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View series: Jerusalem: The History of a Global City

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Jerusalem is integrated into the Islamic Empire (630-11th century)

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of Jerusalem: The History of a Global City.

The long-standing rivalry between the Byzantine and Persian Empires facilitated the expansion of the Islamic Empire in the first half of the 7th century. Ten years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632, the Arabs had conquered the entire Fertile Crescent (Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia) and Egypt. The city of Jerusalem was conquered sometime between 635 and 638.

Unlike previous military conquests that marked its history, this time Jerusalem did not suffer from serious destruction or significant changes in population. 

The Jews, banished by the Byzantines, were once again allowed to set up residence there. 

The new masters of the city rapidly constructed a religious site. The first mosque in Jerusalem was built at the southern end of the old Temple Mount. This area had been abandoned in the 4th century during the Christian period and was now reintegrated into the Islamic city. Under the name of al-Aqsa (The “Furthest Mosque”), it was oriented southwards and, strictly speaking, did not face towards Mecca.

This mosque was rebuilt several times after a series of earthquakes. Most of the current building dates from the 11th century.

Another more intriguing monument also located on Temple Mount ensured that Jerusalem – al-Quds, in Arabic – became the third holy city of Islam.

The Dome of the Rock was constructed by the caliph Abd al-Malik; completed in 691-692, it is the most ancient Islamic building in Jerusalem today.

The Dome of the Rock is not a mosque; it does not face Mecca, but rather is placed centrally on the rock which it covers with an imposing dome 25 metres high. Its octagonal layout and mosaics clearly resemble a Byzantine church.

Linked to the memory of Abraham, the common ancestor of the three monotheisms, the Dome of the Rock proclaims the superiority of Islam over the previous religions, at the same place where God created the world and where humanity will gather on the Last Judgement.

Despite the construction of the Dome of the Rock and the consecration of the Esplanade of Mosques, Jerusalem remained a city of secondary importance in the Islamic Empire and was not even the capital of the province of Palestine. However, the caliphs of Damascus enjoyed visiting the city and thus built a palace beneath the south wall of the sanctuary at the end of the 8th century.

Jerusalem remained a mostly Christian city, but little is known about its urban expansion during the four centuries of peace which followed its integration into the Islamic Empire.

This period of peace and prosperity ended in the 11th century.

In 1009, Year 400 AH, the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim, master of Egypt and of Palestine, ordered the destruction of all synagogues and churches, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in an effort to prepare for the end of the world by abolishing all religious laws. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was rebuilt between 1012 and 1048.

In 1033, an earthquake destroyed many buildings along with the city’s ramparts. The walls were reconstructed 30 years later but the area enclosed within them was much smaller than that delimited by the Byzantine walls five centuries earlier.

In 1071, the Seljuq Turks, who ruled as masters of the Near East, captured Jerusalem. The terrible tales of their violence weighed heavily at the end of the 11th century and led to the Call for the Crusade in the West. Nevertheless, in 1092, the Turks, who had appointed a Christian as governor of the city, authorised the construction of a new Church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene, to the north of the city.