Sunday, May 5, 2013

On the Dome of the Rock

Can you tell what is unusual about this picture? Read to the end of the post and find out!
During the trip while my family was here, we decided to go up to the Dome of the Rock, a mosque situated on the same site where the Jewish temple existed two thousand years ago. Needless to say, in a country whose very existence  is contested, this particular land is controversial in its own special way.

It has always seemed a little strange to me that the most iconic image from Jerusalem is not a Jewish site. When you see pictures or postcards, it is very often the Dome of the Rock - possibly framed behind the Western Wall - but even still, it is that golden dome that stands out. It also seemed a little strange to me that I have never visited the mosque, since it is such a famous landmark in the city. I was glad that we would be going, but not exactly sure what to expect.

For anyone worrying about the safety of this, we found a long line of tourists waiting at the gate to enter the area, which is generally reassuring. Furthermore, we were going with a guide.
You can kind of see a muslim prayer group in the back right corner of this photo.
When we first walked into the plaza area, we were greeted by an Israeli guard, who told us that the woman in our group where wearing skirts that were too short, and they would not be allowed. This was sort of a stressful way to start the tour. After some confusion and argument, we eventually were allowed to continue, on the condition that the girls each bought a scarf to wrap around their legs as a make-shift skirt. These scarves were certainly more expensive than they should be, but not such a horrible rip-off as you might expect.

Caroline and I had seen many Muslim buildings, forts and mosques in India, so we thought we had some idea what to expect. There were a lot of commonalities. The architectural style had many of the same features, like the shapes of the windows, the octagonal buildings and the Arabic writing surrounding the entryways. We also saw the same sorts of Muslim prayer groups sitting in circles around the plaza area.
A dramatic approach to the mosque.
All of this is painted ceramic tile. It's very impressive, but I imagine it won't last as long as the inlaid stone at the Taj Mahal (since the paint on the tile will eventually fade)
There is a miniature building right next to the Dome of the Rock. I can't remember now, but I think this was built first, as a sort of smaller model or something?
We learned a little about the meaning and the history of the site for Muslims. The famous golden dome is not actually a mosque for prayer, it is just a building that houses a famous stone connected to the story of Muhammad. The story goes something like this (though I'm sure I'm getting it wrong): when Muhammad was active as a prophet, he had a dream where he was taken to a far away site with this rock, and I think he received some revelation there. When he woke up, he told people about this dream, and then some king decided to conquer Jerusalem and build on the rock there. Geez, I told that badly. Anyone with more knowledge, please chime in!

And since you've read this far, I'll reveal what is unusual about the picture at the top: notice that none of us has our arms around the others? It is forbidden for men and women to touch in this area. The guards actually came and told us after we tried to take a picture with arms around each other.

No comments:

Post a Comment