Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock sits atop the site of the Second Temple, which was destroyed by Romans in 70 BC. Its impressive gold dome dominates the skyline of the Old City. As Temple Mount in Jerusalem (also known as the Noble Sanctuary), it is a sacred shrine to Muslims, who believe that the rock sheltered by the Dome in Jerusalem marks the spot where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven in the company of the angel Gabriel.

It is the destruction of the Second Temple that the Jewish people lament when they pray at the Wailing Wall, or Western Wall, and the rock also marks the spot where Jews believe Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. Because this site is of such importance to two great religions, there has been controversy between them over the centuries since the Dome of the Rock was completed in 691 AD, making it the oldest Islamic monument in the world. Christians also believe that Temple Mount in Jerusalem this is the site of the biblical Temple of Solomon, and the Knights Templar headquartered here during the Crusades. Later Christian churches, especially the Byzantine churches of Italy and Syria, were patterned on its design.

Also within the walls of what was believed to be the Jewish temple and adjoining Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest mosque in Islam. The two holiest mosques are the Kaaba in Mecca and the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina—both located in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The exterior of the Dome of the Rock was adorned with beautiful multicolored Iznik tiles (pottery from Turkey) by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1545. The lower half of the exterior is gleaming white marble. The great Dome in Jerusalem is colored a striking gold. It was originally actually made of pure gold from melted down coins, but was replaced by copper and then aluminum that was later gold plated. The gleaming gold plating was made possible with a donation from the late King Hussein of Jordan during extensive restoration (that included the tiles on the exterior) from 1956 to 1962.

The interior of the Dome in Jerusalem is called its cupola, and is covered with elaborate red and gold floral decorations. Mosaics inside also depicts plants and other vegetation, creating a lush garden feel, as well as representations of jewels, crowns, and necklaces. This is because it is forbidden by Muslim law to depict living beings in art. Also inside is a small, flat mirab. A mirab can be found in all holy Islamic structures. It is a niche that shows the to Mecca, the direction Muslims must face when they pray. This mirah dates to the original shrine, and is the oldest mirab in the Islamic world.

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is maintained by the Ministry of Awaqaf in Jordan. Non-Muslims were forbidden to enter the area until the mid-nineteenth century. During Jordanian rule, Jews were forbidden. After the 1967 Six Day War non-Muslims are allowed limited access, but not on Fridays, Saturdays, or Muslim holidays. Non-Muslims religious prayers and demonstrations of faith are forbidden. Non-Muslims may not enter the Al Aqsa Mosque or other mosques in the Old City. Strict security screening also prevents Hebrew prayer books and musical instruments.

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