Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Great Mosque of Damascus

According to legend, the head of John the Baptist, a verifiable prophet in both Christian and Muslim beliefs, lives in a shrine of the Umayyad Mosque or Great Mosque of Damascus. The mosque stands on the site of a 1st-century Hellenic temple to Jupiter, guarding a big open courtyard, flanked by an cloister of arches supported by slender columns. The liwan, or hall of worship, running the length of the south side of the mosque, is divided into three long aisles by rows of columns and arches. A transept with a central octagonal dome, originally wooden, cuts across the aisles at their midpoint. Geometric interlace is evident throughout the building, something which became prevalent in Islamic architecture and design (much more than in the west).

Also known as the Ummayad Mosque and the Grand Mosque of Damascus

This is one of Damascus’ most significant Islamic buildings. The temple of Hadad was the first religious building to stand on the site, built in the Aramaean era around 900 AD, followed by Roman temple, a church dedicated to St. John the Baptist, then a small mosque and later the much grander mosque. The grand mosque was the world’s largest building at the time of it’s construction and was carefully decorated in detailed mosaics. It’s vast prayer hall was so large it is split by three isles, the first mosque to be designed in this way. The walls surrounding the mosque date from the original Roman temple and a mish mash of features from later constructions, including a vast pale marble courtyard and mosaic coated arcades dating from the 8th century give the present mosque an entirely unique look architecturally. Officially a Sunni mosque the Omayyad contains important Shiia and Christian relics, notably the heads of the Shiia martyr, Hussein and that of John the Baptist so is a place of pilgrimage for each faith. Women are allowed to enter but must wear a brown gown. Saladin, the great Muslim prince who vanquished the Crusaders from Jerusalem has his tomb in the gardens.


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