The Great Mosque of Damascus: An Iconic Building in the History of Islamic Architecture
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The Great Mosque of Damascus: An Iconic Building in the History of Islamic Architecture

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


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Comments (26)

Beautiful presentation. Especially appreciate the history.

Thanks James for your kind comment and history is my favourite too............Appreciate

That looks like one of the most beautiful buildings ever made, it just looks so stunning! I would dearly love to see this. Really apreciate the history as well - so many places of worship seem to be built on much older places of worship. I like the synchronicity of it. Thanks again for such a beautifully written article on a very beautiful place x

The style and the history are equally impressive.

Thanks Norma and Bambang for your thoughtful comment. Appreciate

You really have written some fantastic articles in this series! Voted up.

The great mosque is gigantic and simply glittering but quite calmly.So spacious for congregation.Thanks for the nice presentation.

Thanks Ann and Rama for your kind comments.Appreciate

You definitely are an expert in buildings and architecture. another excellent article on mosques and Islamic culture!

Thank you Pearl for your kind comment and I am glad that you liked it. In fact I am an architect and professor of architecture and History of Islamic Architecture is one of my favourite subjects.

I knew this example, but you have brought a new dimension of the perspective to this unique place, thank you for this interesting presentation.

Thanks Mervat for your thoughtful comment. your opinion is always important to me and appreciated. I hope you can find the time to post some of your writings, and I will be looking for your articles.

Ranked #11 in Architecture

Wonderful structure and well presented piece, thanks.

wonderful thank you

Thank you Dear Ron and carol for your kind comments and for the time you spent in reading my articles...Appreciate

Impressive photos and fascinating article. I don't have votes left today, so I will promote in the meantime and be back to vote later.

Another very professional article with superb pictures. Thank you Abdel.

Thanks Francois for your appreciated comment and the time you've given to read it.

excellent, well presented introduction to an amzing building. Loved the pictures too. Like others, I hope I get to see it with my own eyes one day :)

Thanks Brian for your kind comment, and yes the mosque is worthy to visit

Ranked #10 in Architecture

Another well presented work, Abdel. This building is really essential in the history of Islam.

Thanks deep for your kind comment

Amazing architecture and breathtakingly beautiful. Thank you for for sharing this interesting piece of history with us. (I haven't figured out how to promote yet and am out of votes. Will be back later to vote this one up though!)

Thank you Gerrie for your kind comment

Nice detail, in a wonderful article, showing the layout inside.

Thanks Jill, your comments are always appreciated