This plate provides a bird’s eye view of the iconic al-Aqsa mosque, located atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This is the official mosque of the greater Haram al-Sharif complex, the third most holy site in Islam, and an important location in Christianity and Judaism as well. The Aqsa mosque dates back to the first century of Islam, founded around the turn of the 8th century CE. The view looks against the back- or qibla-wall, which directs Muslim prayer towards Mecca.
At the center of the complex, we see the domed and elevated central nave of the prayer hall, a characteristic trait of mosques from this period. The minaret was added later, presumably in the Ayyubid 13th century. Built against the outer wall of the mosque are the remains of a bridge that once provided private access to the mosque from the caliph’s three enormous palaces located immediately outside the Haram al-Sharif.
Pierotti’s view identifies a number of important elements in the landscape by means of a numbered legend that accompanies the lithograph:
1. Mount of Olives.
2. Mount Viri-Galilæi.
3. Mosque of the Ascension of Jesus Christ.
4. Arab Tower.
5. Mount of Offence.
6. Place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
7. Mosque el-Aksa.
8. Minaret of the Mogarabins.
9. Mosque of Abu-Bekr: Wall of the period of the Crusades.
In 1864, the same year that the first British Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem was commissioned, Italian engineer Ermete Pierotti published Jerusalem Explored, a seminal work on the history, archaeology, and architectural history of the ancient and holy city. This work included Pierotti’s notes and insights after years of surveying and mapping under Ottoman authority. The publication was divided into a text volume and a volume of plates. The latter included 63 lithographs showing everything from strategic views, across architectural plans and section profiles, to panoramic vistas of the Old City. Most of the lithographed plates were based either on photographs or drawings made by Pierotti and his team.
The plates were lithographed mainly by Thomas Picken of London and printed by the prominent British lithography firm William Day & Sons.