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7.4: Islamic Golden Age Umayyad Mosque (715 CE)

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  • The Islamic Umayyad Mosque sits in the city center of Old Damascus. The original temple was known for its beauty and size, the largest temple in Roman Syria, dedicated to the god Jupiter. By the end of the 4th century, it was converted into a Christian church and associated with Saint John the Baptist based on the legend his head (also known as a relic) buried inside the church. The area was conquered in 634 CE, then came under Muslim rule and in 700 CE the Umayyad caliph al-Walid I proclaimed: “Inhabitants of Damascus, four things give you a marked superiority over the rest of the world: your climate, your water, your fruits, and your baths. To these, I wanted to add a fifth: this mosque”. The construction of the Umayyad Mosque (7.14) was started in 706 CE and completed in 715 CE and dedicated to the people of Damascus for worship.

    Umayyad Mosque
    7.14 Umayyad Mosque

    People from all over the region were employed to build the mosque, and the labor force grew to 12,000 workers, the old Christian church demolished to make way for the new mosque. Byzantine artisans created the mosaic art depicting buildings and landscapes in tile and glass, a universal art form throughout the Mediterranean structures.

    Dome of the Clock
    7.15 Dome of the Clock

    In the eastern section of the mosque, the Dome of the Clock (7.15) added in 780 CE, and nine years later, the Dome of the Treasury (7.16) was incorporated. Over the years and throughout various wars and rulers, the mosque fell into disrepair. In 1082 CE, the new rulers began repairing the mosque with additional support pillars and an updated, more massive central dome. Throughout the next centuries, the mosque experienced cycles of damage and rebuilding, creating the structure we see today.

    Dome of the Treasury
    7.16 Dome of the Treasury

    Four walls enclose the mosque built in the shape of a rectangle, 97 meters by 156 meters, and in the northern part of the complex, a large courtyard. Stone columns support the arcades around the courtyard with a pillar between every two columns. The southern section of the mosque contains three arcades creating the sanctuary, two types of stone columns support the arcades; level one has large semi-circular arches and level two made of double arches. The entire face of the courtyard and the arcades covered with glass mosaics (7.17), colored marble, and gold gilding. It was the most extensive mosaic wall ever created at the time. Only some of the original embellishment remains (7.18), but over the centuries, different rulers have added to the patterned embellishments seen today.

    7.17 Mosiac
    7.18 Embellishments

    There are three minarets in the complex, the Minaret of the Bride (7.19) first constructed about 800 CE, added to and repaired over the centuries. Today, the minaret is divided into two sections; the oldest and the lower part is square and built from large blocks, the upper part made of sculptured stone. The minaret has 160 steps that are leading to the top. The Minaret of Jesus (7.20) sits on the main body of the large blocks formed in the shape of a square with an octagonal spire on the top. It is the tallest minaret and started at the same time as the Minaret of the Bride but not completed until 1247. The Minaret of Qaitbay (7.21) was not built until 1488 and is octagonal in shape.

    Minaret of the Bride
    7.19 Minaret of the Bride
    Minaret of Jesus
    7.20 Minaret of Jesus
    Minerat of Qaitbay
    7.21 Minerat of Qaitbay

    The building is one of the few mosques that have maintained its basic shape and architect since it was started in the 8th century, becoming a model for other mosques throughout the Middle East. However, today much of the mosque has been destroyed in the war in Syria.