LXIV, 1 and LXVII, 2; LXIV, 1 and LXVII, 2; XXXIII, 54; IV, 169-171; XIX, 34-37; III, 16-17.

  • Restoration :

    1554, restauration de l’extérieur sous Soliman le Magnifique

After Mecca and Medina, Jerusalem is the third holiest city in the Islamic world. According to tradition, it was the second Caliph, Umar (634-644) who, at the time of the conquest of Syria and his visit to Jerusalem in the company of the city‘s patriarch, Sophronius, chose the site for the Dome of the Rock, on the Haram al-Sharîf, the man-made platform where the temple of Solomon had stood.  It is built around the rock known as the summit of Mount Moriah where Abraham sacrificed Isaac[1] and where the tomb of Adam was said to be; an Islamic tradition, linked to the mi‘raj (Ascension) of the Prophet Mohammad is also associated with it[2]. Under the Rock, exists a grotto, transformed in an oratory, as happens with very many holy sites, in most religions. A place of great significance for Jews and Christians, the man-made platform is also one for Muslims; it is here that another Umayyad building stands too; a mosque this time, the al-Aqsa mosque.

At the time of its construction, it is possible that the caliph, over and above the desire to build a sort of reliquary for the sacred rock, wanted to attract pilgrims away from Mecca where a rival caliph reigned and to outshine the Christian churches, especially that of the Holy Sepulchre[3].

Eight flights of stairs, crowned with a portico with four bays, give access to the man-made platform, where several small monuments from various periods stand, types of ex-voto offerings given by dignitaries. On the treasury Bayt al-Mal, where the wealth of the Muslim community (the Umma) was housed in ancient times, are found the names of Radjâ ibn Haywâ and Yazid ibn Sallâm, but it is difficult to tell whether, over and above being in charge of the treasury, they were in charge of the construction of the Dome of the Rock. The building, which is the oldest to have survived, is octagonal and crowned by a dome with a double shell, the two independent layers being linked by wooden beams. It sits on a tall drum shape, punctuated b sixteen windows and reinforced by four pilasters, or rectangular columns. The dome system, with the wooden transversal beams, is not very common in regions with stone abounding, but there is one very important precedent: that of the great St Simon Basilica, from the very beginning of the 6th century (Jazirah, Syria), which sat on an octagon 27 metres in diameter, and around which radiated four basilicas.  Seven recesses, almost entirely filled with windows (40 in all) decorate the upper part of the walls. From each of the four walls whose axes are the cardinal points, a door opens, preceded by a vault originally supported by four columns.  The sloping roofs are covered in lead.

The interior corresponds with the function of the building and is not a mosque but a place of pilgrimage: a double ambulatory encircles the central rotunda, surrounded by a lattice-work grill (mashrabiyas).  The arcade which encloses the rock rests on a sequence of pillars and columns: one pillar then three columns. That separating the two ambulatories presents a sequence of one pillar for every two columns. The columns, on tall bases, are crowned with Corinthian capitals, then large upper courses support the full arches composed of wedge-shaped stones which are alternately black and white, all supported by tie-beams (rotunda) and large architraves (ambulatory). The ceilings are made of sculpted wood which has been painted and gilded.

All the surfaces of the building, both inside and out, are decorated and the polychromatic scheme is of prime importance. The local craftsmen, trained in Byzantine techniques, put them to work for the ideology of their new masters. The organisation of the decoration, its vocabulary and techniques were later found in the Great Mosques at Damascus, Medina and al-Aqsa.

NOTE

[1] According to the Koran, Abraham is the ancestor of all Arabs. “Friend of God” he is considered as a hanîf: neither Jew nor Christian, he is the keeper, before Islam, of the true monotheistic religion and therefore the first Muslim.

[2] A nocturnal journey taken by Mohammed, mounted on the fabulous creature Burâq, accompanied by the Archangel Gabriel. Setting out from Mecca, he stopped at Jerusalem, where, after sharing a prayer with the Old Testament prophets, he left once more from the sacred Rock (where Burâq left the imprint of his hoof), to ascend through the seven heavens to the throne of God, having first visited hell and Paradise.

[3] The church of the Holy Sepulchre stands on another hill. Built around 335 on the orders of the Emperor Constantine, on the model of Saint Constance’s mausoleum in Rome (sponsored by the same monarch), its floor plan is centred on a an ambulatory and a line of alternating columns and pillars, which face the four points of the compass and give the illusion of being laid out as a crucifix. Amongst the other monuments of this type, let us mention the Lateran Baptistery in Rome (461-468), the Cathedral at Bosra in Syria (512-513) and the church of St Georges at Ezra (515).

REFERENCE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Blair, S, “What is the date of the Dome of the Rock?” in Bayt al-Maqdis, ‘Abd al-Malik’s Jerusalem, Oxford Studies in Islamic Art, IX, 1999.

Combe, É., Sauvaget, J., Wiet, G., (edits.), Répertoire chronologique d’épigraphie arabe, I, Cairo, 1931, Imprimerie de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, year 72, n° 9 et 10, p. 8-11.

Creswell, K A C, Early Muslim architecture, I, 1, New York, 1979, Hacker Art Books, p. 65-131.

Duncan, A, The Noble Sanctuary, London, 1972, Longmann.

Ecochard, M, Filiation des monuments grecs, byzantins et islamiques, Paris, 1977.

Grabar, O, Le Dôme du Rocher, joyau de Jérusalem, Paris, 1997, Albin Michel, Institut du monde arabe.

Rabbat, N, “The Meaning of the Umayyad Dome of the Rock”, in Muqarnas, VI, 1989.  

Van Berchem, M, “The Mosaics of Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem”, in Creswell, K. A. C., Early Muslim Architecture, I, 1, New York, 1979, Hacker Art Books, 1979, p. 213-323.



Transversal sheets
From Leon III to the advent of Michael II (711-820)
From Leon III to the advent of Michael II (711-820)
Heraclides (610-711)
Heraclides (610-711)
Umayyads (661-750)
Umayyads (661-750)
Religious life
Religious life
Pilgrimages
Pilgrimages
Artistic patronage
Artistic patronage
Power
Power
Places of prayer and religious practices
Places of prayer and religious practices
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