Tuesday, December 18, 2012

United Arab Emirates, Part VIII - The Grand Mosque

While this technically could fall under architecture, this deserved it's own post.

There's not really that much I can write about the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi. It's visually one of most beautiful buildings I've ever had the privilege to be in, and I tried to do it justice with photography but fell short given the sheer scope of the thing.

What I can say is this: we went in the middle of the day on a weekday (because we were on vacation and had the luxury of doing so) and it wasn't crowded. It's located out towards the airport from the peninsula and has garage parking (clutch if you're there May-October when temperatures are overwhelming). 

Mosques are the one place that women must be completely covered, which makes sense. The Grand Mosque will supply female  visitors with an abaya, and collect a photo ID as collateral. NOTE - you MUST return the abaya to the same location from whence you picked it up! There will be signs to discard your abaya as you leave the mosque, but DO NOT DO THIS! Go back downstairs, near the parking garage, and return your abaya to the same counter where you got it originally to get your photo ID back. This was slightly confusing to us. Also, men can't wear shorts or sleeveless tops. In fact, men as a rule should not wear sleeveless tops anywhere, at any time in general. But, I digress.

What is an abaya you might ask? A visual for you!

This is me with my pal who relocated to Dubai a few years ago from Baltimore and came down to Abu Dhabi to visit while I was in town. We're rocking our abaya here, which is a long dress-like robe with long sleeves. We both brought scarves with us to cover our hair, but they will give you a scarf if you don't have one. Women must be covered from head to toe, including the ankles. Sunglasses, however, are optional and purely for style.
There are other rules, as well. No physical contact between males and females anywhere near or around the mosque. Yes, this includes putting one's arm around someone for a picture. Yes, The Gentleman and I found this out the hard way.

A basic infographic of other rules:

Gardens surrounding the mosques. Yes, lush, green gardens. In the desert. The UAE filters salt out of the Gulf and uses the water to keep the city's greenery alive. It's kind of a lot of water.

Reflection pond outside main entrance.

Typical Islamic keyhole architecture with mosque turrets in background.
The Gentleman and I were extremely fortunate that my friend came down from Dubai to visit because not only had she been to the mosque before, but she's an art teacher with an interest in things like these and so told us lots of facts that I'm almost certain she didn't make up.

For example, the Grand Mosque is the largest mosaic in the world. I know she's not lying about this because, well, I saw it with my own eyes and also Wikipedia confirmed this fact. And Wikipedia never lies.

The entire mosque floor is a mosaic, with each tile carefully selected to fit together into a beautiful pattern. Behold:
Each one of those teeeeny tiiiiiny squares is a piece of marble. This probably took awhile. Like at least a month or two.

The mosaics even climb up the walls.

Close-up of wall mosaic.
My friend had also done a guided tour of the mosque previously and told us that these vines, set against the reflectivity of the marble floor, represent the life cycle of the soul. The vines reflect their origins in the floor below, and are reaching up towards heaven. They are neither separate from their roots, nor does there seem to be any set beginning. I tried to confirm this as fact, but in the end decided that I liked the way it sounded and so therefore it must be true.
Reaching up to heaven.

Once inside the mosque itself, there is something to see in every square inch. It is so incredibly ornate, so intricate, and so beautiful...and also you have to take your shoes off before entering, and the carpet (the largest carpet in the world - Internet confirmed) is so deliciously plush and soft that you might be tempted to lie down for awhile and gaze at the ceiling. Probably don't do that. But you can ogle and drool as much as you'd like while remaining standing.

Chandeliers by Swarovski, imported from Germany.

Mmmm. Peaceful naptime. Except...no. That's rude.

Along one entire wall are the 99 names (or attributes) of Allah.

Even the ceiling is exquisite.

Courtyard framed by the minarets of the mosque. The entire courtyard floor is a marble mosaic.

So that's kind of breathtakingly incredible, no? I mean, just a little bit. Perhaps.

(I want one.)

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