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Located in the middle of the Old City of Jerusalem lies one of the most famous structures in the world.
In addition to being the visible symbol of the city, it lies on a plot of land that is one of the most historical and contested pieces of property on the planet.
It has been a center of controversy for thousands of years and looks to continue to do so for at least hundreds more.
Learn more about the Dome of the Rock and the ground it sits on, on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.
Any discussion of the Dome of the Rock has to start with the place it is located: Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem dates back to biblical accounts. According to these accounts, the city was founded by King David, the leader of the unified Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, around the year 1000 BC.
According to archeological evidence, the location probably had some sort of human settlement at least 2,000 to 3,000 years before that.
According to biblical accounts, the reason why this place was selected was for the creation of a Jewish Temple. The temple was the singular focal point of the entire Jewish religion. There was only one temple, and it held the Arc of the Covenant, on which I’ve done a previous episode, and it was the location where ritual sacrifices were made.
The first temple was built by David’s son King Solomon on the top of a hill in the city that we know today as Temple Mount. The site was initially said to have been a spot for threshing wheat due to its exposed rock outcrop. According to tradition, it was the spot where Abraham bound Isaac, and it was also the place where the creation of the world began.
The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE during the Siege of Jerusalem.
A second temple was built in the same spot. Construction on it began just decades after the first temple was destroyed. It was given a major renovation by Herod the Great, who was a Jewish King who lived in the first century BC.
The Second Temple is widely known as Herod’s Temple.
The Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 by the Romans during a Jewish uprising.
The topic of the Jewish Temple will be the subject of a future episode.
With the second temple destroyed, the Romans built a pagan temple to Jupiter on the site.
After Emperor Constantine I converted to Christianity, the pagan temple was destroyed in 325 on his orders.
In 363, according to legend, Emperor Julian, the nephew of Constantine, gave permission for Jews to rebuild their temple, but an earthquake stopped those efforts.
In 610, Jerusalem was briefly conquered by the Persian Sassanid Empire, who gave control of the city back to the Jews. They began constructing a new temple until the Sassanids gave control of the city back to Christians, who tore everything down and used the site as a garbage dump.
The site was taken back by the Byzantines in 615 and was subsequently conquered by the Rashidun Caliphate under the Caliph Umar in 637, which is where the story really gets started.
Again, according to legend, the Caliph Umar was taken to the temple mount and was shown the location by a rabbi who had converted to Islam named Ka’b al-Ahbar.
Al-Ahbar recommended to the Caliph that he build a mosque to the north of the rock so it would face both the rock and Mecca. For whatever reason, Umar built his mosque to the south of the rock.
Here I should note the significance of the Temple Mount in Islam. For the most part, Islam holds the same beliefs that Judaism has about the significance of the rock and Temple Mount. However, in addition, they hold that it was the site where the Prophet Mohammad landed during his Night Journey.
The Night Journey is detailed in both the Quran and the hadith, which tells of how Mohammed traveled from Mecca to Jerusalem in a single night on the back of a heavenly creature known as a Buraq. The place he is believed to have landed was the Foundation Stone on Temple Mount. It was at this place that he also flew to heaven.
It wasn’t until several decades later, around the year 690, during the Umayyad Caliphate and the reign of the Caliph Abd al-Malik, that permanent structures were built.
The mosque, which has been refurbished and expanded many times throughout its history, is the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which means the Furthest Mosque.
On the rock at the top of the Temple Mount was built an eight-sided structure with a wooden dome. The name of the building in Arabic is Qubbat as-Sakhra which roughly translates to Dome of the Rock.
The building’s design was based on the architecture of Byzantine churches in the region. At the time, a dome was rarely used in Islamic architecture, and it was thought that the Caliph wanted to make a statement by creating a building that would rival the domes of Christian churches.
Here I should address a popular point of confusion about the Dome of the Rock, and it is easy to see where the confusion lies.
The Dome of the Rock is NOT the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque is only about 140 meters due south of the Dome of the Rock. The entire compound on the Temple Mount is often referred to as Al-Aqsa, and this would include both the mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which is where the confusion comes from. The actual term for the entire compound is the “Noble Sanctuary” or “Haram al-Sharif.”
Another area of confusion is if the Dome of the Rock is itself a mosque. I’ve actually had this discussion with several Muslims in Jerusalem. I’ve been told everything from, “Of course it is,” and “No, it isn’t.”
In most texts, the Dome of the Rock is referred to as an Islamic Shrine, not a mosque. This is due in no small part to the fact that one of the largest and most important mosques in the world is literally just a few meters away.
If you think of a mosque as a building with a large amount of floor space for worshipers and regular prayer services that take place, then the Dome of the Rock is not a mosque.
However, people can and do pray there, so it also isn’t not not a mosque.
The original building was damaged by several earthquakes in 808 and 846. It finally collapsed in 1015 and was rebuilt in the year 1022. This rebuilt building is the one that is standing today, and by all accounts, it was rebuilt to look very similar to the original structure.
In 1099, Christian Crusaders captured Jerusalem. The Al-Aqsa Mosque was converted into the headquarters for the Knights Templar. The Dome of the Rock was given to the Augustinian religious order and converted into a church.
The Dome of the Rock had a special significance to the Templars as it was the site of Solomon’s Temple. The image of the dome became of the symbols of the Knights Templar and appeared on their official seals.
Crusader rule over Jerusalem came to an end on 2 October 2, 1187, when Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty, captured Jerusalem.
The site was once again consecrated as a Muslim shrine, and the cross on the top of the dome was replaced with a crescent.
During the Ayyubid Dynasty, which lasted about 250 years, the dome was frequently the beneficiary of donations by its rulers.
In 1517, Jerusalem was conquered by Suleiman the Magnificent and began 400 years of Ottoman rule.
One of the biggest changes to the structure during this period was the addition of tiles to the exterior of the building, which Suleiman undertook.
There was also new artwork inside the building and other small additions, such as the Dome of the Prophet, which was built in 1620. The Dome of the Prophet sounds very awe inspiriting, but in reality, it is just a small gazebo next to the main structure.
The Ottomans invested in a major renovation of the building in the early 19th century which included painstakingly replacing the external tile with replicas made in Constantinople.
The British took control of Jerusalem from the Ottomans in 1917 and created the position of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The Grand Mufti is simply the Muslim cleric who is responsible for the administration of the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, including the Dome of the Rock.
On July 11, 1927, another major earthquake hit Jerusalem, this time collapsing part of the dome and causing the walls to crack.
In 1948, after the first Arab-Israeli War, the Temple Mount area and the entire Old City of Jerusalem came under the control of the nation of Jordan.
You might have noticed that up until this point, I haven’t uttered the one word that probably comes to mind when you think of the Dome of the Rock. The thing which is the single most defining characteristic of the building.
Until 1959, the Dome of the Rock was actually covered in lead. The shape of the dome was its defining feature, not its color.
Starting in 1959, extensive renovations paid for by the King of Jordan replaced the lead panels on the dome with a lighter and more durable panel made of an aluminum bronze alloy. The new alloy plates were then covered in gold leaf.
It completely changed the image of the building and made it stand out from the rest of the Old City of Jerusalem from a distance.
Dome once again changed hands in 1967 with the Six-Day War. All of East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, fell under Israeli control.
This, for obvious reasons, was a huge potential source of trouble. Just days after the war ended, a meeting was held between Israeli officials and Muslim religious authorities in Jerusalem. They hammered out an agreement regarding the Temple Mount, which still mostly stands today and seemingly satisfied no one.
The agreement stated that the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount is under Muslim religious control.
Non-Muslims may visit the area but may not pray or have any other public displays of religion. I’ve visited the Dome of the Rock on two separate occasions, but I have never been inside.
Many Rabbis have issued decrees prohibiting Jews from entering the Temple Mount area as ancient biblical requirements for entering the Temple area have to be met.
Even those rabbis who disagree with the general ban on entering the Temple Mount forbid entering the Dome of the Rock for similar reasons.
The Dome of the Rock is one of the most iconic buildings in the world, a status which it has solidified since it was covered in gold leaf in the early 1960s.
It is one of the oldest existing Islamic religious structures still standing and has become so identified with Islam that it appears on the currency in several Muslim countries.
It also occupies a spot of land that is probably the most contested and controversial place in world history.
Given the political and religious forces at play, it is likely that the Dome of the Rock will remain the center of controversy and intrigue for centuries to come.
The Executive Producer of Everything Everywhere Daily is Charles Daniel.
The associate producers are Thor Thomsen and Peter Bennett.
Today’s review comes from listener anonymous magnet beast on Apple Podcasts in the United States. They write:
“as clean as history will allow,” as Gary himself once put it. Pleasantly monotonous (i.e., only slightly so) with dry humor throughout. I have learned so much, my mother is sometimes discouraged whilst trying to teach me history because I “know it all.” (I am thirteen.) About fourteen episodes away from the completionist club! (I would love to hear episodes about Mythical Creatures or Constructed Languages… hint, hint…) congratulations on a complete show page background on Apple podcasts.
Thank you, anonymous magnet beast! I think you’ve discovered the downside to listening to this podcast. Listen long enough and it will cover almost everything.
As for your episode ideas, as they say in Klingon, parHa’wI’ ta’ ‘e’ vIHargh
Remember, if you leave a review or send me a boostagram, you too can have it read on the show.