Spolia – A Conscious Display of History in Seventh-Century Jerusalem
Bayt al-Maqdis
Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Chain
Mosque of Mu'awiya
Golden Gate
Double Gate
Museum of Antiquities

This article focuses on the use of spolia as historic objects on display in the seventh-century monuments of Bayt al-Maqdis or Jerusalem. This is not the incorporation of ruins in adaptive reuse such as columns built into walls. Rather, select historic objects figure prominently in the monumental construction of Mu‘awiya I (638–80 CE), the first Umayyad Commander of the Faithful (Amir al-Mu’minin), including in the Mosque of Mu‘awiya (638–60), the Dome of the Rock (640– 92), the Dome of the Chain, Double Gate, Golden Gate, and the eastern arcade or mizan leading to the Dome of the Rock. The spolia include Herodian stones, marble columns, carved wooden beams, and decorative stones from the Persian, Hellenistic, Hasmonian, and Roman periods and Christian churches. The patron, planners, and builders of the earliest Islamic monuments consciously incorporated spolia for prominent display as historic objects from earlier regional cultures and religions worthy of respect and preservation. This concept of displaying the ancient past has been linked with imperial power as early as the Greek Mouseion. Thus, the concept of a “Museum of Antiquities” was voiced by Muslim authority in midseventh century Jerusalem, invoking an egalitarian relationship with earlier Jewish and Christian monuments and proclaiming that message to a multicultural multireligious population.

Author biography: 

Beatrice St. Laurent received her PhD in Islamic Art from Harvard University and is currently professor of art history at Bridgewater State University, MA, and fellow at the W.F. Albright Institute for Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. Her latest book Capitalizing Jerusalem: Mu‘awiya’s Urban Vision 638–680, co-authored with her colleague the late Isam Awwad, former chief architect and conservator of al-Haram al-Sharif, is forthcoming (Sheffield, UK: Equinox, 2023).