Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

Dome of the Rock ("Qubbat al-Ṣakhrah" in Arabic), whose golden dome has become the iconic symbol of Jerusalem, is an Islamic shrine on the Temple Mount. This shrine isn't a mosque but a large octagonal structure that supports a dome over a rock, hence its name.

Why was the Dome of the Rock built on Temple Mount, the plateau of Jerusalem where the Jewish Temple of Jerusalem once stood?

The official reason is that it was built to commemorate Mohammed flying on a winged horse named Buraq from Mecca to Al Aqsa Mosque, which is also on the Temple Mount, and from there to heaven for a visit. But Mohammed died decades before Al Aqsa Mosque was built (see Al Aqsa Mosque), and horses don't fly.

What is the real reason?

After conquering Jerusalem, the ninth Islamic Caliph, Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock to commemorate his conquest of Judaism's capital. That is why it was built on the spot of the Temple Mount where the Jewish Temple of Jerusalem had once stood.

For the next 1,300 years, Dome of the Rock served as a flag of victory for whoever conquered Jerusalem. When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, they turned it into a Catholic church. When Saladin recaptured Jerusalem in 1187, he turned it back into a Muslim shrine.

When the Israeli army captured the Temple Mount during the Six Day War in 1967, Arik Achmon and Ezra Orni, two Israeli paratroopers, climbed up the Dome of the Rock and hung the Israeli flag on top of it until Moshe Dayan, the then Israeli Defense Minister, ordered it to be taken down, saying, "Do you want to see the Middle East on fire?"

The Israeli government declared sovereignty over the Temple Mount but "in order to keep peace," handed over its management to a Muslim trust led by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Trusts of Jordan, Israel's Muslim neighbor to the east. Surprisingly, the orthodox Jews supported this decision.


Inside the Jewish Temple was the "Holiest of All," the most holy place, the entry into which was forbidden for all except the high priest, and even he could enter only once a year. Because the current assessment of the exact location of the Holiest of All is uncertain, the orthodox Jews feared inadvertently treading on the former site of the Holiest of All. Rabbis in Jerusalem still forbid their flock from setting foot on the Temple Mount for this reason but many Jews remain troubled - even indignant - that a Muslim shrine sits atop the site of their Temple, including the Holiest of All.*

Is the Dome of the Rock's golden dome made of gold?

The "golden" dome was covered with lead until 1963, and then with gold-colored aluminum. Despite Muslims' unanimous expressions of reverence for the Dome of the Rock, their pleas for their leaders to cover its golden dome actually with gold went unheeded until 1993, when the former king of Jordan sold one of his mansions in London and used the proceeds to buy the needed 180 pounds of gold.

The interior of the Dome of the Rock is made of wood and its exterior facade is porcelain, which simply sits on an octagonal marble base.

* The "Holiest of All," also called, "the Most Holy Place," covered 100 square yards (And he made the Most Holy Place. Its length was according to the width of the house, twenty cubits, and its width twenty cubits... (2 Chronicles 3:8); one cubit equals 18 inches, so 20 x 20 cubits equal 10 x 10 yards) and was situated west of the geographic center of the Temple Mount. The octagonal Dome of the Rock is also situated west of the geographic center of the Temple Mount but covers almost 2,000 square yards (20 yards per side of the octagon). This means that the Dome of the Rock, which is almost 20 times larger, almost certainly covers the former site of the Temple of Jerusalem's Holiest of All, entering which was a very serious matter even for the high priest, unless he is a very special "High Priest":

"For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience - concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation. But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance." (Hebrews 9:2-15; for an explanation see Why Was Jesus Crucified?)

Travel Tip
As in any foreign land, the locals appreciate being greeted in their own language. To greet a Jew, say "Shalom," which means "Peace." To greet an Arab, say "Salaam Wa Ah-lay-koom," which means "Peace be with you." The Arab will reply, "Wa Ah-lay-koom salaam," meaning "Peace be with you too," while the Jew will simply reply, "Shalom."