Things to see in Jerusalem: Dome of the Rock Mosque

Dome of the Rock Mosque

The Dome of the Rock or Qubbat al-Sakhra Mosque is one of the oldest temples in Islam built half a century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. This outstanding architectural monument, which has been reconstructed many times over the centuries of its existence, is located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Recently, Muslims have allowed tourists to enter it on a special schedule, but even if you get to the Dome of the Rock at an after-hours visit, it’s worth taking the time to wander around the colorful octagon richly decorated with mosaics.

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Video: Dome of the Rock Mosque

History

In the vicinity of the temple, and even more so when entering it, tourists may be searched by police or security guards. This precaution is necessary: in Israel, unfortunately, not everything is calm, so the internal troops are always on guard. However, the historical facts assure us that the Temple Mount has never been peaceful. The first temple of the Jews standing on this place was destroyed by the Romans, who quickly built a sanctuary of Jupiter on the ruins. After its fall, a Muslim temple appeared which was first used as an inn for pilgrims. In the Middle Ages, it changed hands, now with a cross, now with a crescent. At the end of the 12th century Saladin wrested Jerusalem from the Christians and turned the Dome of the Rock into an Islamic temple forever.

Since then, the mosque has experienced mainly architectural upheavals: every prominent ruler during the Mamluk Sultanate or the Ottoman Empire considered it his duty to redo the mosaics or add an interior detail. In 1927 the building was seriously damaged by an earthquake, it was restored for several decades with Jordanian and Turkish money, with the help of European craftsmen. After the founding of the State of Israel, the mosque was left to the Muslims. During the Six Day War in 1967, an Israeli flag was planted on its dome, but the government returned the mosque to the Muslims.

Jewish and Muslim shrines in the Dome of the Rock

On the grounds of the mosque is a place sacred to all Abrahamic religions, the Cornerstone. It is the starting point from which the creation of the world began. In the times of the First Temple, this is where the Ark of the Covenant was kept: a wooden chest padded with gold and containing the Tablets with the 10 Commandments. Ritual sacrifices were also performed on this stone. Some Jewish thinkers consider the stone too cumbersome for religious rituals, but even they are convinced that the Foundation Stone is located somewhere near the walls of the mosque. Muslims, for their part, revere the rock as the place from which the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, accompanied by the angel Jabrail, then returned safely.

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It is now a rock 2 meters high and 13 by 17 meters square, enclosed from the curious by a gilded lattice. In the southeastern part of the rock hides a small hole leading into the lower cave – the Well of Souls. In fact, the name of the temple is also directly related to the Cornerstone – it is called the Dome-covered Rock.

Architectural features

The building is a squat octagon of marble topped with a shiny dome 34 meters high and 20 meters in diameter. It is difficult not to notice the Dome of the Rock mosque against the bright buildings of the historic center of Jerusalem – not for nothing did the King of Jordan donate 80 kilograms of gold to decorate the dome. The marble base in the upper tiers is completely covered by a motley mosaic in green and blue tones. Inside all walls and the dome are also covered with mosaics of even brighter and more complex pattern.

The Europeans appreciated the architectural merits of the mosque during the Crusader period and borrowed its form for many European temples. At the same time they made an honest mistake, considering that they repeat the outlines of the First Jewish temple, and not the creations of Muslim architects. Besides European churches, the Dome of the Rock influenced the design of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s mausoleum in Istanbul and synagogues in Budapest and Berlin.

Tourist information

Getting to the Dome of the Rock mosque is the real quest for the inexperienced tourist. You need to dress properly, not to make a mistake with the time of the visit, find the right entrance and do not forget to pay for it. It is easiest to do it as part of organized tours, but acting on your own is much cheaper.

Rules of conduct

Dome of the Rock mosque is active, in addition, female, so the rules of conduct are observed strictly. Shoes are left at the entrance, as in any Muslim temple, women cover their heads and shoulders. Shorts and short skirts are not allowed. It is not allowed to carry the symbols of other religions, especially of the Jewish religion, to pray according to other rites.

Opening Hours

The mosque is closed on Fridays and Saturdays and on Muslim holidays. These are determined by the lunar calendar, so the dates change each year. Non-Muslims can tour the Dome of the Rock from 7-30 to 10-30 and from 12-30 to 1-30 in summer; in winter, the morning shift ends at 10.

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Tickets and admission to the mosque

The Temple is located on the Temple Mount, 50 meters north of the Al Aqsa Mosque or the Mosque of Omar. It is more significant religiously as founded by Omar, the second Righteous Caliph, but inferior in architectural merit to the Dome of the Rock. Together the buildings form the al-Haram al-Sharif complex. Non-Muslims can enter the Dome of the Rock by using the wooden planking next to the northern entrance at the Wailing Wall.

Tourists buy single NIS 40 tickets to see both buildings and the Museum of Islamic Art. It is a 20-minute ride on bus 17 from the end of the pedestrian zone to the west of the mosque. The museum is mainly open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Its exhibit includes luxurious pieces of Islamic arts and crafts, as beautiful as the mosaics of the Dome of the Rock mosque.

Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock with Jerusalem as a backdrop

When TV shows, magazines, or the Internet talk about Jerusalem, the picture most often used is of a building with a golden dome. An example of such a picture is shown to the right. Everyone recognizes the building, but few have any idea what kind of structure it is.

This is the Dome of the Rock mosque (in Arabic Qubbat as-Sakhra), it is located in the center of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in the Old City. We will talk about it on this page.

Facts, figures and history

The mosque is called the Dome of the Rock for a reason; it is inside this building that the “Cornerstone” or the “Foundation Stone” is located. It is sacred to Muslims, it is believed that it was from this stone that the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven (performed a mirage).

To the Jews this stone is also sacred. It is mentioned as the first thing God created on earth. It is not mentioned in the Torah, but its description can be found in the Mishnah text. It was on the surface of this stone that Abraham, in accordance with the will of God, would sacrifice his only son Isaac, and where the First Temple stood and the Ark of the Covenant was kept.

There is, however, a debate in Judaism as to exactly where the Foundation Stone was located. The site inside the Dome of the Rock mosque is just one version.

The Foundation Stone is a piece of rock up to 2 meters high, 13.5 meters wide and 17.7 meters long. In its southeast corner there is a small cave called the Well of Souls. According to legend, in the First Temple it was used as a cache for the Ark of the Covenant.

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The Foundation Stone

The stone is accessible only for contemplation, visitors are not allowed to touch it. It is in the very center of the Dome of the Rock mosque, directly under the dome, and is fenced off by two fences at once (on the photo on the left).

The first mosque here was built back in 691, the building was wooden then. Five times it was destroyed by earthquakes and burned down, and only in 1035 there was a stone strong building which we see now.

The mosque survived in 1099 during the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusader Knights. They put a cross on top of the dome and made a Christian church here, it was called “Templum Domini”. In 1187 the Muslims, led by Saladin, conquered Jerusalem back and the church became a mosque with a crescent on top.

The Al Aqsa Mosque next door.

By the way, the fate of the neighboring Al-Aqsa Mosque is similar. The Crusaders set up their residence there, and after Saladin seized the city, it became a mosque again.

These two mosques – Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock are constantly confused by tourists and journalists, although they are two completely different temples. We urge you not to be confused, the Dome of the Rock mosque stands right in the center of the Temple Mount, and the Al-Aqsa mosque (photo on the right) is near the southern boundary of the Temple Mount.

The search engines Yandex and Google are particularly disgraced in this respect. If you ask for the phrase “Al-Aqsa” in these search engines, they show the user a close-up photo of the Dome of the Rock mosque. We hope this mistake will be corrected.

Inside the Dome of the Rock mosque are other relics sacred to Islam – the footprint of the Prophet Muhammad and three hairs from his beard.

Who gets in and who doesn’t

Entrance to the Temple Mount is free, regardless of religion. The Temple Mount has always been a cause of strife between Jews and Muslims, and the authorities are seriously afraid of terrorist attacks and provocations. Hence the serious security measures, the checks here are as strict as in the airports.

Entrance to the Temple Mount

The Temple Mount is surrounded by a wall and there are only 11 gates in the wall, but only one of them is accessible to non-Muslims. As a result, a hundred-meter line at the entrance is quite common.

Once on the Temple Mount, you can see the Dome of the Rock mosque from the outside. Only Muslims are allowed inside.

Verification of faith is simple – they ask to read the first surah of the Koran, which is called “Al-Fatihah.

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On Friday, non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the Temple Mount. For Muslims it is a holy day of the week, like the Sabbath for Jews. It is also off-limits to non-Muslims on all Islamic holidays.

Opening Hours

It is possible to visit the Temple Mount:

During the summer months: from 8-30 to 11-30 and from 1-30 to 2-30;

In the winter months: from 7-30 to 10-30 and from 12-30 to 13-30.

This complicated schedule is due to the prayer schedule.

How to get there

We need to get to the Old City. The easiest way is to take a cab, but Israeli cabs are expensive.

Jerusalem Light Rail

You can get here on the high-speed streetcar (pictured right), which is convenient because it has only one route, you can’t go wrong. The stops are Damascus Gate or City Hall and the fare is NIS 5.9. Another option is the bus. The ticket price is also NIS 5.9 and bus routes 1, 2, 3 and 21 stop near the Old City.

Once in the Old City, it is easy to find your way around, as the Dome of the Rock is visible from everywhere. The entrance for tourists is near the Square of the Wailing Wall and is called the “Maghreb Gate” or the “Moroccan Gate”.

It is highly recommended to arrive an hour before it opens and take a line to be sure to get in. Security checks are long and the line moves slowly, you might just not make it in before closing time.

What to see outside

Most tourists notice that the Dome of the Rock mosque bears little resemblance to a mosque. In the associations of most Russians, a mosque must necessarily have a minaret, but here there is no minaret.

Dome of the Rock mosque

The Dome of the Rock mosque was built in its present form in the 11th century, when not all mosques had minarets yet. In addition, the Al-Aqsa Mosque is located 150 meters away, and it has a minaret, there is simply no objective need for two minarets nearby.

In the 11th century, the style of Islamic architecture was just taking shape, and the Dome of the Rock mosque was built under the great influence of the Byzantine architectural style. The resemblance of the Dome of the Rock mosque to the Christian temples in the Byzantine style is obvious.

The building is on a large terrace with stairs leading up to it. Four entrances lead inside, oriented along the sides of the world. The architectural elements are a multiple of four, a number highly revered in Islam. The basis of the building has the form of an octagon.

The walls in the lower half are lined with white marble, while the upper half appears blue from a distance. If to approach closely, it becomes clear that the upper part is faced with a beautiful mosaic of mother-of-pearl and gold. It is a magnificent sight.

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Ornament on the walls

The themes of the mosaics are exclusively vegetable and geometric. There are also a lot of inscriptions in Arabic script.

And of course, is worth to see the dome itself, which is the visual symbol of Jerusalem. It’s 34 meters high and 20 meters in diameter. For the 11th century it was a grandiose construction, although it does not “reach” the largest religious buildings of that era – the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople (55 meters in height and dome diameter of 31 meters) or St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome (height 48 meters and dome diameter of 44 meters).

But for the Middle East it was something unique in size, beauty of decoration and the impression it made on the faithful.

What to see inside

For non-Muslims, the interior of the Dome of the Rock is limited to an exterior tour, but for observant Muslims the tour continues inside.

Columns inside

Around the Foundation Stone are four massive columns that hold up the dome and twelve smaller columns. This inner row of 16 columns is round.

The second outer row of columns is octagonal. It all looks magnificent; the columns are made of green and purple marble, and are topped with golden capitals. The walls inside are decorated with inscriptions from the Koran in gold.

In the center is the Foundation Stone itself. It is enclosed by a lattice and can only be passed through or touched by special permission. Many visitors notice that this lattice does not match the surrounding interior. And it is true, it was placed here by the Crusader Knights, and it is made in the European Gothic style.

It is worth paying attention to the atmosphere inside the Dome of the Rock mosque. The light penetrates here through the stained glass windows with pink, blue and yellow glass. The light is reflected and you get a pearl-like glow effect which mesmerizes the visitors.

A couple of important points

– If you are going on vacation to the resort of Eilat, then to see the Temple Mount you will need to get to Jerusalem. Read about all the ways to do this in our detailed review “How to get from Eilat to Jerusalem;

– All details about the dress code at religious sites can be found in our article “What tourists are not allowed in Israel.

Perhaps there is not much more to tell. Read our other articles about Israel (links below).

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