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Corinthian Columns and Capitals on Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif)

A large number of Corinthian columns and capitals are placed in courtyard between Masjid al-Aqsa and Islamic Museum. These Corinthian Columns and capitals date back to several eras of historay like Byzantine, Abbasid, Umayyad and Ayubid eras, carved with limestone, stucco, formed and mounted on stone.

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It is believed that some of these belong to Herod’s Royal Stoa, a roofed, open-air, basilical building where public and commercial activity took place. To date, more than 500 architectural decoration fragments dated to the Herodian period have been unearthed. These include column bases, column drums, column capitals, architraves, friezes, cornices, ceiling coffering, and doorframes.

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A column capital made from local limestone cut from a quarry in the Jerusalem region. It appears that the carving of the capital into its complete form was never finished (inspect), or that it was carved in this manner with the aim of economising on time and cost. The style of this capital imitates the capitals in the Abbasid Corinthian style that were used in the restoration of al-Aqsa Mosque in the period of the Abbasid caliph, al-Mahdi (r. Hj. 158-69 / 775-85 CE), following the earthquake that tore away large parts of the mosque.

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The Abbasid capitals in al-Aqsa Mosque are large, and in this way they resemble the capitals of the Greek period. The column capitals of the Umayyad period were smaller than those of the preceding era, the Byzantine period, and although they resembled the latter, they were not in fact produced during that period. A great many stucco acanthus leaves were found on the site which had been mounted on the capitals using the same technique as described above.

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The Masjid al-Aqsa was witness to another earthquake during the Fatimid period in 424 Hj. / 1033 CE, which caused extensive damage. The restoration took place during the rule of the Fatimid caliph, al-Zahir bi-Amrillah (r. 411–27 Hj. / 1021–36 CE). The damaged capitals were replaced by some that were made in the style of the earlier Abbasid ones, especially evident amongst those capitals of the pillars in the central colonnade of the mosque.

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The Islamic Museum on Temple Mount holds a number of pieces in this style, in addition to a large and varied collection of marble and limestone capitals of different sizes dating back to the Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid periods. The Museum also has a smaller group of capitals dating to the Crusader period.

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The column drums found in the destruction debris had a diameter of about 3 feet. Given that Corinthian columns of that width, in the Hellenistic architecture of the first century, would customarily be 26-33 feet high, Josephus’ description of the Herodian construction as having 27 foot tall columns was probably accurate. Along with Josephus’ descriptions, our knowledge of othe architecture of the time period, and the tantalizing clues provided by modern finds, the structures that remain lead to a fuller understanding of Herod’s Royal Portico.

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