Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pilgrimage Part One: The Dome of the Rock

As a monk, I felt it my duty, when the opportunity presented itself, to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I've spent the last five days at an academic conference on Herman Melville's epic poem, Clarel. I loved it--by far the best conference I've ever been to, and that's before I account for the venue. After a tour of Galilee, Haifa, and northern Israel tomorrow, I will return on a red-eye Tuesday night. I'll provide a visual look at the splendors of Israel in the days to come.

The first stop we made was at the Dome of the Rock. We entered the old city portion of Jerusalem via the Lion's Gate.

The Dome of the Rock is built on the top of Mount Moriah, where Abraham sacrificed Isaac (or Ishmael, if you're Muslim), and where Solomon's temple was built. Muslims revere the spot as the location from which the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven one night. It is, I believe, the second holiest site of all Islam. The Golden Gate is the only gate that opens directly into this mosque/temple complex, and because some Christians believe that Christ will return through these gates at the Second Coming, the Muslims who control the complex have had the gate sealed for many years. You can see the gate in the background of this picture, above the Muslim prayer rugs (I thought that was a nice touch).

The outside tiling on the Dome of the Rock, the blue and white and yellow mosaics that are so beautiful, were done in the 19th century, and the geometrical patterns are characteristic of Muslim architectural aesthetics. You can see a few different shots of the outside here:

Because the Dome was constructed so early in the history of Islam, the distinctive geometrical Muslim motifs that you can see on the outside were not fully developed and the Christian-trained artisans who constructed the mosque were instructed to produce generically beautiful floral patterns rather than specific theological images. There are certainly geometric patterns inside but not the extensive and intricate designs found outside. I especially liked the fig leaves pictured on the bottom of one of the arches, and I've included a full shot of a chandelier, because I think the ceiling from which they descend is so tastefully done.

I was actually very surprised that we were allowed inside the Dome of the Rock, but everyone from our group was eventually (some initial problems with the admission of a Japanese man for unknown but apparently ethnological reasons) allowed inside. The women in the group were required to wear skirts and shawls that completely covered their heads (but not faces), and men and women were required to take off their shoes before entering. In general, I felt that the women of the group were shown considerably less respect than the men, and when I saw the woman below peeping in, it just seemed emblematic of Muslim attitudes toward gender. This is one of my favorite shots from the entire tour:

While we were allowed inside the mosque, we were not permitted to touch the Qu'ran, which is more holy (apparently) than the place itself. The bindings were so beautiful, however, that I couldn't help but take a picture of them. Inside the Dome of the Rock and the other mosques we visited, it was fairly typical to see men sitting and studying the Qu'ran. The only women I saw inside the mosque were praying, on their knees, on the prayer rugs (of which I did not take a picture out of respect for their worship).

Before Muslims enter the mosque they have the option of ritual bathing in facilities such as the one depicted (all I know is that they don't always have to do so; I'm not sure when or why they do).

Inside a mosque used regularly for worship, they have elaborate pulpits:

The second mosque that we visited in the Dome of the Rock complex was also open to the outside air, and I caught a picture of a bird in flight.

The final picture from my visit to the Muslim complex that houses the Dome of the Rock is rather sad. Muslim worshippers in the complex have on various occasions--apparently without provocation, according to our guide--been assaulted while worshipping, and they have kept a sample of the various gas canisters, rubber bullets and other weapons used to assault them. I saw and felt the indentations left in marble columns myself. Apparently the gas canisters are fired from guns, and one of my new friends from the conference, Basem Ra'ad, watched as one of his friends died from the impact of a gas canister hitting him in the chest.

More on the various portions of my pilgrimage in days and posts to come.


Jo Jo said...

Very cool! Appreciate the details to those things I know nothing about.

The Coopers said...

Wow, what a cool post Zsa Zsa! I very much enjoyed your writings and pictures. Keep on having fun!

Jenny said...

What a GREAT trip for you!

Anonymous said...

WE too have good memories of visiting there.
Wish we had chronicled it as you have done.
Excellent job, my son.

Felicia & Brandon said...

It's all so beautiful! I'm incredibly jealous.