10 February, 2010

The Great Umayyad Mosque, Damascus

During his  ten year reign as Caliph in the beginning of the eighth century Al'Walid Bin Abd Al'Malik addressed the citizens of Damascus with these words:
'Inhabitants of Damascus, four things give you marked superiority over the rest of the world: your climate, your water, your fruits and your baths. To these I wanted to add a fifth: this mosque.'
That mosque the Caliph was talking about is the Great Omayyad Mosque - جامع بني أمية الكبير - in Damascus. A mosque like no other: grand, exquisite and one of the most impressive mosques you can ever see. And one of the finest examples of Muslim architecture and the first one to be so large and with such luxury. Very few places on Earth have such an incredible history as this site; and for so many religions and beliefs. Very few other mosques too, have some of the darkest past of Islam enshrined in it as here. This mosque, too, is a living testimony to the great Golden Age of Islam, when the esteem of Damascus was unmatched allover the ancient world, as a capital of a great Arab-Muslim Empire, encompassing a host of kingdoms. In the eighth Century, the borders of this Empire spanned altogether vast lands, extending from the Caucasus Highlands in the north, to the Great Sahara southward, and from the Great Wall of China eastward, to the Iberian Peninsula and the Atlantic Ocean westward.

The gate to the Mosque is simple. Very few gates have such great histories, at times sad, as this. The Mosque has four doors: Al'Kallassa in the north, Jayroon in the East, Al'Brid in the West, and Al-Ziyada in the South.
As you enter the grand courtyard, you immediately notice the stunning decorations on the walls, the ceiling and the columns. Odd about this mosque, like the Grand Mosque in Makkah, men and women freely mingle here.
Above: the courtyard, the Dome of the Clocks and one of the three minarets that adorn the Mosque, in the distance, the Minaret of Jesus.
This gate, through the Mosque leads out and to Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyubi's tomb.Throngs of people go through this gate every day.
Above: the courtyard and the minarets. Very few Muslim mosques are as extensively decorated with fine mosaics as here. In the middle of the courtyard are the Dome of the hours, the ablutions fountain, and the beautifully decorated, mosaic covered Dome of the treasury on the right.
The portico gallery is as meticulously and exquisitely built and decorated as the rest of the Mosque. Inside, is a display of colors: golden, green, blue, red and all dominated by white.
The Mosque is always crowded with worshipers, pilgrims and visitors. The best times for non-Muslims to visit is during the day, after prayers. Unlike any other mosque, the courtyard is used by families to relax and even have snacks.
Each part of the Mosque has different but just as stunning decorations of fine mosaics, glass, wood and marble.
Above: the prayer hall, and the very rare site for inside a mosque of men and women mingling together.
Inside the prayer hall is mainly plain white but as elaborately built and decorated as the rest of the Mosque.
Interestingly - tourists who have to take off their shoes and be properly dressed, are allowed to roam freely around the Mosque; and take photos or record videos.
Above in the eastern hall: the tomb and chapel of Prophet Yahya - Saint John the Baptist. Here, both Christians and Muslims pray. This being another very unique aspect of the Mosque. Very few countries have such a remarkable degree of religious tolerance as Syria.
Very rarely are mosques decorated this extensively and as elaborately and lavishly as this. Though very simple in style, this mosque has some of the most impressive decorations you can ever find on a building.
It is from this mosque, that the building of minarets mainly became imitated in mosques around the world. Many, like the Swiss, wrongly believe that minarets and domes are Islamic inventions and creations, when indeed they have always been there in other forms even before Islam.
In the northern flank of the Ommayad Mosque, stands the mausoleum of one of the most celebrated heroes and one of the greatest Muslim warriors and leaders of all time: Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub. He, with all the extensive power that he had, died a poor man. In this tomb, are too sarcophagus: one made of simple wood and covered with green in which Al'Ayyubi's body is in and the other, white and made of marble a donation from a German emperor but never used. It was thought best to leave the body of the Great man in its humble place.
Damascus is a city with droves of pigeons. One of the most pleasing sites around the Mosque are pigeons on the roofs, on the rafters, in the courtyard and flying above. Daily, at certain times, some pigeons come down in-front of the main gate out side the Mosque, to be fed. There would always be people to feed them.

Read more on the Mosque: here, here and here.