The Great Mosque of Damascus is one of the most significant architectural works in Islamic history. The mosque is considered as the earliest surviving monumental mosque in the Muslim world. The mosque was built by the Umayyad caliph al-Walid I between 709 and 715 on the site of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptists (Prophet Yehya).
The Great Mosque of Damascus, known as the Umayyad Mosque, is one of the most significant architectural works in Islamic history. The mosque is considered as the earliest surviving monumental mosque in the Muslim world. It was intended to be the congregational place, where all Muslim could perform their worship and religious rituals. The mosque was built by the Umayyad caliph al-Walid I between 709 and 715 on the site of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptists (Prophet Yehya).
The main entrance from the courtyard
For thousands of years, the site of the mosque has housed many sacred buildings. The oldest discovered structure on the site of the mosque was the god Hadad temple. Later at the time of the Roman period, the site was occupied by the Temple of Jupiter, which was transformed to a church in the fourth century. Then this edifice was known as the Cathedral of St. John the Baptists, which occupied the western side of the older temple.
After the Islamic conquest of Damascus in 661 AD, the Muslims shared the church with the Christians, where both of them performed their religious rituals. With an agreement with the Christian leaders, the caliph Al-Walid built the Ummayad mosque on the sacred site of the church and promised the Christians to keep their other churches safe as well as to build a new church dedicated to the Virgin. The Umayyad Mosque was designed according to the principles of Islam and its plan followed the design concept of the mosque of the prophet Mohammed (pbuh), which is a hypostyle hall and a courtyard. The monumental size of the mosque became a prototype and a distinctive example to be followed in all other Muslim countries.
Diagram of the Prophet Muhammad’s house (pbuh), 622, Medina
The plan of the mosque consists of a courtyard surrounded on three sides by porticos and the prayer hall, which is a 97m x 156m rectangle, occupied the southern fourth side. The prayer hall is formed by three arcades set parallel to the south wall, where the qibla (niche in the wall) is situated to determine the direction to Makkah in Saudi Arabia. The three arcades are supported by two rows of stone Corinthian columns. Each arcade has two levels, the first with large semi circular arches and the second with double arches. The three arcades intersect in the middle with a larger, higher one that is perpendicular to the qibla wall. The tomb of St. John the Baptists, known in the Qur’an as the prophet Yahya (pbuh), is located between the columns of the arcades. The main wider arcade supports the main octagonal dome, the Nisr Dome (Dome of the Eagle), which is 36m high.
Plan of the Great mosque of Damascus
Chapel of St. John the Baptists
The exterior walls of the mosque include three gates that connect the mosque to the city from the northern, eastern and western sides. These walls were built in the Roman period. Four defense towers were built at each corner, but only the two southern ones remained and were used as foundations to erect the eastern and western minarets. Then a third square tower shaped minaret known as the Arus Minaret (The Minaret of the Bride) was built near the northern gate.
Arial view: the three minarets
The courtyard of the mosque includes three major elements: the ablution fountain covered with a dome that is supported by columns, the Khazne Dome on the western side supported by eight Corinthian columns and Zein al-Abidin Dome on the eastern side also supported by eight columns.
The main courtyard
The Khazne Dome and the ablution fountain
The mosque was plentifully decorated with marble paneling and mosaics (fusayfusa'a), and most of the columns were taken from older buildings. The fusayfusa'a was originally used to cover the top parts of the walls on both the interior and exterior sides, while the marble was used to clad the lower parts of the walls.
Detail of the 8th century facade mosaics
Detail of the 8th century facade mosaics