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Umayyad Mosque

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Umayyad Mosque
الْجَامِع الْأُمَوِي
Umayyad Mosque, Damascus.jpg
Affiliation Islam
Region Levant
Location Damascus, Syria
Umayyad Mosque is located in Damascus
Umayyad Mosque
Umayyad Mosque's Courtyard
Geographic coordinates 33°30′43″N 36°18′24″E / 33.511944°N 36.306667°E / 33.511944; 36.306667
UMAYYAD MOSQUE Latitude and Longitude:

33°30′43″N 36°18′24″E / 33.511944°N 36.306667°E / 33.511944; 36.306667
Type Mosque
Style Umayyad
Minaret height253 feet
MaterialsStone, marble, tile, mosaic

The Umayyad Mosque ( Arabic: الجامع الأموي‎, romanizedal-Jāmiʿ al-Umawī), also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus, located in the old city of Damascus, is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world. The mosque is also important in Islam because of its historical and eschatological reports and events associated with the mosque. The mosque is the fourth holiest site of Islam. [1] [2] [3]

After the Muslim conquest of Damascus in 634, the mosque was built on the site of a Christian basilica dedicated to John the Baptist, honored as a prophet by both Christians and Muslims. A legend dating to the sixth century holds that the building contains the head of John the Baptist. [4] Two shrines commemorating Husayn ibn Ali ( Arabic: مقام الحسين‎), whose martyrdom is frequently compared to that of John the Baptist [5] and Jesus Christ, [6] exist within the building premises. [7] The mosque is also believed by Muslims to be the place where Jesus will return before the End of Days. The mausoleum containing the tomb of Saladin stands in a small garden adjoining the north wall of the mosque.


Pre-Islamic period

The site is attested for as a place of worship since the Iron Age. Damascus was the capital of the Aramaean state Aram-Damascus and a large temple was dedicated to Hadad-Ramman, the god of thunderstorms and rain, and was erected at the site of the present-day Umayyad Mosque. One stone remains from the Aramaean temple, dated to the rule of King Hazael, and is currently on display in the National Museum of Damascus. [8]

The Temple of Hadad-Ramman continued to serve a central role in the city, and when the Roman Empire conquered Damascus in 64 BCE, they assimilated Hadad with their own god of thunder, Jupiter. [9] Thus, they engaged in a project to reconfigure and expand the temple under the direction of Damascus-born architect Apollodorus, who created and executed the new design. [10]

This new Temple of Jupiter, Damascus became the center of the Imperial cult of Jupiter and was served as a response to the Second Temple in Jerusalem. [11] The Temple of Jupiter would attain further additions during the early period of Roman rule of the city, mostly initiated by high priests who collected contributions from the wealthy citizens of Damascus. [12] The eastern gateway of the courtyard was expanded during the reign of Septimius Severus (r. 193–211 CE). [13] By the fourth century CE, the temple was especially renowned for its size and beauty. It was separated from the city by two sets of walls. The first, wider wall spanned a wide area that included a market, and the second wall surrounded the actual sanctuary of Jupiter. It was the largest temple in Roman Syria. [14]

Towards the end of the 4th century, in 391, the Temple of Jupiter was converted into a cathedral by the Christian emperor Theodosius I (r. 379–395). During its transformation into a Christian cathedral, it was not immediately dedicated to John the Baptist; this was a later association, which came about in the sixth century. Legend had it that Saint John's head was buried there. [4] It served as the seat of the Bishop of Damascus, who ranked second within the Patriarchate of Antioch after the patriarch himself. [15]

Establishment and construction

Remains of an old Roman-era triple doorway in the exterior southern wall of the mosque [16]

Damascus was captured by Muslim Arab forces led by Khalid ibn al-Walid in 634. In 661, the Islamic Caliphate came under the rule of the Umayyad dynasty, which chose Damascus to be the administrative capital of the Muslim world. The sixth Umayyad caliph, al-Walid I (r. 705–715), commissioned the construction of a mosque on the site of the Byzantine cathedral in 706. [17] Prior to this, the cathedral was still in use by the local Christians, but a prayer room (musalla) for Muslims had been constructed on the southeastern part of the building. Al-Walid, who personally supervised the project, had most of the cathedral, including the musalla, demolished. The construction of the mosque completely altered the layout of the building, though it preserved the outer walls of the temenos (sanctuary or inner enclosure) of the Roman-era temple. [18] [19] While the church (and the temples before it) had the main building located at the centre of the rectangular enclosure, the mosque's prayer hall is placed against its south wall. The architect recycled the columns and arcades of the church, dismantling and repositioning them in the new structure. Professor Alain George has re-examined the architecture and design of this first mosque on the site via three previously untranslated poems and the descriptions of medieval scholars. [20] The new house of worship was meant to serve as a large congregational mosque for the citizens of Damascus and as a tribute to the city. In response to Christian protest at the move, al-Walid ordered all the other confiscated churches in the city to be returned to the Christians as compensation. The mosque was completed in 715, shortly after al-Walid's death, by his successor, Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik (r. 715–717). [21] [22] [23] According to 10th-century Persian historian Ibn al-Faqih, somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 dinars were spent on the project. Coptic craftsmen as well as Persian, Indo, Greek and Moroccan laborers provided the bulk of the labor force which consisted of 12,000 people. [21] [24] Ibn al-Faqih relays the story that during the construction of the mosque, workers found a cave-chapel which had a box containing the head of St. John the Baptist, or Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā in Islam. Upon learning of that and examining it, al-Walid I ordered the head buried under a specific pillar in the mosque that was later inlaid with marble. [25]

The plan of the new mosque was innovative and highly influential in the history of early Islamic architecture. [26] [27] The earliest mosques before this had been relatively plain hypostyle structures (a flat-roof hall supported by columns), but the new Umayyad mosque in Damascus introduced a more basilical plan with three parallel aisles and a perpendicular central "nave". The central nave, which leads from the main entrance to the mihrab ( niche in the qibla wall) and features a central dome, provided a new aesthetic focus which may have been designed to emphasize the area originally reserved for the caliph during prayers, near the mihrab. [26] [27] There is some uncertainty as to whether the dome was originally directly in front of the mihrab (as in many later mosques) or in its current position mid-way along the central nave. [28] Scholars have attributed the design of the mosque's plan to the influences of Byzantine Christian basilicas in the region. [26] [29] Rafi Grafman and Myriam Rosen-Ayalon have argued that the first Umayyad Al-Aqsa Mosque built in Jerusalem, begun by Abd al-Malik (al-Walid's father) and now replaced by later constructions, had a layout very similar to the current Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and that it probably served as a model for the latter. [30]

Section of the courtyard's western wall with significant remains of original Umayyad-era mosaics, depicting landscapes and buildings [31] [32]

The mosque was richly decorated. A rich composition of marble paneling covered the lower walls, though only minor examples of the original marbles have survived today near the east gate. [31] The walls of the prayer hall were raised above the level of the old temenos walls, which allowed for new windows to be inserted in the upper walls. The windows had ornately carved grilles that foreshadowed the styles of windows in later Islamic architecture. [31] [33] The most celebrated decorative element of all was the revetment of mosaics, which originally covered much of the courtyard and the interior hall. The best-preserved remains are still visible in the courtyard today. [a] By some estimates, the original mosque had the largest area of gold mosaics in the world, covering approximately 43,000 square feet (400 square meters). [27] Byzantine artisans were employed to create the mosaics, which depict landscapes and buildings in a characteristic late Roman style. [36] [37] They reflected a wide variety of artistic styles used by mosaicists and painters since the first century C.E., but the combined use of all these different styles in the same place was innovative at the time. [38] Similar to the Dome of the Rock, built earlier by Abd al-Malik, vegetation and plants were the most common motif, but those of the Damascus mosque are more naturalistic. [38] In addition to the large landscape depictions, a mosaic frieze with an intricate vine motif (referred to as the karma in Arabic historical sources) once ran around the walls of the prayer hall, above the level of the mihrab. [39] The only notable omission is the absence of human and animal figures, which was likely a new restriction imposed by the Muslim patron. [38] Scholars have long debated the meaning of the mosaic imagery. Some historical Muslim writers and some modern scholars have interpreted them as a representation of all the cities in the known world (or within the Umayyad Caliphate at the time), while other scholars interpret them as a depiction of Paradise. [38]

The original mihrab was one of the first concave mihrabs in the Islamic world, the second one known to exist after the one created in 706–7 during the reconstruction of the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. [40] [26] The exact appearance of the mosque's original main mihrab is uncertain, due to the multiple repairs and restorations that took place over the centuries. Ibn Jubayr, who visited the mosque in 1184, described the inside of the mihrab as filled with miniature blind arcades whose arches resembled "small mihrabs", each filled with inlaid mother-of-pearl mosaics and framed by spiral columns of marble. [41] This mihrab was famed across the Islamic world for its beauty, as noted by other writers of the era. [41] Its appearance may have been imitated by other surviving mihrabs built under the Mamluk sultans al-Mansur Qalawun and al-Nasir Muhahmmad in the 13th and 14th centuries, such as the richly-decorated mihrab of Qalawun's mausoleum in Cairo (completed in 1285). [42] Scholars generally assume that the mihrab described by Ibn Jubayr dated from a restoration of the mosque in 1082. [41] Another restoration occurred after 1401 and this version, which survived until another fire in 1893, was again decorated with miniature arcades, while its semi-dome was filled with coffering similar to Roman architecture. [41] [43] Finbarr Barry Flood has suggested that the perpetuation of the mihrab's arcaded decoration across several restorations indicates that the medieval restorations were aimed at preserving at least some of the original mihrab's appearance, and therefore the 8th-century Umayyad mihrab may have had these features. [41]

Abbasid and Fatimid era

Dome of the Treasury, built in 789–90

Following the uprising that ended Umayyad rule in 750, the Abbasid dynasty came to power and moved the capital of the Caliphate to Baghdad. Apart from the attention given for strategic and commercial purposes, the Abbasids had no interest in Damascus. Thus, the Umayyad Mosque reportedly suffered under their rule, with little recorded building activity between the 8th and 10th centuries. [44] However, the Abbasids did consider the mosque to be a major symbol of Islam's triumph, and thus it was spared the systematic eradication of the Umayyad legacy in the city. [45] In 789–90 the Abbasid governor of Damascus, al-Fadl ibn Salih ibn Ali, constructed the Dome of the Treasury with the purpose of housing the mosque's funds. [45] The so-called Dome of the Clock, standing in the eastern part of the courtyard, may have also been erected originally by the same Abbasid governor in 780. [46] [47] The 9th-century Arab geographer, al-Muqaddasi, credited the Abbasids for building the northern minaret (Madhanat al-'Arous; "Minaret of the Bride") of the mosque in 831 during the reign of the caliph al-Ma'mun (r. 813–833). [44] [45] This was accompanied by al-Ma'mun's removal and replacement of Umayyad inscriptions in the mosque. [44]

Dome of the Clock in the courtyard

By the early 10th century, a monumental water clock had been installed by the entrance in the western part of the southern wall of the mosque, which was consequently known as Bāb al-Sā'ā ("Gate of the Clock") at the time but is known today as Bāb al-Ziyāda. [48] This clock seems to have stopped functioning by the middle of the 12th century. [48] Abbasid rule over Syria began crumbling during the early 10th century, and in the decades that followed, it came under the control of autonomous realms who were only nominally under Abbasid authority. The Fatimids of Egypt, who adhered to Shia Islam, conquered Damascus in 970, but few recorded improvements of the mosque were undertaken by the new rulers. The Umayyad Mosque's prestige allowed the residents of Damascus to establish the city as a center for Sunni intellectualism, enabling them to maintain relative independence from Fatimid religious authority. [49] In 1069, large sections of the mosque, particularly the northern wall, were destroyed in a fire as a result of an uprising by the city's residents against the Fatimid's Berber army who were garrisoned there. [50]

Seljuk and Ayyubid era

The Sunni Muslim Seljuk Turks gained control of the city in 1078 and restored the nominal rule of the Abbasid Caliphate. The Seljuk king Tutush (r. 1079–1095) initiated the repair of damage caused by the 1069 fire. [51] In 1082, his vizier, Abu Nasr Ahmad ibn Fadl, had the central dome restored in a more spectacular form; [52] the two piers supporting it were reinforced and the original Umayyad mosaics of the northern inner façade were renewed. The northern riwaq ("portico") was rebuilt in 1089. [51] The Seljuk atabeg of Damascus, Toghtekin (r. 1104–1128), repaired the northern wall in 1110 and two inscribed panels located above its doorways were dedicated to him. [53] In 1113, the Seljuk atabeg of Mosul, Sharaf al-Din Mawdud (r. 1109–1113), was assassinated in the Umayyad Mosque. [54] As the conflict between Damascus and the Crusaders intensified in the mid-12th century, the mosque was used as a principal rallying point calling on Muslims to defend the city and return Jerusalem to Muslim hands. Prominent imams, including Ibn 'Asakir, preached a spiritual struggle jihad (" in Arabic the word means struggle/Strive") and when the Crusaders advanced towards Damascus in 1148, the city's residents heeded their calls; the Crusader army withdrew as a result of their resistance. [55]

In Damascus there is a mosque that has no equal in the world, not one with such fine proportion, nor one so solidly constructed, nor one vaulted so securely, nor one more marvelously laid out, nor one so admirably decorated in gold mosaics and diverse designs, with enameled tiles and polished marbles.

-- Muhammad al-Idrisi, 1154 [56]

During the reign of Nur ad-Din Zangi, which began in 1154, a second monumental clock, the Jayrun Water Clock, was built on his personal orders. [57] It was constructed outside the eastern entrance to the mosque (Bab Jayrun) by architect Muhammad al-Sa'āti, was rebuilt by al-Sa'ati following a fire in 1167 and was eventually repaired by his son, Ridwan, in the early 13th century. It may have survived into the 14th century. [58] The Arab geographer al-Idrisi visited the mosque in 1154. [45]

Damascus witnessed the establishment of several religious institutions under the Ayyubids, but the Umayyad Mosque retained its place as the center of religious life in the city. Muslim traveler Ibn Jubayr described the mosque as containing many different zawaya for religious and Quranic studies. In 1173, the northern wall of the mosque was damaged again by the fire and was rebuilt by the Ayyubid sultan, Saladin (r. 1174–1193), along with the Minaret of the Bride, [59] which had been destroyed in the 1069 fire. [45] During the internal feuds between later Ayyubid princes, the city was dealt a great deal of damage, and the mosque's eastern minaret—known as the "Minaret of Jesus"—was destroyed at the hands of as-Salih Ayyub while besieging as-Salih Ismail in 1245. [60] The minaret was later rebuilt with little decoration. [61] Saladin, along with many of his successors, were buried around the Umayyad Mosque. [62]

Mamluk rule

Umayyad Mosque as depicted in the Book of Wonders, a late 14th century Arabic manuscript

The Mongols, under the leadership of Kitbuqa, in alliance with Crusader forces, captured Damascus from the Ayyubids in 1260. Bohemond VI of Antioch, a leading general in the invasion, ordered Catholic Mass to be performed in the Umayyad Mosque. [63] However, the Mamluks, led by Qutuz and Baibars, wrested control of the city later in the same year. In 1270, Baibars, by now the Mamluk sultan, ordered extensive restorations to the mosque, particularly its marble, mosaics and gildings. According to Baibars' biographer, Ibn Shaddad, the restorations cost the sultan a sum of 20,000 dinars. Among the largest mosaic fragments restored was a 34.5 by 7.3 metres (113 by 24 ft) segment in the western portico called the "Barada panel". [64] The mosaics that decorated the mosque were a specific target of the restoration project and they had a major influence on Mamluk architecture in Syria and Egypt. [65]

In 1285, the Muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyya started teaching Qur'an exegesis in the mosque. When the Il-Khan Mongols under Ghazan invaded the city in 1300, Ibn Taymiyya preached jihad, urging the citizens of Damascus to resist their occupation. The Mamluks under Qalawun drove out the Mongols later that year. [66] When Qalawun's forces entered the city, the Mongols attempted to station several catapults in the Umayyad Mosque because the Mamluks had started fires around the citadel to prevent Mongol access to it. The attempt failed as the Mamluks proceeded to burn the catapults before they were placed in the mosque. [67]

The Mamluk Viceroy of Syria, Tankiz, carried out restoration work in the mosque in 1326–28. He reassembled the mosaics on the qibla wall and replaced all the marble tiles in the prayer hall. Mamluk sultan al-Nasir Muhammad also undertook major restoration work for the mosque in 1328. He demolished and completely rebuilt the unstable qibla wall and moved the Bab al-Ziyadah gate to the east. [64] Much of that work was damaged during a fire that burned the mosque in 1339. [65] Islamic art expert, Finbarr B. Flood, describes the Bahri Mamluks' attitude towards the mosque as an "obsessive interest" and their efforts at maintaining, repairing and restoring the mosque were unparalleled in any other period of Muslim rule. [68] Arab astronomer Ibn al-Shatir worked as the chief muwaqqit ("religious timekeeper") and the chief muezzin at the Umayyad Mosque from 1332 until he died in 1376. [69] He erected a large sundial on the mosque's northern minaret in 1371, now lost, more recently a replica was installed in its place. [70] [71] The Minaret of Jesus was burnt down in a fire in 1392. [72]

Timur besieged Damascus in 1400. He ordered the burning of the city on March 17, 1401, and the fire ravaged the Umayyad Mosque. The eastern minaret was reduced to rubble, and the central dome collapsed. [73] A southwestern minaret was added to the mosque in 1488 during the reign of Mamluk sultan Qaitbay. [74]

Ottoman era

1842 daguerreotype by Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (the earliest photography of the site)
1862 photograph of the main prayer hall facade, from the courtyard looking south-east, with the Minaret of Isa in the background

The Ottomans under Selim I conquered Damascus from the Mamluks in 1516. The first Friday prayer performed in Selim's name in the Umayyad Mosque was attended by the sultan himself. [75] [76] The Ottomans used an endowment system ( waqf) for religious sites as a means to link the local population with the central authority. The waqf of the Umayyad Mosque was the largest in the city, employing 596 people. Supervisory and clerical positions were reserved for Ottoman officials while religious offices were held mostly by members of the local ' ulema. [77] Although the awqaf (plural form of "waqf") were taxed, the waqf of the Umayyad Mosque was not. [78] In 1518, the Ottoman governor of Damascus and supervisor of the mosque's waqf, Janbirdi al-Ghazali, had the mosque repaired and redecorated as part of his architectural reconstruction program for the city. [79]

Prominent Sufi scholar Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi taught regularly at the Umayyad Mosque starting in 1661. [80]

The mosque after the 1893 fire (photo from 1898)

The mosque's prayer hall was once again ravaged and partly destroyed by fire in 1893. [81] [82] A laborer engaging in repair work accidentally started the fire when he was smoking his nargila (water pipe). [82] The fire destroyed the inner fabric of the prayer hall and caused the collapse of the mosque's central dome. The Ottomans fully restored the mosque, largely maintaining the original layout. [83] The restoration process, which lasted 9 years, did not attempt to reproduce the original decoration. [82] The central mihrab was replaced and the dome was rebuilt in a contemporary Ottoman style. The rubble and damaged elements from the fire, including some of the original pillars and mosaic remains, were simply disposed of. [82] [39] [27]

Until 1899 the mosque's library included the "very old" Qubbat al-Khazna collection; [84] "most of its holdings were given to the German emperor William II and only a few pieces kept for the National Archives in Damascus." [85]

It is the burial place of first three martyrs of the Ottoman Aviation Squadrons, who were Navy Lieutenant (Ottoman Turkish: Bahriye Yüzbaşısı) Fethi Bey and his navigator, Artillery First Lieutenant (Ottoman Turkish: Topçu Mülazım-ı Ula) Sadık Bey and The second team's member Artillery Second Lieutenant (Ottoman Turkish: Topçu Mülazım-ı Saniye) Nuri Bey. These officers were on a mission of the Istanbul-Cairo expedition of 1914.

Modern era

Umayyad Mosque at night, present day

The Umayyad Mosque underwent major restorations in 1929 during the French Mandate over Syria and in 1954 and 1963 under the Syrian Republic. [86]

In the 1980s and in the early 1990s, Syrian president Hafez al-Assad ordered a wide-scale renovation of the mosque. [87] The methods and concepts of al-Assad's restoration project were heavily criticized by UNESCO,[ clarification needed] but the general approach in Syria was that the mosque was more of a symbolic monument rather than a historical one and thus, its renovation could only enhance the mosque's symbolism. [88]

In 1990s, Mohammed Burhanuddin constructed a zarih of the martyrs of the Battle of Karbala [89] whose heads were brought to the Mosque after their defeat at the hands of the then Umayyad caliph, Yazid ibn Muawiyah.

In 2001, Pope John Paul II visited the mosque, primarily to visit the relics of John the Baptist. It was the first time a pope paid a visit to a mosque. [90]

On March 15, 2011, the first significant protests related to the Syrian civil war began at the Umayyad Mosque when 40–50 worshipers gathered outside the complex and chanted pro-democracy slogans. Syrian security forces swiftly quelled the protests and have since cordoned off the area during Friday prayers to prevent large-scale demonstrations. [91] [92]


The ground plan of the Umayyad Mosque is rectangular in shape and measures 97 meters (318 ft) by 156 meters (512 ft). [93] A large courtyard occupies the northern part of the mosque complex, while the prayer hall or haram ("sanctuary") covers the southern part. The mosque is enclosed by four exterior walls which were part of the temenos (sanctuary) of the original Roman temple. [19]

Sanctuary (prayer hall)

Three arcades make up the interior space of the sanctuary. They are parallel to the direction of prayer which is towards Mecca in modern-day Saudi Arabia. The arcades are supported by two rows of stone Corinthian columns. Each of the arcades contain two levels. The first level consists of large semi-circular arches, while the second level is made up of double arches. This pattern is the same repeated by the arcades of the courtyard. The three interior arcades intersect in the center of the sanctuary with a larger, higher arcade that is perpendicular to the qibla ("direction of prayer") wall and faces the mihrab (niche in the wall which indicates the qibla) and the minbar (" pulpit"). [93] The central transept divides the arcades into two halves each with eleven arches. The entire sanctuary measures 136 meters (446 ft) by 37 meters (121 ft) and takes up the southern half of the mosque complex. [94]

Four mihrabs line the sanctuary's rear wall, the main one being the Great Mihrab which is located roughly at the center of the wall. The Mihrab of the Companions of the Prophet (named after the Sahaba) is situated in the eastern half. According to ancient Muslim engineer Musa ibn Shakir, the latter mihrab was built during the mosque's initial construction and it became the third niche-formed mihrab in Islam's history. [94]

The central dome of the mosque is known as the "Dome of the Eagle" (Qubbat an-Nisr) and located atop the center of the prayer hall. [95] The original wooden dome was replaced by one built of stone following the 1893 fire. It receives its name because it is thought to resemble an eagle, with the dome itself being the eagle's head while the eastern and western flanks of the prayer hall represent the wings. [96] With a height of 36 meters (118 ft), the dome rests on an octagonal substructure with two arched windows on each of its sides. It is supported by the central interior arcade and has openings along its parameter. [93]

Panoramic view of the prayer hall, with the mihrab in the center (looking south) and the Shrine of John the Baptist visible to the left


In the courtyard ( sahn), the level of the stone pavement had become uneven over time due to several repairs throughout the mosque's history. Recent work on the courtyard has restored it to its consistent Umayyad-era levels. [93] Arcades ( riwaq) surround the courtyard supported by alternating stone columns and piers. There is one pier in between every two columns. Because the northern part of the courtyard had been destroyed in an earthquake in 1759, the arcade is not consistent; when the northern wall was rebuilt the columns that were supporting it were not. [93] The courtyard and its arcades contain the largest preserved remnants of the mosque's Umayyad-era mosaic decoration. [34]

Several domed pavilions stand in the courtyard. The Dome of the Treasury (Qubbat al-Khazna) is an octagonal structure decorated with mosaics, standing on eight Roman columns in the western part of the courtyard. The dome was built under orders from the Abbasid governor Fadl ibn Salih in the 8th century, but its mosaics were largely remade in the late 20th-century restoration. [97] [98] In a mirror position on the other side of the courtyard is the Dome of the Clock, another octagonal domed pavilion, of unconfirmed date. [46] Near the middle of the courtyard, sheltering an ablutions fountain at ground level, is a rectangular pavilion which is a modern reconstruction of a late Ottoman pavilion. [99]

Courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque, view from east (left) towards west (right). Notable structures: Dome of the Clock (far left), [100] and the Minaret of Isa (Jesus). [101]
Minaret of the Bride, the first minaret built for the mosque


Within the Umayyad Mosque complex are three minarets. The Minaret of Jesus (Madhanat Isa) on south-east corner, second on the south-western corner is the "Minaret of Qaitbay" (Madhanat al-Gharbiyya) and the third, the Minaret of the Bride (Madhanat al-Arus), is located along the northern wall.

Minaret of the Bride

The Minaret of the Bride (Madhanat al-Arus) was the first one built and is located on the mosque's northern wall. The exact year of the minaret's original construction is unknown. [45] The bottom part of the minaret most likely dates back to the Abbasid era in the 9th century. [45] [102] While it is possible that the Umayyads built it, there is no indication that a minaret on the northern wall was a part of Caliph al-Walid's initial concept. Geographer al-Muqaddasi visited the minaret in 985 when Damascus was under Abbasid control and described it as "recently built." The upper segment was constructed in 1174. [45] This minaret is used by the muezzin for the call to prayer ( adhan) and there is a spiral staircase of 160 stone steps that lead to the muezzin's calling position. [103]

Minaret of Isa, the mosque's tallest minaret

The Minaret of the Bride is divided into two sections; the main tower and the spire which are separated by a lead roof. The oldest part of the minaret, or the main tower, is square in shape, has four galleries, [103] and consists of two different forms of masonry; the base consists of large blocks, while the upper section is built of dressed stone. There are two light openings near the top of the main tower, before the roof, with horseshoe arches and cubical capitals enclosed in a single arch. A smaller arched corbel is located below these openings. [104] According to local legend, the minaret is named after the daughter of the merchant who provided the lead for the minaret's roof who was married to Syria's ruler at the time. Attached to the Minaret of the Bride is the 18th-century replica of the 14th-century sundial built by Ibn al-Shatir. [102]

Minaret of Isa

The Minaret of Isa (Jesus) ( Arabic: مئذنة عيسى, Mi'dhanah ′Isa), located on the southeast corner of the mosque complex, is around 77 meters (253 ft) in height and the tallest of the three minarets. [105] [106] Some sources claim it was originally built by the Abbasids in the 9th century, [102] while other sources attribute the original structure to the Umayyads. The main body of the current minaret was built by the Ayyubids in 1247, but the upper section was constructed by the Ottomans. [106] The main body of the minaret is square-shaped and the spire is octagonal. It tapers to a point and is surmounted by a crescent (as are the other two minarets.) Two covered galleries are situated in the main body and two open galleries are located on the spire. [103] Islamic belief holds that Isa (Jesus) will descend from heaven during the time of the Fajr prayer and will pray behind Mahdi. He will then confront the Antichrist. According to local Damascene tradition, relating from Hadith, [101] Isa will reach earth via the Minaret of Isa, hence its name. [106] Ibn Kathir, a prominent 14th-century Muslim scholar, backed this notion. [107]

Minaret of Qaitbay, constructed in 1488 on the orders of Sultan Qaitbay

Minaret of Qaitbay

The Western Minaret ( Arabic: مئذنة الغربيّة, Mi'dhanatu 'l-Gharbiyyah) is also known as the "Minaret of Qaitbay" and built by Mamluk Sultan Qaitbay in 1488. [102] He also commissioned it's renovation due to the AH 884/1479 fire. The Western Minaret displays strong Islamic-era Egyptian architectural influence typical of the Mamluk period. [106] The minaret is octagonal in shape and is built in receding sections with three galleries. [103] It is generally believed that both the Minaret of Jesus and the Western Minaret were built on the foundation of ancient Roman towers. [106]

Influence on mosque architecture

The Umayyad Mosque is one of the few early mosques in the world to have maintained the same general structure and architectural features since its initial construction in the early 8th century and its Umayyad character has not been significantly altered. Since its establishment, the mosque has served as a model for congregational mosque architecture in Syria as well as globally. According to art historian, Finnbar Barry Flood, "the construction of the Damascus mosque not only irrevocably altered the urban landscape of the city, inscribing upon it a permanent affirmation of Muslim hegemony, but by giving the Syrian congregational mosque its definitive form it also transformed the subsequent history of the mosque in general." [108] Examples of the Umayyad Mosque's ground plan being used as a prototype for other mosques in the region include the al-Azhar Mosque and Baybars Mosque in Cairo, the Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain, and the Bursa Grand Mosque and Selimiye Mosque in Turkey. [109]

Religious significance

Shrine purportedly housing the head of Prophet Yahya (John the Baptist).
Left: The location where Husayn's head was kept for display. Right: Zareeh-e-Ras al-Husayn, where Husayn's head was buried.

The Umayyad Mosque holds great significance to Shia and Sunni Muslims, as this was the destination of the ladies and children of the family of Muhammad, made to walk here from Iraq, following the Battle of Karbala. [110] Furthermore, it was the place where they were imprisoned for 60 days. [111]

The following are structures found within the Mosque that bear great importance:

West Side:

  • The entrance gate (known as "Bāb as-Sā'at") — The door marks the location where the prisoners of Karbalā were made to stand for 72 hours before being brought inside. [112] During this time, Yazīd I had the town and his palace decorated for their arrival., [112]

South Wing (main hall):

  • Shrine of John the Baptist ( Arabic: Yahyā‎) — According to Al-Suyuti, Ibrahim stated that since the creation of the world [113] the Heavens and the Earth wept only for two people: Yahya and Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad [114]
  • A white pulpit — Marks the place where Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin addressed the court of Yazīd after being brought from Karbalā [115]
  • Raised floor (in front of the pulpit) — Marks the location where all the ladies and children (the household of Muhammad) were made to stand in the presence of Yazīd
  • Wooden balcony (directly opposite the raised floor) – Marks the location where Yazīd sat in the court.

East Wing:

  • A prayer rug and Mihrāb encased in a glass cubicle — Marks the place where Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin used to pray while imprisoned in the castle after the Battle of Karbala
  • A metallic, cuboidal indentation in the wall — Marks the place where the head of Husayn ibn Ali was kept for display by Yazīd
  • A Zarih — Marks the place where all the other heads of those who fell in Karbalā were kept within the Mosque.

See also


  1. ^ The best-preserved sections of the mosaics today are located on the inner and outer facades of the western portico (arches) of the courtyard, as well as in the vestibule of the western entrance. Restitutions carried out to other sections after 1963 have been heavily criticized for their inauthenticity. Areas of original mosaic work generally appear darker today than areas of new (restored) mosaics. A large stretch of mosaics along the inner wall of the western portico, sometimes known as the "Barada panel", contains original Umayyad fragments, late 13th-century fragments from the time of Baybars, and post-1963 restorations. The outer façade of the prayer hall's main entrance contains only limited fragments of original mosaic (in darker shades), with the rest restored after 1963. Some damaged remains of mosaics on the interior façade of this entrance, inside the prayer hall, date from a late 11th-century Seljuk-era restoration. [34] [35]


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Rudolff, Britta (2006). ‘Intangible’ and ‘tangible’ heritage: A topology of culture in contexts of faith. Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz (PhD thesis).

External links