The Umayyad dynasty made its mark on the territories it conquered by constructing prestigious buildings at the heart of ancient cities. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is one of the earliest examples. The building's original purpose was to inscribe the Muslim religion within the biblical tradition.
Jerusalem: wellspring of monotheism
When Jerusalem fell to the Arabs in 638, for Jews and Christians everywhere the city was the centre of the world, the holy of holies. The remains of the Jewish temple became a place of pilgrimage for Jews, and many sites across the city were associated with the life of Christ. Jerusalem was also a holy place for Muslims. The esplanade of the Jewish temple, the Al-Masjid al-Aqsa or ‘the distant place of prayer’ is mentioned in the Koran (Sura 17). A body of literature steadily grew up around the site of the Dome of the Rock as the place from which the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
A neglected site
Under Byzantine rule, the centre of Jerusalem steadily shifted to the Holy Sepulchre. The temple mount destroyed by the Romans in 70 was abandoned, though it remained a site of Jewish pilgrimage. Mu’awiyah (ruled 661-680) chose it as the site of his palace and the city's first mosque. ʿAbd al-Mali (ruled 683-705), father of the future al-Walid I, turned this political and religious centre into an exceptional religious complex around the Dome of the Rock.
Built in 691-692, this was the first building erected on the site. Its Koranic inscriptions attest to the mosque’s function in proclaiming the faith and physically inscribed Islam within the biblical tradition. The dome encloses a rocky outcrop believed to be the site of Isaac's sacrifice and Adam's tomb, in which a stairway leading to a cave has been hollowed out.
A place of pilgrimage
The Dome of the Rock has a central-plan structure with a double ambulatory, dominated by a high central dome. The double ambulatory allows pilgrims to walk around the rock, but also to buttress the