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Architecture - Syrian Saracenic

( Originally Published 1921 )



The Mosque-el-Aksah, Jerusalem (A.D. 691), is regarded as one of the ancient shrines of Islam and commemorates the supposed miraculous transport of the prophet from Mecca, in a single night, to the great Temple platform in Jerusalem, sacred alike to Jews, Christians, and Mahometans. Here probably stood a basilican church of Justinian, with nave and aisles to which double aisles were afterwards added, and this was probably converted into a mosque, enlarged and beautified by Abd-el-Melik (A.D. 691). Several times injured by earthquakes, it was as frequently restored, so that there is little left of Justinian's church beyond the general plan and a few truncated columns. Some acanthus capitals remain to show how dependent Saracenic builders were upon Greek craftsmen, and above these capitals is that peculiar Arab feature, the long connecting beam below the characteristic pointed arches. Saladin (A.D. 1187), too, had a hand in the restoration of this important mosque ; for he introduced glowing mosaics from Constantinople and added the " mihrab " or prayer-niche.

The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem (A.D. 688), the so-called " Mosque of Omar," occupies a spot on the Temple platform sacred from time immemorial; for there had stood successively the Altar of David, the Temple of Solomon, the Temple erected by the Jews after their exile, the Temple of Herod, and Hadrian's Temple of Jupiter (A.D. 70). Here Abd-el-Melik erected the shrine of Islam, which became only second to Mecca in sanctity. Tradition has it that from this rock Mahomet ascended to heaven, and the building, probably intended to enshrine this sacred spot, was certainly not a mosque and was not built by Omar. It is octagonal with three concentric parts ; the outer aisle has columns, probably from the Temple of Jupiter, with Byzantine capitals brought to a uniform height by " dosseret blocks, supporting horizontal beams and circular arches ; the inner aisle is formed by columns which support the central dome, which covers the holy rock in the centre with its many legends. The whole building was sheathed externally with brilliant Persian tiles and internally with marble slabs by Suleiman the Magnificent in A.D. 1561.

The Great Mosque, Damascus, stands on the site of a Roman temple converted (A.D. 379) into a church by Theodosius, and rebuilt (A.D. 705) as a mosque by the Mahometans. Entered from the bazaar, through the old Roman gateway, it measures about 420 ft. by 120 ft., and has three aisles of equal width, crossed in the centre of its length by a broad, high transept crowned by a central dome. To the north is the great court, with lofty arcades and the graceful minaret of the Khalif-el-Walid, to which two others were afterwards added. Several times damaged by fire, the last conflagration in A.D. 1893 did irreparable damage, and at the time of the author's visit in A. D. 1913 much of the old mosque had evidently suffered both destruction and restoration.



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