Islamic Museum, al-Aqsa Mosque / al-Haram al-Sharif
About hegira 424 / AD 1033
Carved limestone, stucco, formed and mounted on stone.
Height 101 cm, top 148 cm x 148 cm, bottom: 96 cm x 96 cm
A column capital made from local limestone cut from a quarry in the Jerusalem region. It appears that the carving of the capital into its complete form was never finished, or that it was carved in this manner with the aim of economising on time and cost. The style of this capital imitates the capitals in the Abbasid Corinthian style that were used in the restoration of al-Aqsa Mosque in the period of the Abbasid caliph, al-Mahdi (r. AH 158–69 / AD 775–85), following the earthquake that tore away large parts of the mosque. The Abbasid capitals in al-Aqsa Mosque are large, and in this way they resemble the capitals of the Greek period. The column capitals of the Umayyad period were smaller than those of the preceding era, the Byzantine period, and although they resembled the latter, they were not in fact produced during that period.
The mosque was witness to another earthquake during the Fatimid period in AH 424 / AD 1033, which caused extensive damage. The restoration took place during the rule of the Fatimid caliph, al-Zahir bi-Amrillah (r. AH 411–27 / AD 1021–36). The damaged capitals were replaced by some that were made in the style of the earlier Abbasid ones, especially evident amongst those capitals of the pillars in the central colonnade of the mosque.
Only some of the decoration on the capital is carved. Other parts were prepared and gilded ready to be dressed with acanthus leaves that were executed in stucco and mounted on to the capital. The hollows in the stone were, therefore, where the stucco decoration was fixed directly on to the stone. A great many stucco acanthus leaves were found on the site which had been mounted on the capitals using the same technique as described above.
The Islamic Museum holds a number of pieces in this style, in addition to a large and varied collection of marble and limestone capitals of different sizes dating back to the Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid periods. The Museum also has a smaller group of capitals dating to the Crusader period.
This limestone column capital imitates the Corinthian style used in the restoration of al-Aqsa Mosque at the time of Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi. Its carving appears not to have been completed. Only some decoration is carved; other parts were prepared and gilded ready to be covered with acanthus leaves executed in stucco and affixed to the capital.
The capital was dated based on a study of its production techniques and by comparison with similar pieces; this analysis is supported by historical sources.
This capital was transferred – in addition to a number of other capitals dating to different periods – from al-Aqsa Mosque to the plaza of the Haram al-Sharif during a restoration program of the 1940s. The capital was transferred to the Islamic Museum in 1978.
It is likely that the capital was made from local limestone and hewn and carved on site at a quarry in the Jerusalem region. There are still similar column capitals in the vicinity of the Haram al-Sharif.
Hamilton, R. W., The Structural History of al-Aqsa Mosque: A Record of Archaeological Cleaning from the Repairs of 1938–42, London, 1949.
Wilkinson, J., Column Capitals in al-Haram al-Sharif, Jerusalem, 1987.
Nazmi Al-Ju'beh "Column capital" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;pa;Mus01;6;en
Prepared by: Nazmi Al-Ju'behNazmi Al-Ju'beh
Nazmi Al-Ju'beh is an archaeologist and historian and Co-Director of RIWAQ, Centre for Architectural Conservation in Ramallah, Palestine. He studied at Birzeit University in Palestine and at Tübingen University in Germany. He taught at Birzeit University and at al-Quds University. He was Director of the Islamic Museum, al-Haram al-Sharif, Jerusalem, and directed various cultural heritage projects in Palestine, including surveys of archaeological and architectural sites. He was a major contributor to Pilgrimage, Sciences and Sufism: Islamic Art in the West Bank and Gaza (Vienna: MWNF, 2004) and is the author of numerous publications on the history, archaeology and cultural heritage of Palestine.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: PA 06