Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Haram area (“Temple Mount”) in Jerusalem: The Origin

I am starting a series of publication about the main sanctuary of Jerusalem, the third top Islamic sanctuary (after Mecca and Medina) — the Haram esh-Sharif. First of all, let's have a look at the walls around the Holy place depicting the most of its centuries-old history of this unique construction. We'll start with the Southern Wall, the shortest (281 m), but the most important in the Muslim tradition.

The statigraphy of different stages how the walls of the Haram esh-Sharif were constructed

Even Charles Warren noticed that a part of the Southern Wall westward from the Double Gate looked less ancient compared to other parts (Warren 1871: 92). In fact, the Southern Wall is 80 or even 85 % a Muslim construction. A few rows of reddish ashlars were built in the period of the Umayyads. Above there are some courses of the same reddish stone blocks of a smaller size (probably from the same quarry); this is a construction of the Mamluks times. More higher there is a courses of the Ottoman period, with small sites of construction works which were carried out in the 20th century.

«The recent excavations at the Southern Wall, carried out by B. Mazar, disclosed signs of five periods of construction, — comments Menashe Harel, an Israeli author. — The lower courses are Herodian, with the characteristic fine dressing, double margin and slightly prominent smooth boss. Next are the large blocks, smoothly dressed, apparently dating to Aelia Capitolina. These are surmounted by smaller, smooth stones, alternating with discs (cross-sections of columns inserted in the wall), which are probably Mameluke. This section is interspersed with small blocks having very prominent bosses and margins, apparently Crusader. The final courses arc of small stones of later periods. The wall at the south-western corner was 37 m high, and the height of the south-eastern wall was 52 m» (2004: 228).

At the Western Wall Harel also notices that «Four courses of smooth blocks (apparently from the time of Aelia Capitolina) are visible above the Herodian courses and the wall is surmounted by seventeen courses of small stones of a much later date» (2004: 244).

We should sort out this identification of cources of different historical periods. Harel probably skipped the cources of the Umayyads in his description. It was a period building boom of the Haram area as well as the palaces nearby. Right over the lowest rows of the original cources, which Harel referred to the Herodian times, he described “big, smoothly dressed blocks”, i.e. a few rows of big reddish ashlars dated to the Roman period. It is undoubtedly a mistake! Many modern archeologists refuse this identification, even those who support the Herodian wall basement of the Haram esh-Sharif.

The south-western corner of the Haram esh-Sharif.
Image from the book of Pierotti (1864 II Plate XXI)

Let's mention one more time that over the rows of big reddish blocks there are the rows of the same reddish blocks, taken from the same quarry, but of a smaller size. Both these constructions are closely connected to each other. The cources that is referred to the Romans by Harel, is actually built in the Umayyads times. As for the smaller reddish ashlars, they are for sure the Mamluks construction, as Harel said.

The big reddish blocks being mistakably referred to the Roman construction, show a perfect example of one ashlar with a Latin inscription which was inserted into the row of the reddish blocks near the Double Gate at the Southern Wall (see: No. 7). How could it happen that a roman ashlar of the statue basement of the Emperor Antoninus Pius got into the wall of the Haram area? It could happen only in case if this ashlar was used for the second time as a construction material taken from the ruins of a Roman city. Thus, it wasn't Roman who built the reddish blocks, it was the builders of the following historic period.

Generally speaking, the vertical “stratigraphy” of the walls’ building stages of the Haram is a subject of an endless discussion starting from 19th century. At one time, Warren dated these courses as follows: «1. The large stones with marginal drafts. Epoch from Solomon to Herod Agrippa. 2. The large plain dressed stones, from Hadrian to Justinian. 3. The medium plain dressed stones, sixth to eighth centuries. 4. The small stones with marginal drafts and projecting faces, ninth to twelfth centuries. 5. Small stones of various description, recent» (1884: 175).

«The heavy protruding boss ashlars on the Eastern Wall north of the seam, usually dated to the Hasmonean period; the magnificent large paneled ashlars of the Herodian extension; the smaller smooth ashlars of the Umayyad reconstruction; the diagonally comb-chiseled Crusader stones; the small stones with a heavy boss of the Middle Ages (Ayyubid to Mamluk periods); the stones with pecked surface and rough margins of Sultan Suleiman’s rebuilding of the city walls; and various repairs of the wall including the extensive renovations using small stones, following the collapse of part of the Eastern Wall in the winter of 1881», — reports Jon Seligman (2007: 38).

In fact, only the date of the lower rows of the wall in the Haram area is questionable, as the complex itself was built in the Umayyads times. But the lower cources has a few rows of well-fitted to each other ashlars dressed in the tradition of the Herodian times. The majority of researchers and archeologists, who transferred the views of Crusaders and Templars to the Haram esh-Sharif, referred this original rows to the Second Temple period and credited he construction to Herod the Great and his successors. It is known that Crusaders declared that the Muslim Haram is the Temple of Solomon or the Jerusalem Temple.

Though a long time ago the Christians had a location of the ancient Templum Salomonis of the current Haram complex, and that was evidenced by the Pilgrim of Bordeaux, Pilgrim Arculf, and succeeding Christian pilgrims.

This location was transferred from the Christians to the Muslims, those who built the Haram esh-Sharif. A Persian poet Nasir Khusraw described Qubbat as-Sakhrah (The Dome of the Rock) in his book “Safarnama” and noted that «Solomon, upon him be peace! seeing that the rock (of the Sakhrah) was the Qiblah point, built a Mosque round about the rock, whereby the rock stood in the midst of the Mosque» (Safarnama, p. 71). And he also commented the Al-Aqsa Mosque, «It is said, however, that the building was accomplished by Solomon, the son of David, peace be upon him!» (p. 76). Though the Muslim readers of Nasir Khusraw did not perceive this Mosque as the ancient Jewish Temple of Solomon described in the Bible, the name of Solomon itself (in Islam: Suleiman the prophet) was associated with Qubbat as-Sakhrah and Al-Aqsa built by the Umayyads, and thus gave grounds for the Crusaders to treat these dictums as a reference to Templum Salomonis.

The Christians had a location of the ancient Templum Salomonis of the current Haram area. The 19th-century lithograph depicts Haram esh-Sharif and follows the inscription: Temple of Solomon.