While French firefighters were putting out the destructive blaze at the Notre DameCathedral, another holistic site was also up in flames. Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is among the holiest sites in Islam and was built almost 1,800 years ago, was struck by blaze while the monumental Catholic Church was also devastated with fire.
The fire is said to have started in the Al-Marwani Prayer Hall – also known as Solomon’s Stables – part of the same compound as Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Fortunately, firemen of the Islamic Waqf department of the city were able to control the fire before any harm was done to the individuals or the other prayer halls. While the cause remains unknown, sources claim that the fire could have been ignited accidentally by children who were near the prayer hall at the time.
The Dome of the Rock, built in the late 7th century, was the third shrine of Islam, after the Kaaba (in Mecca, Saudi Arabia) and Prophet Mohammad’s Mosque (in Medina, Saudi Arabia). Before praying towards the direction of Mecca (referred to as Qibla), Muslim prayers stood facing towards this holy sanctuary. Structurally, the shrine is of high importance as it was the first to ever use a dome in Islamic architecture, and includes intricate geometric use of piers, columns, and arcades. The architecture’s double-enclosed octagonal structure covers a monumental rock which represented the summit of Mount Moriah, a site from which Muslim teachings explain the Prophet ascended to heaven. As for the structure’s notable golden dome, it was originally made out of wood (also in a double-layered approach) and then ornamented with marble and gold-colored aluminum encasement.
Al-Aqsa Mosque’s original structure was demolished in the early 8th century to make room for a larger mosque. Throughout history, the mosque has been demolished and rebuilt almost six times, but maintained the same floor plan, until today. The floor plan consists of a central aisle with a series of arcades on each side, topped with a dome towards the end. The aisle is aligned with the Qibla(praying direction), facing the Qibla Walland Mihrab (a niche in the Qibla wall). During the following years, several changes were made to the mosque’s structure. The colonnade was replaced by cross-vaults, a Gothic porch was added, and the main function of the building, an Islamic praying hall, was temporarily terminated upon the Crusader occupation.
What remains of the original 7th-century mosque, are broken arcade pieces scattered across the compound. As for the current mosque, it can currently hold more than 5,000 individuals and sits on the south of Haram Al-Sharif or Temple Mount.