Masjid-Al-Aqsa – Old City – Jerusalem
Al-Aqsa Mosque (Arabic:المسجد الاقصى al-Masjid al-Aqsa, IPA: (“the Farthest Mosque,”) also known as al-Aqsa and Bayt al-Muqaddas, is the third holiest site in Sunni Islam and is located in the Old City of Jerusalem. The site on which the silver domed mosque sits, along with the Dome of the Rock, also referred to as al-Haram ash-Sharif or “Noble Sanctuary,” is the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, the place where the Temple is generally accepted to have stood. Muslims believe that Muhammad was transported from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to al-Aqsa during the Night Journey. Islamic tradition holds that Muhammad led prayers towards this site until the seventeenth month after the emigration, when God directed him to turn towards the Ka’aba.
The al-Aqsa Mosque was originally a small prayer house built by the Rashidun caliph Umar, but was rebuilt and expanded by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik and finished by his son al-Walid in 705 CE. After an earthquake in 746, the mosque was completely destroyed and rebuilt by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur in 754, and again rebuilt by his successor al-Mahdi in 780. Another earthquake destroyed most of al-Aqsa in 1033, but two years later the Fatimid caliph Ali az-Zahir built another mosque which has stood to the present-day. During the periodic renovations undertaken, the various ruling dynasties of the Islamic Caliphate constructed additions to the mosque and its precincts, such as its dome, facade, its minbar, minarets and the interior structure. When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, they used the mosque as a palace and church, but its function as a mosque was restored after its recapture by Saladin in 1187. More renovations, repairs and additions were undertaken in the later centuries by the Ayyubids, Mamluks, Ottomans, the Supreme Muslim Council, and Jordan. Today, the Old City is under Israeli control, but the mosque remains under the administration of the Palestinian-led Islamic waqf.
Masjid al-Aqsa translates from Arabic into English as “the farthest mosque.” The name refers to a chapter of the Qur’an called “The Night Journey” in which it is said that Muhammad traveled from Mecca to “the farthest mosque,” and then up to Heaven on a heavenly creature called al-Buraq al-Sharif. Al-Aqsa Mosque as a whole is confused with a particular building within it, also known as al-Jami’ al-Aqsa or al-Qibli or Masjid al-Jumah or al-Mughata, these names refer to the southern building with the silver lead dome. For centuries, al-Masjid al-Aqsa referred not only to the mosque, but to the entire sacred sanctuary. This changed during the period of Ottoman rule (c. early 16th century to 1918) when the sanctuary complex came to be known as al Haram ash-Sharif, and the mosque founded by Umar came to be known as al-Jami’ al-Aqsa or al-Aqsa Mosque.
The al-Aqsa Mosque is located on the Temple Mount, referred to by Muslims today as the “Haram al-Sharif” (“The Noble Sanctuary”), an enclosure expanded by King Herod the Great beginning in 20 BCE. The mosque resides on an artificial platform that is supported by arches constructed by Herod’s engineers to overcome the difficult topographic conditions resulting from the southward expansion of the enclosure into the Tyropoeon and Kidron valleys. At the time of the Second Temple, the present site of the mosque was occupied by the Royal Stoa, a basilica running the southern wall of the enclosure. The Royal Stoa was destroyed along with the Temple during the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE. Emperor Justinian built a Christian church on the site in the 530s which was consecrated to the Virgin Mary and named “Church of Our Lady.” The church was later destroyed by Khosrau II, the Sassanid emperor, in the early 7th century and left in ruins. Analysis of the wooden beams and panels removed from the mosque during renovations in the 1930s shows they are made from Cedar of Lebanon and cypress. Radiocarbon dating indicates a large range of ages, some as old as 9th-century BCE, showing that some of the wood had previously been used in older buildings
Unlike the Dome of the Rock, which reflects classical Byzantine architecture, the Al-Aqsa Mosque is characteristic of early Islamic architecture. Nothing remains of the original dome built by Abd al-Malik. The present-day dome was built by az-Zahir and consists of wood plated with lead enamelwork. In 1969, the dome was reconstructed in concrete and covered with anodized aluminum, instead of the original ribbed lead enamel work sheeting. In 1983, the aluminum outer covering was replaced with lead to match the original design by az-Zahir. Al-Aqsa’s dome is one of the few domes to be built in front of the mihrab during the Umayyad and Abbasid periods, the others being the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus (715) and the Great Mosque at Sousse (850). The interior of the dome is painted with 14th-century-era decorations. During the 1969 burning, the paintings were assumed to be irreparably lost, but were completely reconstructed using the trateggio technique, a method that uses fine vertical lines to distinguish reconstructed areas from original ones