Al-Quds, Capital of Islamic Culture 2019


Al-Quds / State of Palestine

Arab Region’s Capital of Islamic Culture for 2019


With its material and spiritual components, Al-Quds Al-Sharif is for Palestinians a symbol of political sovereignty and religious and cultural identity, and the epithet of their national pride and patriotism. This city holds a civilizational and human heritage with which the Palestinian people have interacted throughout their history and to which they have remained steadfastly attached since they settled and lived in this land. For Arabs and Muslims, Al-Quds Al-Sharif represents pride and dignity, the present and the future. It stands witness to an age-old history and a great civilization edified by this Ummah, the first Qibla set for Muslims, the third holy precincts, and the cradle of divine messages. The Palestinian people will remain the guardians and heirs of history and architecture and of every morsel of time mirrored by its mosques and churches, domes, walls, fortifications, zawiyas, colonnades, ribats, fountains, schools, gardens and gates.
Al-Quds Al-Sharif is an Arab city, one that has been known from times immemorial. More than 35 centuries old, the city’s core was first established on a plateau in the mountains of Al-Quds Al-Sharif and represents the middle loop in the chain of Palestinian lands. Its history is manifest in the names given to it over the times such as Orushalem (God of Peace), named as such by the Canaanites, Jebus in relation to the Jebusites, the early Arabian Peninsula tribes who were its original inhabitants, and then Aelia Capitolina, Al-Quds and Bayt Al- Maqdis.
The city abounds with a wealth of historical monuments and sites that confer a privileged position to it among other history-rich cities. Its religious importance springs from its status as the city from which Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) ascended to the heavens on his Nightly Journey. It is mentioned in the Holy Quran, but is also the most important city for Christians since it shelters the Church of the Resurrection, built in 335 AD, and since this city witnessed the most significant events in the life of Jesus, peace be upon him.
One of the most important historical and archeological landmarks of Al-Quds Al-Sharif is the Al-Aqsa Mosque with its abundance of praying areas and religious and cultural landmarks of which the most notable is the Dome of the Rock. Additionally, the city has many historical walls, gates, domes, arcades, mosques, minarets, terraces, madrasas, mausoleums, public buildings, zawiyas, ribats, khans and hospitals, as well as a large number of churches, chapels, monasteries, the Via Dolorosa and markets, many still serving their original purpose and used for worship, education, commerce and housing. It is a religious destination for Arabs, Muslims and Christians, a tourist attraction, and a destination for those interested in the study of architecture, history and archeology.
In view of the significance of the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of Al-Quds Al-Sharif, and of its importance as a legacy exposed to threats from Israeli occupation authorities, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued nine resolutions between 1965 and 2017. The most notable of these was taken in 2016 when UNESCO placed 55 world heritage sites on the list of vulnerable sites, including the Old City of Al-Quds Al-Sharif and its walls, triggering waves of outrage and anger among the Israelis. During a meeting in Paris in October 2016, UNESCO adopted a resolution in which Al-Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque was regarded as a purely Islamic heritage. The 8th Islamic Conference of Culture Ministers, held in 2014, adopted Al-Quds Al-Sharif as Capital of Islamic Culture for 2019, a decision seen as a true addition to the historical and cultural capital of the Palestinian people. It will play an important part in promoting the Palestinian discourse which is based on verity and the lived experience of the Palestinians, the dream of freedom and salvation from the yoke of evil occupation, in addition to reflecting the situation to the entire world, exposing the practices of the Israeli occupation forces against land and Men. The adoption in 2018 of Al-Quds Al-Sharif as a permanent capital of Islamic culture in Manama is a crowning moment and a true expression of the immense value that Al-Quds Al-Sharif represents for the Arab and Islamic Ummah, decisions that are worthy of the status of Al-Quds Al-Sharif and its material and spiritual components.


Geographical position

Al-Quds Al-Sharif is an Arab city that has been known from ancient times. The city is more than 35 centuries old and its core was established on a plateau at the heart of the mountains of Al-Quds Al-Sharif1. Al-Quds is located on a latitude of 31°46′08″ N and a longitude of 35°12′58″ E. The city stands out thanks to this special geographical location and represents the dividing waterline between the Jordan Valley to the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. This position has made it easy to connect the city to all directions. Indeed, it is a link in a chain extending from north to south over mountain peaks, and connected to the main roads that cross the highlands from the far north to the far south. There are also secondary roads that cut across these main roads and link the Jordan Valley to the Palestinian coast. Al-Quds Al-Sharif is located 22 km away from the Dead Sea and 52 km from the Mediterranean one. The longest tarred roads connecting Al-Quds Al-Sharif and the neighboring Arab capitals are:
Al-Quds Al-Sharif – Amman: 88 km.
Al-Quds Al-Sharif – Damascus: 290 Km.
Al-Quds Al-Sharif – Beirut: 388 km.
Al-Quds Al-Sharif – Cairo: 528 km.

The importance of Al-Quds Al-Sharif’s geographical location lies in its centrality for Palestine and for the outside world, confirming the site’s religious, military, commercial and political importance. However, the city’s location is no less important than its status as a religious fortress that combines the sanctity of the site and the ease of defending it. Many nations have successively ruled over the city from the beginning of history. Through its history and to date, the city has witnessed many wars that resulted in multiple demolitions and reconstructions that occurred at least 18 times during this history1.


Al-Quds Al-Sharif through history1

Al-Quds 1Al-Sharif is considered one of the most famous cities in ancient history. With a 35-centuries old history, the city has been ruled by many peoples, namely the Jebusites, the Hyksos, the Pharos, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Maccabees, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Muslims, the Crusaders, and then the Arab Islamic conquerors represented by the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Tolonites, the Ikhshidids, the Fatimids, the Seljuks, the Mamlukes, the Ottomans, and finally the British occupation (Mandate) until 1948 and the Israeli occupation to this day.

Archeological sites and monuments in Al-Quds Al-Sharif

Every capital of the Islamic world is known for a style of architecture that reflects a specific era. The city of Damascus, for example, is characterized by its Umayyad architecture, Baghdad carries the Abbasid cachet, Cairo stands out by its Fatimid architecture and Istanbul by the Ottoman one. Al-Quds Al-Sharif is characterized by all these architectural styles as all Muslim rulers strived to add a historical landmark to its architecture, though the city never served as a capital throughout the Islamic rule. Its importance stemmed from being the place where the Noble Prophet (PBUH) started his ascension to the heavens and also from being the seat of Al-Aqsa Mosque. For Christians, its importance is owed to the fact that it is the seat of the Church of Resurrection which was established in 335 AD.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, an icon for Muslims:

Muslims are attached to the Al-Aqsa Mosque through a bond of religion and faith. It is the first of the two qiblas and the third of the two holy sites, the destination of the Nightly Journey and the beginning of the Ascension of Prophet Mohamed, peace and blessings be upon him. Its full surface area as encircled by the walls is 144 dunams, above and below the ground. It lies on the southeast side of the Old City of Al-Quds Al-Sharif and occupies one-sixth of its entire surface area. It is believed that Adam, peace be upon him, was the first human to set foot onto the land of Al-Quds Al-Sharif. The Al-Aqsa Mosque holds two hundred landmarks built over different periods of Islamic rule.
Within the precincts of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Muslims have built several covered prayers areas from as early as the time of ‘Umar’s conquest. The first of these was the ‘Umari mosque, located south of the Al-Aqsa and facing the Qibla. It is a beautiful structure of which the construction began in 68 AH/687 AD, in the form of an octagon topped by a golden dome. It includes the Marwani prayer esplanade which can accommodate more than six thousand worshipers, as well as other praying areas and several domes such as the Dome of the Chain, the Dome of the Ascension, the Dome of Solomon and others.


Major cultural and heritage landmarks in Al-Quds Al-Sharif:

The city has enjoyed full sanctity throughout its history. Its original inhabitants, the Jebusites, were Canaanite (third millennium BC) and the city was then called Dar As-Salam (Orushalem) in ancient Canaanite.

The walls of Al-Quds Al-Sharif

The Jebusites erected walls around the city and a tunnel drew water from the Gihon Spring into a pool within the walls. Archaeological excavations revealed the vestiges of a wall located under the roof of Al-Haram Al-Sharif. A wall was built in 644 BC, then demolished in 586 BC in the time of Nebuchadnezzar. In 300 BC, the Greeks demolished a section of the walls and Herod rebuilt them in 37 BC. The Roman walls were destroyed and rebuilt seventeen times, but the worst destruction occurred at the time of the 1067 AD earthquake. The Sultan Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi re-built the walls of Al-Quds in 1191 AD, reinforced the walls between Damascus Gate (Gate of the Column) and Jaffa Gate (Gate of Hebron), and dug out the moat.

Gates of Al-Quds Al-Sharif1:

The open gates are: Bab Al-‘Amoud (Damascus Gate), Bab As-Sahira (Herod’s Gate), Bab Al-Asbat (Lions’ Gate), Bab Al-Magahriba (Dung Gate), Bab Nabi Dawud (Zion Gate), Bab Al-Khalil (Jaffa Gate) and New Gate.

The sealed gates are: Bab Ar-Rahma (Gate of Mercy), the Single, the Triple, the Double Gate made of two gates above each of which stands a wall. These gates were built during the reign of the Caliph ‘Abdulmalik1.


Dome of the Rock:

The Dome of the Rock is one of the oldest Arab and Islamic features. It stands out by its unique architectural character and artistic richness. Historians diverge as to the original function of this distinguished structure. Was it only a mosque to host prayers? The Dome of the Rock has served as a mosque since its construction and the al-Haram Al-Sharif was the nave of this mosque. This was confirmed by the discovery of a niche located somewhere inside the dome (with dimensions of 1.37 × 0.76 cm). The design and execution of the Dome of the Rock were carried out by Rajaa Ibn Hayawa Al-Kindi and Yazid Ibn Sallam, a Maqdissi subject of the Caliph ‘Abdulmalik. The design of the Dome of the Rock is considered as unique in the history of Islamic architecture1.

Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid eras1:

The Al-Aqsa Mosque was built during the reign of Caliph ‘Abdulmalik, and was completed in the era of Al-Waleed. It is possible that ‘Abdulmalik set out to make this section of the Old Al-Quds Al-Sharif an integrated holy sanctuary that includes a mosque and a dome. The mosque’s name is attributed to the verse in Surat Al-Isra: “Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from Al-Masjid Al-Haram to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa…”

During the Abbasid era, the surface area of ​​the Al-Aqsa Mosque was extended by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mahdi and the nave was made much wider, with a huge gable over it, with openings to allow light and sun inside. It was fitted with a double wooden dome covered with lead plates and decorated with plaster, in a way much similar to the Dome of the Rock.

In the Fatimid era, an earthquake struck the city of Al-Quds Al-Sharif in 1015 and destroyed the Al-Aqsa Mosque, after which the Fatimid Caliph Al-Zahir ordered its reconstruction and restoration. A number of amendments were brought to this mosque during the Fatimid period, leading to the transformation of its layout from fifteen to seven naves.


Al-Aqsa Mosque today:

After the Crusaders invaded Al-Quds Al-Sharif and turned Al-Aqsa into a church, Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi reclaimed Bayt Al Maqdiss and this mosque. In the modern era, important renovations were carried out by the Turkish architect Kamal Eddine between 1924 and 1927, then further renovations followed, lasting until 1933. These extended to the middle roof and the eastern gallery which were painted golden, along with extensive restoration works to strengthen the structure of the mosque.


The pulpit of Nureddin:

In 1187, Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi repaired the Al-Aqsa Mosque. When he found out that the mosque’s pulpit had been burned by the Crusaders, he ordered that the pulpit, which had been commissioned by Nureddin Al-Zanki in Aleppo, be brought to Al-Quds Al-Sharif. The pulpit remained standing to the right of the mihrab until the fanatic Michael Rohan burned it in 1969, leaving only some pieces and fillings.


Mosaics and decorations in Al-Aqsa Mosque:

The mosaics in the Al-Aqsa Mosque date back to the reign of the Fatimid Caliph Az-Zahir Li Amr Allah who restored the Al-Aqsa in 1034 AD. They were made by artists following styles and elements inspired by plants and fruits. When studying Umayyad art, the finest vestiges that have survived in the Al-Aqsa Mosque are the wood panels that are now preserved in the Al-Haram Al-Sharif Museum near Al-Aqsa Mosque. These panels are decorated with floral engravings such as vines and Acanthus leaves, similar to many of the decorations in the Dome of the Rock, all of which were fashioned out of pine wood and covered the bottom parts of the walls.


– Fire of Al-Aqsa Mosque:

On 21 August 1969, an Australian fanatic set fire to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The fire ravaged 1,500 square meters out of the 4,400 square meter of the mosque. Nureddin’s pulpit, which had been presented by Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi, was consumed by the flames that affected the ‘Umari Mosque, the Mihrab of Zakariyya, the shrine of the Forty Martyrs, as well as three galleries along with their arcades and decorations. Some of the marble was damaged along with forty-eight stucco-stained glass windows, precious rugs, and the mosaic containing the verse of Surat Al-Israa: Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from Al-Masjid Al-Haram to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa.”

Al-Haram Al-Sharif:

Al-Haram Al-Sharif is located on the south-eastern part of the old city and overlooks a valley to the east. With its walls, Al-Haram Al-Sharif completes the city’s southern and eastern walls. It is composed of a large courtyard, 281 meters to the south, 310 meters to the north, 462 meters to the east, and 490 to the west. A series of gates gave access to the Haram Al-Sharif, of which only fifteen have survived.

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