Tag Archives: Dome of the Rock

Jerusalem Landmarks, Montefiore to Calatrava

A landmark is an object or feature of a landscape or place that is easily seen and recognized at a distance, especially one that enables someone to establish their location.

As a photographer one of the things that I often do is look at a scene and choose a feature that is interesting, that stands out in some way. The city of Jerusalem has any number of landmarks, the bell tower of the International YMCA, the old train station or the Rockefeller museum. Leave a comment on what is a Jerusalem landmark for you?

As you approach Jaffa gate, one of the popular entries to the Old City, you’ll see a tower and minaret peering above the walls. Here is a photo of the landmark, a little less usual in that it is covered with a light dusting of snow.

Tower of David

Another striking landmark is the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock. The building goes back to 691 CE Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik and is considered the earliest example of Islamic architecture. During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) the mosaics on the exterior of the Dome of the Rock were replaced with ceramic tiles. By 1919 when some tiles needed replacement the British invited three Armenian families who worked in ceramics, Ohannessian, Balian and Karakashian, from the city of Kutahya, Turkey to Jerusalem but the project fell through due to lack of funds (an Armenian told me that the Muslims would not let the Armenian Christians work on the shrine). In 1955, an extensive program of renovation was begun by the Jordanian government, with funds supplied by Arab countries and Turkey. The work included replacement of large numbers of tiles which had become dislodged by heavy rain. In 1965, as part of this restoration, the dome was covered with a gold-colored durable anodized aluminum bronze alloy made in Italy, that replaced the gray colored lead covering. In 1993, the dome was refurbished with 80 kilograms of gold when King Hussein of Jordan sold one of his houses in London and donated $8.2 million to fund it.

Jerusalem Dome of Rock

In the 1850s, several institutions including the Russian Compound, the Bishop Gobat School, and the Schneller Orphanage marked the beginning of permanent settlement outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls. The public institutions were followed by the development of two philanthropically supported Jewish neighborhoods, Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Mahane Israel.

MMMishkenot Sha’ananim was the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the walls of the Old City by Sir Moses Montefiore in 1860 as an almshouse, paid for by the estate of a wealthy Jew from New Orleans, Judah Touro. Nearby is another well-known landmark, Montefiore’s windmill. In 1857 Montefiore imported a windmill from Canterbury, England and erected it on this plot of land to provide Jerusalem’s poor Jews with an inexpensive source of flour.

Montefiore windmill

Many years have passed and now Jerusalem has a light rail system that connects the suburbs with the center. As the light rail crosses the main entrance at the west of the city it passes over an eye-catching suspension bridge built by Spanish architect, sculptor and civil engineer Santiago Calatrava that is probably the newest Jerusalem landmark. Called the Bridge of Strings, the 2600 ton curving bridge, only 340 meters long, will be supported by 66 cables from a single angular pylon 118 meters high.

Calatrava Bridge of Strings

This is how Calatrava described his plans for the bridge.

“Along the pedestrian walkway is a band of pastel blue light, like the blue of the Israeli flag and also the tallit (Jewish prayer shawl),” Calatrava says. “When you see the bridge from far away, it will appear like a modern obelisk. And at the top we would like to put a bronze plate, something that will reflect in the sun like a golden dome.”

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Dome of the Chain on Haram el-Sharif

The enigmatic building known as the Dome of the Chain was inaccessible and hidden for eight months by metal sheeting as the Waqf did some renovations on the structure. Just a few weeks ago the building was made accessible once again so I went and took these photographs.

Dome of ChainThe Dome of the Chain is not a mosque or a shrine and is one of the most ancient buildings on the Haram. It was probably built in 691 during the Umayyad period by Abd al-Malik who also built the Dome of the Rock. Some think the structure, because of its position in the precise center of the Haram, existed prior to Islamic rule in Jerusalem and refers back to the days of the Jewish temple or at least to the traditions that surrounded it. There is a tradition that the Dome of the Chain is the site where King David hung a chain that could not be grasped or touched by anyone deceitful, unjust or wicked and where his son King Solomon administered justice.

With the Crusader conquest it became a Christian chapel to St. James, restored as an Islamic prayer house by the Ayyubids and has been renovated by the Mamluks, Ottomans and the Palestinian-based waqf. It seems that the Mamluk sultan Baibars renovated it, refacing the mihrab with marble and reducing the number of outer columns. The ceramic tiles were added in the time of the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent.

Dome of Chain interiorOne of the most unusual things about the structure is that it combines an interior hexagon defined by marble columns with open arches supporting the dome surrounded by an eleven-sided polygon of columns with eleven open arches. Note that each of the column capitals is different. In the southern wall one arch has been closed as a mihrab. It is the third largest building on the Haram after the mosque of al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock with a diameter of 14 meters.

Dome interior

Closeup of Hanging lantern

Lantern hanging from the dome of Dome of the Chain