al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem

Date: begun after 705
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Israel
Dimensions: now approx. 50 × 70 m
Description: After Jerusalem was conquered in the 630s, new Islamic buildings were constructed on the ancient Temple Mount. There must have been a communal prayer space from the outset (the masjid al-aqsa, the "further mosque" cited in Qur'an 17.1, has long been associated with Jerusalem), but the current al-Aqsa Mosque was begun after 705 by the Umayyad caliph al-Walid (r. 705–15). Its architectural history is complicated by its partial destruction from earthquakes and major renovations, but it was always a hypostyle mosque with a two-story nave, as in the Great Mosque of Damascus. The previous building was much wider, with fifteen aisles perpendicular to the qibla wall rather than today's seven. The alignment of the rectangular al-Aqsa with the Dome of the Rock seems to have echoed that of the Holy Sepulcher complex, which combined a basilica with the Anastasis Rotunda and was visible in the city below.

Numerous spolia were reused in the mosque, including ancient Roman and early Byzantine columns and capitals, many now displayed outside it. Sixth-century cedar beams were used in the roof, some inscribed in Greek. Crusader-era columns and capitals were incorporated after 1099, when al-Aqsa became both the palace of the Christians kings then ruling Jerusalem and the headquarters of the Knights Templar. The intertwined columns that flank what is now a side mihrab on the qibla wall (called the "mihrab of 'Umar") are Christian works of the twelfth century; the animals' heads on the capitals were cut away because mosques have only aniconic decoration. The colorful principal mihrab was commissioned by the Ayuubid ruler Salah al-Din when he took Jerusalem from the Christians in 1187.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 3, 4, 7, 8
Image Credits: Linda Safran; Wikimedia Commons

« Back

Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque, exterior from the northeast Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque, early Byzantine basket capital displayed outside Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque, detail of north facade Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque, interior, view toward qibla wall on the south Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque, interior, view toward the east from central nave Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque, mihrab of 'Umar on south wall Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque, mihrab of 'Umar on south wall, detail of crusader-era figural capital Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque, main mihrab of  Salah al-Din on south wall