All pictures taken: The Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Date: Wednesday January 7, 2009.
Camera: Panasonic DMC-TZ3.
I've just spent a week visiting my sister in Abu Dhabi, my first proper visit to the Middle East beyond a couple of hours layover in Dubai Airport en-route to Australia a few years back.
Sight-seeing was kept to an absolute minimum (it wasn't that sort of holiday), but I was very keen to visit the Grand Mosque, which is one of the first things you notice as you drive into Abu Dhabi from the airport. It hulks over the capital like some sort of beautiful white treasure that's fallen from the sky. No matter where you are, it looks impressive sitting there on the horizon, but it's only when you are up close that you really begin to appreciate its size -- and its beauty.
Everything is a soft but dazzling white -- marble cladding imported from Greece over reinforced concrete -- and the decoration is beautiful, with flower inlays creeping up each pillar towards the gold leaf capitals, and intricate Islamic decoration and carvings on the exterior walls.
The mosque, the third largest in the world, is officially called Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, named after the first president and founder of the UAE, who was buried at the site after his death on November 3, 2004. Depending on which online resource you believe, the main dome is the largest in the world at 85 metres high and each of the four minarets are more than 100 metres high.
Construction began in the late 1990s but apparently stagnated until the supervision was taken over by Halcrow in late 2001. The mosque was opened in autumn 2007 but building work is still ongoing -- and when we turned up there seemed to an army of the usual Indian and Pakistani workers toiling over the landscaping of the site.
Unfortunately, we were not able to gain access to the interior because it's only open to tourists in the morning between 9am and noon, and, typically, we didn't turn up until after 1pm. Still, we were able to wander around the slightly dusty exterior to gain an appreciation of the sheer size and scale of the building.
I would have dearly loved to have gone inside, as the main prayer hall features the largest hand-woven carpet in the world, and there are seven chandeliers, one of which is made from one million Swarovski crystals. It sounds absolutely amazing, doesn't it?
Crucially, this is (apparently) the first mosque in the world to open its doors to non-Muslims in an effort to increase understanding of the Islamic faith. Personally, I was quite looking forward to dressing up in an abaya, which are apparently loaned to woman visiting the mosque. It might have been the only time I posted a photograph of myself online...
Just found this video on YouTube which shows the interior about 2 minutes in...