Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Rock



The third important holy city in the Islamic world next to Makka (Mecca) and Madîna (Medina) is Jerusalem, where the gDome of the Rockh stands. While the Umayyad Dynasty usurped the sovereignty over the Arabic Empire in 661, transferring the capital to Damascus, Syria, the people of the opposing power put up a counter- Khalîfa (Caliph) in 683 and dominated Makka and Madîna until 693.

Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Rock on Mount Moriah

In the meantime the Umayyads who had lost the two holy sites sought an equivalent site to them, which was Jerusalem in Palestine. It was the supreme Holy Land for Judaism and Christianity, both of which Muhammad had admitted sibling religions of Islam, and it is written in the gQurfânh (Koran) that the Prophet made the enight journeyf (Isrâ) from Makka to the efurthest mosquef (Jerusalem) from which moreover, written in a legend of gBiography of Muhammadh (Sîra Rasûl Allâh), he made the eascension to heavenf (Mifraj) led by the Angel Gabriel (Jibrîl) and met God (Allâh).

Besides that, since Muslims did not worship in the direction of Makka but Jerusalem in the earliest years of Islam, it made ample sense to make it into the cardinal pilgrimage site instead of deprived Makka and Madîna.

Plan of the Temple Compound
Axonometric Drawing of the Holy Site of Mount Moriah, Jerusalem
(From Dan Bahat, THE ILLUSTRATED ATLAS OF JERUSALEM, 1989, Simon & Schuster)

In the holy city of Jerusalem, there is Mount Moriah being dubbed the eNoble Sanctuaryf (Haram al-Sharîf), which is also referred to as the eTemple Compoundf because of the Solomonfs Temple (Jewish) having existed bygone days.
In the Umayyad period there was an exposed rock head on the Temple Compound. According to tradition, it was on this rock (Sakhra) that Muhammad made a leap to heaven while riding on the celestial horse (Burâq) and that Abraham (Ibrâhîm), the common ancestor of both Jews and Muslims, took his son Isaac to be offered to God as a sacrifice ain remote antiquity.

Dome of the Rock___ Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Rock through an arcade and its southwest wall


The 5th Umayyad Khalifa Abd al-Malik (646-705) considered this rock as a relic, commanding to erect a monumental shrine covering this rock as the representative of Islam. It should be an octagon like a Christian martyrfs mausoleum (Martyrium), being also the Islamic edifice corresponding to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher standing on the Hill of Golgotha, where Jesus Christ was crucified.

While the circumambulation around a sanctum is practiced throughout the world, the Islamic one is habitually counterclockwise as opposed to the Indian. The architect of the Dome provided double ambulatories for that purpose around the rock, a wooden dome of 20m in diameter over the rock, and wooden shed roofs on the ambulatories.

PLAN and MODEL of the Dome of the Rock
(From David Kroyanker, JERUSALEM ARCHITECTURE, 1994, Tauris Parke Books)

Being the first monumental building for Muslims, the architecture of Islam had not yet been established; they accordingly adopted the methods of Byzantine arts and architecture on a large scale, which were the tradition of this region. They formed a rounded continuous arcade over the row of alternate pillars and columns, embellishing the walls with splendid gold-based glass mosaics, the patterns of which were composed with representational objects like trees, grapevines, crowns and so on, having not yet developed geometric arabesque.

However, a line of calligraphy makes a circle above the arcade, praising the glory of God and proclaiming that Muhammad was the apostle of God. It was a previous notice of the fact that calligraphy would grow to a main element of the Islamic ornamentation afterward.
This centralizing rotunda embellished with gorgeous mosaics must have made followers feel magnificence as if symbolizing the celestial paradise. Along with the external appearance of its golden dome, they achieved a monument that was unforgettable from a glance, and was a centripetal monument in the Islamic world.

Dome of the Rock___ Santa Costanza
Interiors of the Dome of the Rock and the Santa Costanza


Its architectural formation is pointed out to deeply resemble the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulcher located near here; being a rotunda with double ambulatories, its diameter is 20.4m, combined and facing a basilica-type chapel (one is the church of Resurrection and the other is the al-Aqsa Mosque).

In short, the Dome of the Rock was under deep influence of Syria-Byzantine arts and architecture, whose appearance suggests that the Umayyads invited specialists of the preceding civilization, from architects to mosaicists. In every area which Islam expanded, Muslims thereby succeeded the previous civilization, developing gradually their own architecture.

(In "Architecture of Islam" 2006)

© Takeo Kamiya
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