Marhaba and welcome to the heart of the holy city Jerusalem Al Quds. This mountain, Haram al- Sharif, Arabic for “Holy Mountain”, is considered the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. For Muslims, this is a major site of worship, contemplation and pilgrimage. On the peak of Haram Al-Sharif’s, its crown glory and great symbol of Islam glistens in the sun – the golden Dome of the Rock.
It is believed that from this place the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven on his miraculous Night Journey, also known as Isra and Mi’raj. According to Muslim tradition, that night marks the true spiritual beginning of the entire world. From here also our tour begins.
The Dome of the Rock - Exterior
The magnificent structure in front of you is the Dome of the Rock. At its heart lies a large rock believed by Muslims to be the sacred rock from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to the sky. The dome is covered in gold and crowned with a full moon - the symbol of Islam.
The Dome of the Rock is considered the most ancient Islamic monument in the world. Due to its sacred status, only Muslims are allowed to enter this site. Many wrongfully assume the Dome is a mosque; however in actuality it is a shrine built to protect and glorify the sacred rock inside.
The structure itself was built by Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in 691 CE. It is a perfect octagon with eight geometrically equal walls. At its highest point, the dome reaches a height of 40 meters, ensuring that all in Jerusalem can behold its magnificence and praise to Islam. The admirable proportions of the structure astonish viewers immediately and have earned it its eternal place in Islamic Architecture.
The distinctive blue Armenian mosaics on the exterior date from the Ottoman period and above them we can see inscriptions from the Quran which praise the oneness of God.
Before entering this holy site it is Islamic custom to remove our shoes.
The Dome of the Rock is the most famous Muslim site in Jerusalem and has become an inseparable part of the Jerusalem skyline. Similarly to the Ka’ba in Mecca, The Dome is not a Mosque but a shrine built over a sacred stone, known as the “Foundation Stone”, from which, according to Islamic tradition Muhammad had ascended to the heavens on a golden ladder of silver steps on “The Night Journey”. Some also believe this to be the site on which Abraham had almost sacrificed Ishmael (not Isaac as is believed in Christianity and Judaism).
Due to its magnificent golden dome and sheer size, the Dome of the Rock can be seen from almost every vantage point in Jerusalem thus fulfilling its architectural purpose – to symbolize Islamic superiority and overshadow the Jewish and Christian monuments in the area. Originally made of gold, the dome has since been replaced with copper and aluminum and is now gold-plated.
The dome is an octagon structure built according to specific and exact mathematically rhythmic proportions, e.g. the length of the outer wall is identical to the diameter of the dome and height of the dome. Colorful tiles from Turkey and Arabic inscriptions with excerpts from the Quran and praises of Allah, adorn the exterior facade of the dome giving it a distinctive greenish-blue tint.
The Dome of the Rock - Interior
Looking above, at the interior of the golden dome, the cupola, you can see elaborate decorations in red and gold, including numerous inscriptions. The main inscription commemorates the great Muslim sultan Saladin, who conquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders in the beginning of the 12th century and renovated the Dome of the Rock.
Beautiful mosaics of vegetation and jewelry such as bracelets, necklaces and Persian crowns adorn the arches. These date back to the Umayyad Caliphate period during 7th and 8th century.
The walls and arches of the Dome are decorated with beautiful blue, green and gold mosaics of nature, jewelry and geometrical patterns. The artwork is of various periods but the greatest contributions were done by the Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan who commissioned the best artist in his empire, from Persia to Damascus, to glorify the Dome of the Rock.
On the dome’s interior and at its bottom, you can see an inscription which identifies the builder of the dome and the date of its construction. According to the inscription, the builder was Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma'mun and the year the dome was constructed was 72 to the Hijra (691 AD). However, Caliph Al-Ma'mun wasn’t even born on this date so it is possible that he just wanted to immortalize his name when he renovated the building and therefore erased the name of the real builder, Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik. Apparently, he forgot to change the date.
This is the sacred rock for which the Dome was built. According to Muslim tradition, it is from this exact spot that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven with the angel Gabriel on the famous ‘Night Journey’.
A stairway, right below the rock, leads down to the cave which is called in Arabic Bir el-Arweh, which means “Well of Souls”.
On the sacred rock there is an indentation traditionally believed to be the footprint of the Prophet Muhammad before his ascension into heaven.
The ‘Cave of Spirits’
The cave below the rock is six feet high. When stepping on the floor one can hear a hollow sound which is why this place is traditionally named the ‘’Well of Souls” or “Cave of Spirits”. The crack you can see in the rock is believed to have occurred as the prophet Muhammad ascended to the heavens and the rock wished to follow him.
You can see that the prayer niche, known as Mihrab, points south to Mecca and indicates the direction of Prayer. This is considered to be one of the oldest Mihrabs in the world.
From here we shall head to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest Mosque in Islam. Every Friday, due to the overflowing of the mosque, thousands of worshippers can be seen worshipping outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in the courtyards of Haram al-Sharif.
The Facade of the Al-Aqsa Mosque
Prior to our enterance to, we are greeted by an impressive façade. The entrance is enveloped with stone gates, arches, niches and pillars. Along the façade, you can notice fourteen stone arches.
The mosque was built in the 8th century by Caliph al-Walid, the son of the builder of the Dome of the Rock, who is considered the greatest builder of the Umayyad dynasty. To enter to the holy mosque we must walk through the centeral arch.
Al-Aqsa Mosque – Interior
The Al-Aqsa Mosque is regarded the third holiest site in Islam. The name of the mosque is based on Sura 1:17 of the Quran: "Glory to Allah Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, Al-Aqsa". The title "The Farthest mosque" is attributed to Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem, where the Angel Gabriel is believed to have taken Muhammad, on his winged horse Al-Burāq, from Mecca. Long before the Ka’aba in Mecca was declared as the direction of prayer, ‘Qiblah’ in Arabic, Muslims were ordered to turn their prayers towards the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
According to tradition, it is at this place that Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab the “Sahabi”, Arabic for companion, of the prophet Muhammad built his first mosque. Originally Ibn Al-Khattab sought out to kill Muhammad in the beginning of the 7th century, but he ended converting to Islam and became a student and loyal follower of Muhammad. He has left a glorious legacy behind him and is considered as one of the greatest Islamic leaders and statesmen in the history of Islam.
The Al-Aqsa mosque underwent many alterations and refurbishing over the years due to earthquakes and wars. Today, the mosque is large enough to house 5000 worshippers.
Originally the Al-Aqsa mosque was a small prayer house erected in 710 AD. It was expanded and rebuilt 5 times over the years due to damage caused by earthquakes and wars. Al-Aqsa has been repaired and renovated by the Ayyubid dynasty, Mamluks, Ottomans and various Islamic bodies and organizations. Despite its silver dome paling in comparison to the dome of the rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque is rich with ornaments and serves as an interesting blend of different architectural styles and periods which give it a truly unique character.
Al Hatunya - Ancient Al-Aqsa
The Ancient Al-Aqsa refers to the double underground tunnel leading from the Double Gate to the Haram Al Sharif area. Today, the tunnel is primarily used as a place where Muslim women gather for lessons in Islam and the Quran. The structure is supported by a central pillar that is currently jacketed with modern stone supports.
Due to its location beneath the ground, ancient Al-Aqsa, or al-Hatunya did not suffer the same amount of damage over the years as did the Al-Aqsa mosque.
According to Mujir al-Din, an early 16th century Arab historian and prominent Islamic Judge in Jerusalem, the structure was built by Salah al-Din in honor of the religious leader, Jalal Aladdin Achmed Ibn Machmad Alshashi. In the 14th century, Sheikh Alha'tani was in charge of the Zawia, and since then it has been named after him. This name also appears in the Muslim dedication registries and in the Ottoman land registry.
Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque Courtyard
During The Ramadan and Muslim holidays, vast open space or courtyard of Haram al-Sharif is packed with over half a million devout Muslim believers who make the pilgrimage to this holy site so they can pray on the most sacred mountain in Islam.
Each worshipper brings his own ‘Prayer Mat’ which is a woven mat used to separate the Muslim worshipper from the unclean ground. Before prayers, Muslims preform the ‘Wudu’, a cleaning ceremony based on the Quran which instructs all those who pray and study the Quran to be clean and pure. The prayer mat thus has great practical and symbolic importance and is essential in the Muslim prayer.
The El-Marwani Mosque is a large, underground mosque that was reconstructed by the Waqf, the Jordanian administrative control of Haram Al-Sharif, in 1996. Its huge underground space of 4000 square meters has the capacity to hold over 7000 worshippers. The official entrance is to the east of the Al-Aqsa Mosque through a tunnel.
Marwan ibn al-Hakam is also known as Marwan the first, was the 4th Umayyad caliph in the Holy Land. Before his reign, he was the governor of the second most important city for the Islam, Medina. Marwan had a short yet meaningful reign that lasted a year and included ending the civil war against Abdullah ibn Zubayr, thus unifying the then split Muslim empire. Marwan killed Zubayr and assigned his son, Abd al-Malik, to be his successor. Al-Malik reestablished the Umayyad control over the Islamic empire and it was he who built the Dome of the Rock in 691 CE.
The beautiful woolen red and gold rug covering the huge space of El-Marwani and Al-Aqsa was donated by King Abdullah II of Jordan and cost some 500 thousand USD. It took over a month for the Turkish carpet maker to weave the rug. It was designed with Ottoman and Islamic motifs according to specifications given by the ‘Al Haram al-Sharif Foundation’.
Haram al-Sharif, the holiest mountain in the world, is a sacred and virtually inaccessible site. As Mujir al-Dins' described Haram Al Sharif.
‘’Every night another 70,000 angels descend to the mosque of the Haram Al-Sharif and praised God here, and they come here again only at the Last Day; on every inch of the Temple an angel stood or a prophet prayed’’.