Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary)
The Haram al-Sharif is located in the southeast section of the old walled city of Jerusalem, Jerusalem
Hegira 15–493 / AD 637–1099; AH 583–1336 / AD 1187–1917
A series of consecutive Islamic periods ranging from the Umayyad to the Ottoman dynasties
A number of caliphs, sultans and princes of the Islamic lands oversaw the construction of the buildings of the Haram al-Sharif. The most prominent was the Umayyad caliph, Abd al-Malik bin Marwan (r. AH 65–86 / AD 685–705). Subsequent renovations were undertaken by several Muslim sultans and caliphs, the most prominent being: the Fatimid caliph, al-Zahir (r. AH 411–27 / AD 1021–36) and sultan Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (known as Saladin, r. AH 564–89 / AD 1169–93) and the Ottoman sultan, Sulayman al-Qanuni (Sulayman the Magnificent; r. AH 926–74 / AD 1520–66).
The Haram al-Sharif is of great importance in the Islamic faith. It is where the Prophet Muhammad set out on his midnight journey from Mecca to Jerusalem (Isra') and from where he ascended to the heavens (Mi'raj). Furthermore, God blessed the Haram in the Holy Qur'an, and made it the first qibla (or direction of prayer) for Muslims.
The Haram takes an elevated position up in the hills of Jerusalem. It is composed of a rectangular platform of approximately 1450,000 sq m forming one-sixth of the old city of Jerusalem.
Scholars agree that as it exists today the Haram al-Sharif is devoid of any visible remains that precede the arrival of the Muslims in Jerusalem in AH 15 / AD 638, due to the fact that the buildings which were standing were destroyed by Titus and his legions in AD 70.
When the Arab-Muslims arrived, Jerusalem surrendered peacefully as part of a contractual agreement set up by Caliph ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (r. AH 13–23 / AD 634–44) with the Patriarch, Sophronius. The Arabs did not destroy any buildings in the area of the Haram and the agreement made with Sophronius guaranteed the protection of the inhabitants, their households and their possessions. Most of the city was inhabited, with the exception of the Haram area, which at the time was neglected.
The Haram site slopes from the north to the south. The highest point of it is in the centre where the Dome of the Rock is located. This tendency to slope is addressed by a platform that traverses it. One section of the platform is known by the name of al-Aqsa al-Qadim, while the other is known as al-Musalla al-Marwani.
Development of the Haram is focused on its northern and western borders, although this was following construction at the centre, along with some important buildings such as the Dome of the Rock and the Qubbat al-Silsila (Dome of the Chain). The eastern edge of the Haram inclines towards a slope running down to the Wadi Jahannam (Qidron Valley), used as an Islamic cemetery from the very beginning of the Islamic conquests. On the southern side there is an even steeper inclination that offers better structural support to the architecture, and because of this, Umayyad edifices on the southern limit, best represented by the Dar al-Imara in the south of the Haram, have been continuously inhabited throughout history.
The Haram al-Sharif is composed of three levels. The ground level includes Bab al-Rahma (Gate of Mercy), Bab al-Tawba / Bab al-Dhahabi (Gate of Repentance / Golden Gate), al-Musalla al-Marwani, al-Aqsa al-Qadim (Old Aqsa) and the Masjid of Buraq. The middle level includes the Aqsa Mosque, the Islamic Museum and the side arcades in the western and northern walls, along with a multiplicity of gates and buildings such as sabils, madrasas, mastabas, minarets and domes. The highest level is that of the Dome of the Rock, reached by a series of stairwells, and where there are a series of magnificent domes and some khanqas (Sufi retreats), also the Minbar Burhan al-Din and the Mastabat al-Kark, and a number of cisterns and fountains.
This is the third oldest Islamic site after Mecca and Medina and the oldest and most important sacred Muslim site in Palestine. It is a large complex with an area of some 145,000 sq. m. It includes the Dome of the Rock, al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome al-Silsila (Chain) and the Bab al-Rahma (Gate of Mercy) as well as more than 90 other commemorative buildings. The complex thus represents diverse Eastern Islamic architectural arts in different styles over the course of various periods, transforming it into an outdoor architectural museum. The site is linked with Islamic stories, specifically that of the Isra' and Mi'raj (Night of the Prophet's Ascension).
The Haram al-Sharif is dated by the inscriptions it bears, by historical sources and finds from archaeological excavations.
Burgoyne, M., Mamluk Jerusalem: An Architectural Study, London, 1987.
Creswell, K. A. C., Early Muslim Architecture, Oxford, 1932.
Hamilton, R. W., The Structural History of al-Aqsa Mosque: A Record of Archaeological Gleanings from the Repairs of 1938–42, London, 1949.
Al-Hanbali, Mujir al-Din, (d. AH 927 / AD 1520), Al-Uns al-Jalil fi Tarikh al-Quds wa al-Khalil [The Significant Ambiance in the History of Jerusalem and Hebron], Amman, 1973.
Natsheh, Y., “The Architecture of Ottoman Jerusalem”, in S. Auld and R. Hillenbrand (eds), Ottoman Jerusalem: The Living City 1517–1917 (Part II),London, 2000.
Pilgrimage, Sciences and Sufism: Islamic Art in the West Bank and Gaza (pp.69–71).
Yusuf al-Natsheh "Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;pa;Mon01;1;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 GomezMandi Gomez
Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.
True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.
MWNF Working Number: PA 01
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