For Muslims, Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock ranks behind only Makkah and Medina as the world's holiest place. Sheltered beneath the dazzling golden dome -- which was built according to perfect mathematical calculations -- is the Holy Rock, whose associations touch three religions.
A shrine and place of pilgrimage, the Dome of the Rock rests upon the pedestal of the Temple Mount (or Haram al-Sharif), which occupies about 20 percent of Jerusalem's Old City. Traditionally, this rock is believed to be where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son as a sign of obedience to God. Solomon built a temple on the mount in 960 B.C.
Among relics that draw pilgrims to the Dome of the Rock is a hair from
Mohammad's head. See more pictures of famous landmarks.
It is said that this temple housed the Ark of the Covenant, the chest in which Moses placed the two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Herod began rebuilding the temple in 20 B.C. And Muslims believe that it was from this same rock that the prophet Muhammad started on his ascent to heaven. (Today, guides point out his footprint in the Holy Rock.)
The Dome of the Rock was built by Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in the late seventh century. He intended the octagonal mosque to make it obvious that Islam was fully the equal of the religions that came before it: Judaism and Christianity. It is likely that he wanted the Dome of the Rock to outshine the city's Christian holy sites.
The mosque is certainly a wonder to behold, its exterior sheathed in marble slabs and polychrome glazed tiles that represent vines and flowers, geometric shapes, and inscriptions from the Koran. Inside, the walls are covered with bands of mother-of-pearl, green and gold glass, and mosaics. In the center rests the Holy Rock -- which is, by comparison with its ornate surroundings, simple and basic, almost nondescript. Yet, according to tradition, it still retains the handprint of the archangel Gabriel, who held back the rock as it tried to follow the prophet Muhammad on his ascent to heaven.
Nearby is a reminder that this site is Judaism's most holy place, as well. A remnant of Herod's temple still stands and has come to be called the Western Wall, or sometimes the Wailing Wall. It remains a solemn destination for prayerful and devout Jews.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.