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The Dome of the Rock:691

The Dome of the Rock, completed in 691 and the earliest surviving example of Muslim architecture, borrows in spectacular fashion the themes of Byzantine mosaic and domed roof. This city of Jerusalem, taken from the Christians only half a century previously, still has the skills and crafts first developed for use in imperial churches.

The dome itself is a great wooden structure. The caliph has both interior and exterior of the shrine lavishly decorated in a combination of polished marble and glittering glass mosaic against a gold background. Much of the material is acquired in Constantinople, and it is possible that some of the craftsmen are imported with it.

It is appropriate that the Dome of the Rock is the world's only historic building with 'dome' in its title. For this shrine has a profound influence in making the dome a feature of Islamic architecture.

The originality of the Dome of the Rock is the flamboyance of the dome itself, equal in height to the rest of the building and brightly gilded. Seen from a distance, the dome virtually is the building. Situated on the highest point of a hill, this is a dramatic architectural statement - and one which will be widely copied.

Influence of Dome of the Rock: 9th - 15th century

Jerusalem is Islam's third holiest shrine, after Mecca and Medina, so the Dome of the Rock is a familiar image to any Muslim. A dome of some kind becomes a feature of mosques and tombs in many parts of the Islamic world. When the great mosque at Kairouan is refurbished in 862, a high fluted dome is added over part of it. When Cairo is founded in 970, a dome is one of the features of the Al-Azhar mosque.

In this same period - at the other end of the Muslim world, in Bukhara - the rulers of the Samanid dynasty build themselves a mausoleum which consists of a simple square building surmounted by a dome.

This 10th-century Bukhara tomb holds the germ of the future. Here the dome - as in the Dome of the Rock - is the main exterior feature of the building. In subsequent centuries domes of this kind become steadily more prominent in the Muslim tradition, attracting the viewer's attention by a variety of means - by size or swelling shape, by delicate fluting or white marble or a bright skin of ceramic tiles.

Notable examples in the 14th century are a Mongol tomb at Soltaniyeh in northern Iran, Mameluke tombs in Cairo and a Tughluq tomb in Delhi. The tomb of Timur in Samarkand, with its swelling dome of blue tiles, is of the early 15th century.

A few years after Timur's tomb is built in Samarkand, Brunelleschi in Florence begins to grapple with the problem of a dome for the cathedral. His bold solution kindles a new European interest in domes - as dramatic architectural features in the exterior profile of a building.

Thus both Islam and Christianity, arriving at the same point from different directions, are poised to make the 16th and 17th centuries the age of the dome. Islam moves steadily towards this point. Christianity reaches it when the Renaissance breaks the long medieval traditions of Romanesque and Gothic.

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