Remarkable aspect #5
The Al-Aqsa Mosque at the southern end of the Temple Mount (you can see the entire site from one of the above images) is even older than the Dome of the Rock. In its present state, the huge building comprises of a simple rectangular plan with a dome at the top, and has a capacity for 3,000 patrons! However, the structure has been rebuilt many times during the course of its history, and hence cannot be considered as the oldest ‘surviving’ specimen of Islamic architecture.
The most famous ‘use’ of the mosque arguably pertains to the Knight Templars, one of three major crusading orders during the Medieval times. The Christian crusaders considered the revered location to be the actual site of the Temple of Solomon. Inspired by this spiritual and probably treasure hunting fervor, the Templars made various structural modifications to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, including a wrought-iron screen that prevented thieving pilgrims from stealing relics. Consequently, the old mosque served as their headquarters and stables in the 12th century AD. Moreover, they also set up a Christian church adjacent to the Dome of the Rock, and named it ‘Templum Domini‘.
Remarkable aspect #6
When Jerusalem was captured back by the Muslims during the latter part of the 12th century, the renowned Saladin promptly replaced the cross with the still surviving crescent atop the Dome of the Rock. The monument was also converted back to a Muslim shrine, with numerous renovations being carried out by the Ayyubids (Saladin’s dynasty) and the latter Egyptian Mamluks.
However, the exterior facades were still covered with glass mosaic up till the 16th century. The Ottomans under Suleiman the Magnificent, later replaced the mosaic work with intricate arrangement of a whopping 45,000 blue and gold tiles. They also built the freestanding ‘Dome of the Prophet‘ adjacent to the Dome of the Rock, in early 17th century.
Remarkable aspect #7
The interior portion of the Dome of the Rock reflects the splendor of the exterior facades in an commensurate manner. The flourishing 1,280 sq m of mosaics are believed to evoke a stylized version of the gardens of Paradise. Furthermore, there are various renderings of ostentatious jewelry and armor that are gracefully depicted – in allusion to the Persian crowns that were captured by caliph Umar ibn-Khatib, and send to Mecca to be displayed publicly.
The internal curvature of the great Dome, architecturally known as the cupola, features elegant floral embellishments and inscriptions – with the main one commemorating Saladin himself, because of his involvement in various restoration projects for the eminent shrine. As for the oppositely located cavity beneath the ‘rock’, the mysterious space is called the ‘Well of Souls‘. It is alluded that this is the metaphysical plane where the voices of the departed souls intermingle with the falling waters of the lower rivers of Paradise.
Remarkable aspect #8
Lastly, coming to the modern-day side of affairs – the Israeli army briefly raised their flag over the sacred site in 1967, after their astounding success in the Six Day War. But the flag was removed almost immediately on the orders of General Moshe Dayan, as a gesture of goodwill. The management of the Temple Mount was then entrusted to the Muslim Waqf, an organization which has remained virtually independent of Israeli control since then.
The conspicuous dome was plated with with a bronze-aluminum alloy during a major renovation undertaking in the early 60’s. However, the gold came back in vogue in 1998, courtesy of King Hussein of Jordan. This current gold-leaf coating is around 0.0023 mm thick, weighs a substantial 80 kg and had cost a total of $15 million.
Photo Credits: Crossway.org / Wikimedia Commons