Saturday, February 5, 2011

שלושה . ثلاثة‎ . Three.

Suffice to say, I have been really into architecture lately. And yes, it is mostly Islamic architecture. Next time I write a post on architecture, I'll definitely mix it up and go for a different ethnic building tradition, promise! But this past week, I applied for a Fellowship to learn Arabic, and in honor of turning in that application (keep your fingers crossed for me!), I give you one of the greatest and most important Islamic structures ever built.

Qubbat al-Sakhra or The Dome of the Rock - Jerusalem, Israel
The Dome of the Rock was built in the year 692 AD (known in the Muslim community as year 72) by Umayyad Caliph 'Abd al-Malik and was the first building to really manifest a stylistic, structural, and ornamental program for Islamic culture. It was also the first monumental Islamic building built in an epicenter/Holy City of the 3 monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). The building utilizes Christian and Judaic traditions to impose a formidable Islamic presence in Jerusalem.

The Dome of the Rock is is built on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. Mt. Moriah is significant in all three monotheistic religions. This is supposedly the place of miracles witnessed by Solomon and David (and the location of Solomon's temple) and the Night Journey of Muhammad was from Mecca to this site. It is also said to be the second place created by God (after the Abraham's Ka'ba in Mecca) and where God ascended into Heaven after the Creation. It is also said that the mihrab ("prayer niche," facing Mecca) beneath the Mt. Moriah edifice inside the Dome is where all will be judged on the day of Last Judgment. For a new religious dynasty, this would be the ideal place to build and therefore assert one's legitimacy.

The building is an octagonal plan with a gold dome. The gold dome is a symbol of the wealth and power of the Umayyad dynasty...They were so rich, they melted coins (a LOT of coins) to cover the dome. The original structure was covered in mosaic work on both the inside and outside, but the original decoration began to crumble in 1550 AD. Ottoman tiles and marble facing replaced the originals.

The building is centrally planned around a focal point, in this case the actual rock of Mt. Moriah. Two concentric pathways circle the rock (See below), forcing a viewer to circumabulate (walk in a circle) around the center. The building is also considered a "Martyrium plan," indicating a shrine or tomb meant for commemoration or protection ("Plan for bearing witness.")

The interior plan had marble panels on the first level walls, gold mosaic work in the drum (the structure that holds up the dome), and guilt and painted woodwork in the dome itself. Internal columns are spolia, or columns taken from another source and re-used. Mosaic work was actually a Christian-Byzantine tradition, and the Dome of the Rock was one of the few non-Christian structures to use it. This leads us to wonder if 'Abd al-Malik used Byzantine artisans from his conquered territories to decorate his projects.

It is said that three chains hung down from the center of the building, each attached to a talisman. The first was a crown, indicating the political Umayyad victory over Sasanians/Persians. The second, was a horn of Abraham's ram. The third was a pearl (a giant pearl), known as the Orphan Pearl or Al-Yatima.

There are inscriptions inside the building as well, and some make reference to the "People of the Book," indicating Christians and Jews. While Muslims follow a set law, the Qu'ran (Koran), it was technically oral recitations first, not a book. Though today, you can't enter the Dome if you are not Muslim, interior inscriptions suggest other religions might have initially utilized this building as well. Additional inscriptions indicate that there is "No God but God, He has no partner" (monotheism...Also a part of the Muslim Shahada or 5 Pillars of Faith), prayers upon the prophet, and expressing an anti-trinitarian position.

Most importantly! These inscriptions are the earliest surviving examples of Qu'ranic teachings NOT in a book.

"Building a highly visible dome on a site celebrated in the past by David and Solomon and sanctified in the presence of Islam symbolized 'Abd al-Malik's political aspirations and balanced his monarchical inclinations and religious convictions." - Nasser Rabbat, The Meaning of the Umayyad Dome of the Rock, 1989

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