This morning the golden dome above the Shrine of the Báb was unveiled to the delight of viewers and this tour guide and shone with a new splendor above the city of Haifa.
The Báb, the precursor to the Bahá’u’lláh, was executed in 1850 in Iran and his remains were later laid to rest on Mount Carmel. The precise location was designated by Bahá’u’lláh himself to his eldest son, `Abdu’l-Bahá, in 1891. `Abdu’l-Bahá planned the octagonal structure crowned by a dome set on an 18 windowed drum, which was designed and completed by his grandson, Shoghi Effendi.
The architect was William Sutherland Maxwell, a Canadian Bahá’í who was a Beaux-Arts architect and the father-in-law of Shoghi Effendi. Maxwell’s design of the Rose Baveno granite colonnade, Oriental-style Chiampo stone arches, and golden dome is meant to harmonize Eastern and Western proportions and style. Some remaining aspects of the dome’s structural engineering were designed by Professor H. Neumann of Haifa’s Technion University. The Bahai gardens and Shrine of the Báb is the second holiest site for Bahai, after Bahji, the Shrine of the Bahá’u’lláh just north of Akko.
In 2008 an extensive project began to restore and conserve the interior and exterior stonework of the original 1909 structure, as well as measures to strengthen the Shrine against earthquakes. An entirely new retrofit design – combining concrete, steel and carbon fibre wrap technology – was applied to the building. More than 120 rock anchors were fixed into the mountain behind newly fortified retaining walls. Renovations were completed at a total cost of $6.7 million.
In the last stage, 12,000 gold tiles, of 120 different shapes and sizes, had to be fitted like a large puzzle onto the dome. When it was found that the old tiles could not be repaired a Portuguese firm was contracted to produce new tiles using leading-edge technology from pure porcelain, covered with layers of glazing and gold solution, and finished with a highly durable final coating. “The company had never done anything like this before,” said Mr. Samadi, project manager. “They are renowned for museum-quality porcelain artifacts. But the result is perfect. Not only are the tiles beautiful, they are five to six times more abrasion-resistant than the originals.”
An expert mason and tile setter from New Zealand, Bruce Hancock, was flown in to supervise the tile work. “We had to learn as we went,” Mr. Hancock said. “Ordinarily, you lay tiles that are square. These tiles are all shapes and sizes. Every row is curved. Initially, I was concerned how we were going to create that curve, but these tiles were designed and detailed in such a way that they just did it themselves. They seemed to have a life of their own. If we did the right thing – getting the two corners right – they did the right thing. It was just amazing.”
The Bahai Universal House of Justice released a statement that the dome of the Shrine of the Bab “now shines in the plenitude of its splendour.” Bahá’ís consider the Shrine of the Báb and the surrounding gardens to be a “gift to humanity.”
For the complete press release and additional photos see http://news.bahai.org/story/816