Dome of the Rock.
7th c Levantine Umayyad Architecture
(661 - 1031)
One of the earliest surviving Moslem buildings is of a quite different structure from the hypostyle mosques that we have discussed. This eight-sided building, known as the Dome of the Rock, was constructed on a large esplanade in the center of Jerusalem in the area where the Second Temple of the Jews had stood before its destruction by the Romans in the 2nd century. This was also the site from which Mohammed ascended into heaven. The entire area had become associated with the biblical Mount Moriah, and the particular site chosen was the rock on which, according to tradition, the patriarch Abraham had shown his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. This rock is visible in the center of the building.
The Moslems trace their lineage back to Abraham through his son Ishmael. Abraham's other son, Isaac went on to be a patriarch of the Jewish people. While the Moslems consider Abraham to have been the first Moslem, and neither Jew nor Christian, they do accept the Jewish Old Testament as well as Christ's teachings, for they consider Christ to have been one of the long line of God's prophets, Mohammed being the last and greatest.
The structure of the Dome of the Rock was modeled on the Christian Holy Sepulcher church in Jerusalem, as we know from the 10th century Moslem historian al-Muqaddasi, who said: "Caliph 'Abd al Malaik noting the greatness of the church of the Holy Sepulcher and its magnificence, was moved lest it should dazzle the minds of the Moslems, and hence erected above the rock the dome which is now to be seen there."
The beautiful inscriptions that encircle the building contain quotations from the Koran, praising God in his power and unity. One passage is directly aimed at the Christians: "Oh ye people of the Book, overstep not the bounds in your religion; and of God speak only truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary is only an apostle of God....Believe therefore in God and his apostles, and say not 'three'...God is only one God. Far be it from His glory that He should have a son."
This famous site of the Dome of the Rock became a destination for Moslem pilgrims second only to Mecca itself, and standing as it does on ground sacred to Jews and Christians, it is quite possible that it was originally intended to demonstrate Islam's superiority to them both religions, and its hopes to draw the adherents of these earlier religions into the fold of the truth, so newly revealed by God's prophet, Mohammed.
The hope for unity, symbolized by the centrality of the building, which formed a circle around the famous and enduring rock, was never realized. The Dome of Rock still stands in the center of a space sacred to three of the great religions of the world: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Near it one can see Jews weeping for their lost temple, Christian pilgrims on their way to pray at the sacred shrines commemorating Christ's death and resurrection, and Moslem pilgrims coming to pray at the site of Mohammed's ascension into heaven.
Truly this is one of the most sacred spaces of all times, one of the primordial rocks that touch something deep inside human beings and that serve as the bedrock for later, more developed systems of belief. This sacred space of Jerusalem continues to arouse political as well as religious passions in our contemporary world.
UMAYYAD | Dome of the Rock. | 691-692 | Islamic | Umayyad