Dome of the Rock: Definition, History, Architecture & Facts

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

One of the most notable buildings on the Jerusalem skyline, the Dome of the Rock sits on a site that is among the most holy on earth for both Jews and Muslims. Meant to rival other sacred spaces, it proved its ability to do so in a truly unique style.

Holy Before Islam

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem sits atop what is perhaps the most holy real estate in the Middle East. Of note, it is not a mosque, but is instead a shrine that protects the Foundation Stone, which is sacred to two world religions. For Jews, the stone acts as a connection between the spiritual world and the physical world, as it was the very first stone crafted by God during the Creation, and is the support for the rest of the universe around it. As such, it is also a possible site for the Holy of Holies, and it is forbidden for Jews to visit the site.

For Muslims, on the other hand, the Foundation Stone is the object from which Muhammad ascended into Heaven and spoke to God to learn the details of proper prayer to take back to the Muslims. As such, Muslims are encouraged to visit the site, the third-holiest in Islam. Such encouragement remains a source of tension in the volatile city.

The Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Rock


The Dome of the Rock was previously site to the Jewish Temple and numerous other places of worship, and it was built by the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik in the late seventh century. He borrowed extensively from other holy buildings throughout the Near East, especially in the construction of the dome itself. Unlike many mosques during the Crusades, it was not destroyed, instead serving as a headquarters for European knights during the Middle Ages.

Following the recapture of Jerusalem by Muslim forces under Saladin in 1187, the Dome of the Rock became the beneficiary of a great deal of rebuilding and expansion efforts. The most notable of these came during the Ottoman period, during which the whole exterior was covered with the blue tiles, geometric designs, and Arabic calligraphy that it is famous for today. Once Jerusalem came under British Mandate control following World War I, an earthquake caused the structure to fall into some level of disrepair, but since 1948, spending money to support the renovation of the building has been a point of pride among many Muslim rulers and financial leaders.

Today, the Dome of the Rock occupies a particularly unique situation with regards to visiting. Because Jews traditionally avoid the Temple Mount, which is where the Dome is located, they are excluded from visiting. Visitors who are neither Muslim nor Jewish have the ability to visit the grounds during narrowly-selected visiting hours, but with no religious paraphernalia, and they may not enter the Dome of the Rock or any other nearby mosques. Muslims who have filled out the proper paperwork with the Israeli authorities are allowed entrance to the buildings.

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