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GUEST ARTICLE | The Umayyad Mosque – Overview of a Damascene Architecture

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by Minas Bahah / March 8, 2016

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Hello, my name is Minas Bahah, I come from Syria and I live in Heilbad Heiligenstadt. I guess you are wondering why I am writing in this blog, the reason is because I am a friend of Fabian (editor's note: publisher of BAUKULTUR eichsfeld), he asked me to write about a topic of my choice of Syrian architecture and culture. I really appreciate it from him to feature me in his blog.

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2011: The beginning of the Syrian crisis and loss

First, before I go into my main topic, allow me to introduce myself more clearly to you. I was born in Damascus City; I studied interior design and graduated in 2011. For you 2011 may just be an ordinary year, a year full of accomplishments, a blissful year...etc. but for us Syrians 2011 was a year of change, it was the year in which the crises and loss has started.

In that year I had the chance to get training at a professional interior design office, unfortunately work wasn't going well in Syria due to the crises especially in my profession. Therefore, by the end of 2012 my parents decided to move to Jordan for a period of time and by the midst of 2014 we left to Germany, as things were not going well in Syria nor did we have future for us in Jordan.

Umayyad_Prayer_Hall_with_Shrine_John_Baptist_BKE.jpgThe Umayyad Mosque – a house of God for several religions

Now allow me to give you an idea about one of the most important Umayyad architectural sites in my city, it is called the Umayyad Mosque or the Great Mosque of Damascus, it is located in the old city of Damascus. The site of the mosque was once an Aramaean temple dedicated to Hadad-Ramman, god of thunderstorms and rain. Then it became a Roman temple honoring Jupiter. It was the largest temple in Roman Syria and some of its columns still survive.

Fast facts about the Umayyad Mosque

• The mosque is located in the old city of Damascus and was built between 706 and 715 a.D.
• The mosque may have had the largest golden mosaic in the world.
• A shrine of John the Baptist is located in the mosque and it is said that his head is buried there.
• The tomb of conqueror Salah Aldin al-Ayoubi is in a garden next to the mosque.
• Most of the library's holdings were given to the German emperor William II.
• In 2001 pope John Paul II. visited the mosque, it was the first time a pope paid a visit to a mosque.

It was then converted into a Christian cathedral by the Christian emperor Theodosius I., later on the cathedral was dedicated to John the Baptist. Finally came the Umayyad dynasty, hence the construction of the mosque has begun.

Courtyard as main component of sacred site

At first the leader of the Muslim Arab forces, Khalid ibn Al-walid, shared the mosque with the Christians; half of the site was a church and the other half a mosque. Later on the whole place, except for the walls and the base grounds of the front cells, were demolished and the new and current structure was built in its place. In return the Christians had four churches built for them and they got a sum of money. In general, the site contained a vast courtyardUmayyad_Court_yard_and_minaret_BKE.jpg (which occupies almost half of the site), the prayer hall and sanctuary, the three minarets, domes and three main gates.

The mosque has caught several fires and it has experienced earthquakes as well. Those fires and earthquakes left the mosque damaged and some parts were completely destroyed, thus many restorations and reparations were made in various years and eras including Abasid and Fatimid era, Sejluk and Ayyubid, Mamluk rule, Ottoman era, French mandate era and Post-colonial era.

The history of the mosque is too long to be mentioned in this article; in fact books were written about this ancient mosque. I used to go to the old city of Damascus frequently and every time I went there I relished the glory and magnificence of the mosque.

"The golden crown of one of the oldest cities in the world"

Even in my last visit to Syria, a couple of months ago, I didn't hesitate in paying the mosque a visit. I was in the car with my husband and son, we were driving over a bridge in the evening and from there I saw the mosque, the view was mesmerizing, I was spellbound. Minas_in_Damascus_BKE.jpgThe mosque stood out amongst the rest of the surrounding blocks. It was golden lit; to me it looked like a golden crown worn by one of the oldest cities in the world. I wasn't able to resist the view so I asked my husband to stop so that we could take a walk to the mosque.

Last but not least, I wish the mosque not to get damaged or effected by the war anymore as it has so far had minimal damage on its inner facade of the courtyard by a shell, damaging a few mosaics, and of course I wish for my family, friends and everyone in Syria to stay safe and I hope for my beloved country to be the peaceful country it used to be with the least number of victims, damages and destruction, and may we all live in a peaceful world.

Note: Please forgive me for writing in English on a German blog, I'm learning German and my progress is very slow as I'm learning on my own at home while taking care of my 18 months old son. Thank you Fabian for the effort you did to translate it to German.


Link: The Umayyad mosque in 3D