Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock information

Jerusalem , Israel
Extras Temple Mount
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The jewel in the Temple Mount crown is the gold-plated Dome of the Rock, the enduring symbol of the city and undoubtedly one of the most photographed buildings on earth. As its name suggests, the dome covers the slab of stone sacred to both the Muslim and Jewish faiths. It was here that Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son and from which, according to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Mohammed launched himself heavenward to take his place alongside Allah.

The building was constructed between AD 688 and 691 under the patronage of the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik. His motives were shrewd as well as pious - the caliph was concerned that the imposing Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre was seducing Arab minds.

In asserting the supremacy of Islam, Abd al-Malik had his Byzantine architects take as their model the rotunda of the Holy Sepulchre. But not for the Muslims the dark, gloomy interiors of the Christian structures or the austere stone façades; instead, their mosque was covered, both inside and out, with a bright confection of mosaics and scrolled verses from the Quran, while the crowning dome was covered in solid gold that shone as a beacon for Islam.

A plaque was laid inside honouring al-Malik and giving the date of construction. Two hundred years later the Abbasid caliph al-Mamun altered it to claim credit for himself, neglecting to amend the original date.

During the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent what remained of the original interior mosaics were removed and replaced, while the external mosaics were renewed in 1963. Essentially, however, what you see today is the building as conceived by Abd al-Malik. The gold dome also disappeared long ago, melted down to pay off some caliph's debts. The present convincing anodised aluminium dome has been financed by Gulf State Arab countries.

Inside, lying central under the 20m-high dome and ringed by a wooden fence, is the rock from which it is said Mohammed began his night journey (his footprint is supposedly visible in one corner). Tradition also has it that this marks the centre of the world. Steps below the rock lead to a cave known as the 'Well of Souls' where the dead are said to meet twice a month to pray. Unfortunately it's unlikely that you'll be able to enter the building. At the time of our visit it was only open to Muslims but some non-Muslim tourists have reported being let inside for a fee.