A Photographer’s Journey to One of the World’s Holiest Places

National Geographic Dome of the RockCrowning Jerusalem’s sacred mount, the Dome of the Rock is a spot of each prayer and protest. In depth restoration and archaeological analysis are uncovering recent clues to the shrine’s origins. (Photograph by Ziyah Gafić)

A Nat Geo photographer, Ziyah Gafić, not too long ago traveled to Jerusalem to seize unprecedented pictures of the Dome of the Rock, one among Jerusalem’s holiest and most controversial landmarks.

Alongside being a Nationwide Geographic photographer, Gafić is the Director of VII Academy, a corporation devoted to offering visible schooling programs to assist empower the following technology of journalists in areas which are underrepresented on the worldwide stage.

Experiencing Battle Throughout his Formative Years has Modified Gafić’s Perspective

Gafić grew up in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, throughout the metropolis’s siege. He briefly grew to become a refugee in Italy earlier than returning dwelling, crawling by way of a tunnel beneath Sarajevo’s airport to fulfill his father, a vital determine within the metropolis’s resistance.

“Having skilled battle in my adolescence (I used to be an adolescent) leaves everlasting traces on one’s psyche. Most of these are detrimental; I want I by no means had these experiences. Nonetheless, it dramatically affected my worldview and sparked my curiosity in conflicts,” Gafić tells PetaPixel.

“Being raised beneath the siege and being a refugee leaves you with a siege mentality and a unending feeling of being uprooted. In the end, I consider it makes it a tad extra manageable for me to know what somebody at warfare goes by way of and makes it simpler to empathize with the particular person in entrance of the digicam, which might be half of the {photograph} already. I take that have wherever I journey — whether or not warfare or not- Baghdad, Kabul, Grozny, New York, or Jerusalem,” he continues.

An award-winning photojournalist, writer, speaker, and Nationwide Geographic contributor, Gafić is aware of first-hand what it’s wish to develop up in a metropolis with a extremely advanced and, at occasions, violent non secular tradition. Sarajevo, typically known as the Jerusalem of Europe, is without doubt one of the few main European cities with a mosque, catholic church, Japanese Orthodox church, and synagogue, all inside a single neighborhood.

Sarajevo’s non secular range and cultural significance align properly with Jerusalem and Gafić’s lovely topic, the Dome of the Rock. Nat Geo author Andrew Lawler describes the sacred constructing as “a spot of each prayer and protest.”

The Dome of the Rock

“Any viewer’s tongue will develop shorter attempting to explain it. This is without doubt one of the most incredible of all buildings, of probably the most good in structure and strangest in form,” exclaimed traveler Ibn Battuta throughout a 1326 go to to Jerusalem.

The Dome of the Rock’s outstanding age is however one among its unbelievable traits. Whereas the Islamic shrine on the heart of the contentious Al-Aqsa mosque compound within the Outdated Metropolis of Jerusalem has undergone many renovations all through the centuries, its preliminary development dates again to the period of the Second Fitna within the late 600s.

The constructing has stood all through a lot dysfunction, warfare, and upheaval within the area, each throughout the Islamic inhabitants and your entire space surrounding Jerusalem. It has been broken, together with by a extreme earthquake within the early twentieth century, however at present, the golden dome stands proudly towards the backdrop of the historic Outdated Metropolis.

National Geographic Dome of the Rock

“On the coronary heart of the Dome of the Rock is a limestone outcrop revered by Muslims because the place from which Muhammad ascended on his mystical journey into heaven. One of many world’s largest collections of Islamic mosaics covers some 13,000 sq. ft of the shrine’s inside.” | Credit: Textual content by Andrew Lawler, {photograph} by Ziyah Gafić” | On the coronary heart of the Dome of the Rock is a limestone outcrop revered by Muslims because the place from which Muhammad ascended on his mystical journey into heaven. One of many world’s largest collections of Islamic mosaics covers some 13,000 sq. ft of the shrine’s inside.

“The Dome of the Rock has miraculously survived looters, earthquakes, non secular strife, bloody invasions, and extra prosaic threats like pigeon droppings clogging its drainpipes, sending rainwater trickling into the partitions. Its hanging picture adorns espresso mugs, tea towels, and screensavers, and framed photos of its dome dangle in mosques, dwelling rooms, and public buildings world wide,” Lawler explains.

“Virtually two billion individuals are related to this place,” explains Sheikh Omar Kiswani, director of the 36-acre non secular advanced, including that praying on the sacred place is price “500 prayers elsewhere.”

Safety, Permits, and Unpredictability Made the Challenge Difficult

The significance of the Dome of the Rock, the reverence that Muslims have for it, and the fraught location wherein it exists, all posed distinctive challenges to Gafić.

Alongside requiring safety clearance, which took a number of years of negotiations, there have been day by day challenges with getting into the sacred grounds.

“The Noble Sanctuary, as Muslims check with it, or Temple Mount, as Christians and Jews name it, and the Dome of the Rock, as an integral a part of the advanced, are beneath the management of Jerusalem Islamic Waqf (endowment) — approved by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Nonetheless, Israeli safety forces management the entrances to the advanced. We primarily handled and agreed on entry to the location because of the contacts within the Embassy of Jordan in DC and our contacts on the bottom within the workplace of Waqf. As per the established order from 1967, The Waqf is the custodian of the Noble Sanctuary. Nonetheless, it additionally meant that upon each go to to the location, we needed to undergo Israeli safety checkpoints (per the identical settlement, Israel is liable for the location’s safety),” Gafić tells PetaPixel.

National Geographic Dome of the RockJewish males peer down at a piece of the Western Wall, a remnant of the Jewish Temple advanced razed by Roman forces in a.d. 70. Past rises the dome that many Jews and Christians consider was constructed on the location of the traditional Jewish Temple. (Photograph by Ziyah Gafić)

He has labored within the Center East since 2002 and is not any stranger to strict safety and checkpoints. Nonetheless, his expertise additionally meant that Gafić had doubts as as to if, when he arrived, he can be allowed into the areas he wished to {photograph}.

“I knew that no earlier settlement would possibly survive the primary contact with the fact on the bottom. Nonetheless, realizing that our contacts had been high-ranking officers and beneath the Nationwide Geographic banner, I used to be satisfied we’d see issues individuals are normally not ready to see. I hoped we’d get the chance to get to probably the most essential locations, and with out these, there can be no story,” he explains.

A relentless supply of wrestle on website was Gafić’s tripod being confiscated. He says that he’s a sluggish, methodical photographer and primarily shoots with medium-format gear, which signifies that it’s difficult for him to be “a fly on the wall.”

The Israeli Authorities Press Workplace issued him a press card, which he says made his job extra manageable. Nonetheless, the Noble Sanctuary has a particular standing, so what flies outdoors the grounds might not essentially be permitted inside them. He was on the whim of the officers on the bottom, no matter what he had been assured beforehand.

“My fixer introduced within the gear to keep away from prolonged and unpredictable negotiations with the safety forces day by day, and we saved the gear within the sanctuary. On the identical time, I might simply take reminiscence playing cards out for offloading and batteries for recharging. On one event, whereas photographing one of many gates to the Noble Sanctuary, we had been approached by the police patrol, taken away, after which waited for hours simply to be let go — with out clarification. I need to consider that was only for the safety background examine. On one other event, a distinct police patrol politely confiscated my tripod, later to be returned on the intervention of the Waqf. Clearly, it’s not my first time working in locations the place cameras will not be welcome — so endurance goes a great distance,” Gafić tells PetaPixel.

The Significance of a Photograph Editor

Whereas there, Gafić captured greater than 20,000 images. PetaPixel requested in regards to the function of his picture editor at Nationwide Geographic and the way they assist with sorting by way of pictures and choosing the proper photographs as an example any story.

“I used to be lucky to work with James Wellford, an editor on the Nationwide Geographic journal. We’ve labored collectively since Jamie’s time at Newsweek and later at The Smithsonian. He’s recognized me since I used to be 23 years previous aspiring photojournalist. So there was an implied belief from him as an editor who put me up for the story, realizing what I might and couldn’t do and me as a photographer. There was little doubt the edit can be surgically exact. We had numerous calls and modifying classes earlier than the finalized revision was offered to the Journal. On the identical time, an entire staff was engaged on placing collectively the story for varied platforms. Within the subject, I labored alongside a veteran author, Andrew Lawler, whose deep information of Jerusalem and calm however assured strategy to the topic made me blush twice a day,” says Gafić.

Adventures in Jerusalem

A few of Gafić’s extra adventurous images required a way of calm. Armed together with his digicam and a background in mountaineering, he scaled the long-lasting golden dome itself.

“It’s spectacular that you’re climbing a construction over 1300 years previous and beneath heavy surveillance, so it was certain to boost eyebrows all over the place. To seize the Noble Rock or the Basis stone, I needed to squeeze myself into this slender ledge (about 50 centimeters huge) between the outer and inside dome — with none fence and lengthen as a lot as potential to have a rock within the heart of the body. For somebody who’s six ft, two inches, slender areas don’t actually agree with me,” he says.

National Geographic Dome of the RockA Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, a ridge reverse Jerusalem’s Outdated Metropolis, provides a sweeping view of the gleaming golden dome. Some Jewish extremists see the Islamic shrine as a blasphemous monument that must be demolished to make approach for a restored temple. (Photograph by Ziyah Gafić)

The Dome of the Rock’s Unbelievable Historical past, Unsure Origins, and Fraught Future

Whereas the Dome of the Rock has survived for over 1,300 years amid appreciable turmoil, its future stays contentious.

“Battle in Israel and Palestine was one among my first worldwide assignments (again in 2002), so I knew what to anticipate. Lots of safety, questions on the airport, countless negotiations, and cautious navigation. One of many crucial factors on this ongoing battle is the way forward for the Dome of the Rock — which makes all the things exponentially extra sophisticated. Given the character of this comparatively low-intensity battle, I knew it might be realistically protected for me to function,” Gafić says.

Lawler describes that the Dome of the Rock “stands on the heart of one of many world’s thorniest geopolitical disputes, and its golden vault is a frequent backdrop to violent confrontations between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police.”

“Any church or synagogue within the Holy Land is a spot of peace. Solely right here is it a warfare zone,” explains Sheikh Kiswani.

National Geographic Dome of the Rock

“In one among many conversations with my stellar editor, James Wellford earlier than the task, we mentioned the well-known collection of work, ‘Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji‘ by 18th-Nineteenth century Japanese artist Hokusai. The collection provides varied views and views of Mt. Fuji in several seasons, from totally different angles, and in different contexts. Strictly visually talking, the Dome of the Rock evokes an identical sensation. The dome dominates the panorama of Jerusalem, and principally, from wherever you take a look at Jerusalem, it’s proper there in your face with its gold-plated dome, inescapable,” says Gafić. | Picture credit score: Ziyah Gafić

Whereas Muslims revere the shrine as a vital non secular location, and Palestinians particularly think about it a significant image of their nation, many spiritual Jews need the construction destroyed and changed with a Jewish temple. Sure evangelical Christians suppose the location could also be excellent for a temple to kickstart the return of Christ.

Unsurprisingly, this mixture of fervent non secular conviction is a powder keg in a area with an extended, sturdy undercurrent of rigidity that sometimes boils over in lethal methods.

Given the age of the Dome of the Rock, its unsure origins are comprehensible. 1,300 years is a really very long time, and never all information is handed down from technology to technology. Historians are nonetheless exhausting at work attempting to be taught extra in regards to the “why” and “how” of the Dome of the Rock.

At the same time as so many Muslims enter the grounds day by day to hope and really feel nearer to god, individuals are exhausting at work within the background, attempting to get to the constructing’s roots.

Within the early Nineteen Nineties, these metaphorical roots grew to become bodily ones throughout renovation. To treatment a poor renovation by an Egyptian staff within the Sixties, King Hussein of Jordan bought his dwelling in London to boost the cash required to renovate the dome. He spent over $8 million on 176 kilos of pure gold plating to gild the dome’s exterior. Employees additionally changed aluminum and concrete elements with extra conventional supplies, like mahogany and lead. The present king of Jordan, King Abdullah II, stays the holy website’s custodian whereas Israel controls the safety.

King Abdullah II is overseeing ongoing restorations, though progress has been sluggish. Jordanian and Al Aqsa officers blame Israeli police for the sluggish repairs.

Even with some renovations hanging within the stability, the Dome of the Rock and its surrounding compound provide appreciable splendor and wonder.

“The visible a part of the story focuses on the ingenuity of the construction and the historic and cultural significance of the location. I see the Dome of the Rock as a dwelling monument — to borrow from the vernacular. It’s a construction that has been round for over 1300 years in its current type and is used day by day by worshippers. It was comparatively clear to navigate visually inside these set parameters. This area is controversial in non secular beliefs and politics, not a lot within the visible realm,” Gafić explains.

The VII Academy

Alongside Ziyah Gafić’s incredible work as a photojournalist, he has additionally been instrumental because the Director of the VII Academy.

“VII is synonymous with brave and impactful journalism, and the founding members all met in Bosnia throughout the warfare once I was a baby. VII was based years later in 2001 and got here to prominence throughout the aftermath of 9/11, the warfare in Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, and all that adopted. Given its historical past right here within the Balkans, its prominence once I was beginning my profession, its deal with human rights and the experiences I witnessed firsthand as a baby, it has at all times been a corporation that was near me,” Gafić explains.

He continues, “The digital revolution that enabled the photographers to construct VII additionally precipitated an plain loss in income for his or her media shoppers. Anticipating this shift, Gary Knight and Ron Haviv created the VII Basis to discover new methods of supporting massive visible tasks.”

“Brilliance and bravado don’t come from nowhere, they need to be nurtured and mentored. A few of our alumni are coming from probably the most weak communities and so they work and dwell in probably the most hostile environments – like Myanmar, Ukraine, Mexico, Congo, and so on. With much less alternatives, shifting enterprise fashions and a common lack of coaching and mentoring alternatives the work we’re in a position to do has by no means been extra necessary,” Gafić provides.

“I consider that as a director of VII Academy I can contribute rather more to the photographic group than I might presumably do as a photojournalist,” he remarks.

Picture credit: All pictures © Ziyah Gafić for Nationwide Geographic. Lawler’s story, “An unprecedented look inside one among Jerusalem’s holiest — and most controversial — landmarks,” is offered now within the September subject of Nationwide Geographic.