The Aqsa Mosque is located to the south of the Dome of the Rock on the southern side of the Haram al-Sharif, Jerusalem
Hegira 65–96 / AD 685–715
Built in the Umayyad period; renovated in the Abbasid, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman periods
Caliph 'Abd al-Malik bin Marwan (r. AH 65–86 / AD 685–705) and al-Walid bin 'Abd al-Malik (r. AH 86–96 / AD 705–15). The building was renovated several times thereafter, in the eras of: the Abbasid Caliph Abu Ja’far al-Mansur (r. AH 136–58 / AD 754–75), Caliph al-Mahdi (r. AH 158–69 / AD 775–85), the Fatimid Caliph, al-Zahir (r. AH 411–27 / AD 1021–36), Sultan Salah al-Din Ayyubi (known as Saladin, r. AH 564–89 / AD 1169–93), Mamluk sultan, al-Nasir Muhammad bin Qalawun (who ruled three times: AH 693–4, 698–708 and 709–41 / AD 1294–5, 1299–1309 and 1309–40) and a number of the Ottoman sultans.
The Aqsa Mosque is a rectangular building within the Haram al-Sharif. The Haram site slopes from the north to the south and this tendency is addressed by a platform that traverses it, and upon which the mosque was erected. The layout of the present mosque is the result of reconstructions and modifications that have characterised a number of building stages in different periods, and which are the subject of some debate among historians and researchers.
The first stages of construction of the Aqsa Mosque are associated with the Caliph 'Umar bin al-Khattab (r. AH 13–23 / AD 634–44) who erected a mihrab and a simple mosque on the same site as the present mosque. Mujir al-Din (d. AH 928 / AD 1521), an historian and authority on the architecture of Jerusalem, mentions that Caliph 'Umar while clearing the Haram area of debris, uncovered the sacred rock. He consulted those with him about the ideal position of the mosque and was advised to situate it to the north of the rock, but he refused, saying: “But we must make its qibla, its front [any part of the wall on the south], as has the Prophet of God made the qibla of our mosques, their front”. In about AH 49–50 / AD 670, the famous traveller Arculf stated that the mosque was located in the southern area of the Haram; it was erected on great wooden piers constructed from re-used material found in the region and that the mosque was widened to accommodate 3000 worshippers.
Nothing tangible remains of the original mosque, known as the Masjid al-'Umari, since it was renovated at the beginning of AH 65 / AD 685.
The Aqsa Mosque was built during the reign of Abd al-Malik. It had 15 arcades, none of which have survived intact except those on the southern wall, due to the fact that the mosque was badly damaged by a number of earthquakes and was restored a number of times.
During the Crusader period the Aqsa Mosque was converted into a church. A large recess was added in the eastern side, corresponding to the layout of churches facing the east. The recess remains to this day.
The present al-Aqsa mosque has nine entrances: seven of them are located in the northern wall, one in the west wall and another in the east. The northern wall is preceded by a colonnade composed of seven slabs of stone, each covered by an intersecting vault. The colonnade opens out on to the plaza of the Haram al-Sharif through a large tapered arch.
The ground plan of the mosque is a rectangle measuring 50 m x 80 m. It is composed of seven aisles extending from north to south; the middle one being the widest and highest of them. The three western colonnades are supported by large piers, while the eastern colonnades are supported by a series of marble columns imported from Italy during the restoration of this section by the High Islamic Council in the first half of the 20th century. At the southern end of the middle aisle there is a wooden semi-circular dome supported by corner squinches. Below the dome is the beautiful mihrab built by order of Salah al-Din Ayyubi (Saladin) when he liberated the mosque from the Franks in AH 583 / AD 1187.
The present building is a product of many architectural developments, since all the dynasties that ruled the Islamic state left their mark on this building, which also fell victim to successive earthquakes. The last catastrophe was the result of an arson attack in 1969. Not much remains of the first building stages (Umayyad); its form has changed as a result of continuous renovation and restoration and it has been lengthened and not widened as is the case for Umayyad mosques. It is now composed of seven colonnades, the widest in the middle, and is topped by a gabled roof. It is connected to the miracle of the Isra’ and Mi’raj (Night of the Prophet’s Ascension) for the site was mentioned in the Qur’an.
The building is dated by inscriptions, historical sources, as well as evidence of finds from archaeological excavations.
Creswell, K. A. C., Early Muslim Architecture, Oxford, 1932.
Hamilton, R. W., The Structural History of the Aqsa Mosque: A Record of Archaeological Gleanings from the Repairs of 1938–42, London, 1949.
Al-Hanbali, Mujir al-Din (d. 927 / 1520), Al-Uns al-Jalil fi Tarikh al-Quds wa al-Khalil [The Significant Ambiance in the History of Jerusalem and Hebron], Amman, 1973.
Pilgrimage, Sciences and Sufism: Islamic Art in the West Bank and Gaza, pp.74–6.
Yusuf al-Natsheh "Aqsa Mosque" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;pa;Mon01;3;en
Prepared by: Yusuf Al-NatshehYusuf al-Natsheh
Yusuf Said Natsheh is a Palestinian and since 1997 he has been Director of the Department of Islamic Archaeology in al-Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem. He is a lecturer at al-Quds University. He was educated in Jerusalem and Cairo and in 1997 obtained his Ph.D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Dr Natsheh is a council member of many Palestinian societies for architectural heritage and a consultant for various projects on Jerusalem. He has written books and more than 40 articles about Jerusalem's architectural heritage including the architectural survey of Ottoman architecture in R. Hillenbrand and S. Auld (eds) Ottoman Jerusalem: The Living City 1517–1917 (London: Altajir World of Islam Trust, 2000). He has contributed to many international and national conferences. He supervised the restoration project, sponsored by the Arab League, on Mamluk monuments in and around al-Haram al-Sharif, and was Palestinian expert for the UNESCO mission to Jerusalem in 2004.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: PA 03
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Pilgrimage | The Quest for Baraka – Pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Palestine The Umayyads | Official Patronage Arabic Calligraphy | Monumental Calligraphy Al-Franj: the Crusaders in the Levant | Saladin in the Holy Land Al-Franj: the Crusaders in the Levant | Culture in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem
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