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Umayyad Mosque

Listed under Mosques in Damascus, Syria.

  • Photo of Umayyad Mosque
  • Photo of Umayyad Mosque
  • Photo of Umayyad Mosque
  • Photo of Umayyad Mosque
  • Photo of Umayyad Mosque
  • Photo of Umayyad Mosque
Photo of Umayyad Mosque
Photo by flickr user elif ayse
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Located in the heart of the teeming city of Damascus, the Great Mosque is known to be the oldest existing monumental architecture in the Islamic world. For millennia before the birth of Islam however, the city of Damascus was a sacred site of other cultures. The recognized history of the temple site is known to go back to at least 1000 BC when the Aramaens built shrines for Hadad, the god of storms and lightening, and the goddess Atargites (Venus). Upon the foundations of these Aramaen sanctuaries the Romans built a temenos, or sacred enclosure, with a temple of the god Jupiter in the 1st century AD.

Christianity took possession of the Roman temple platform in the 4th century and a church of St. John the Baptist was built in the exact place where the Jupiter temple stood. This church, an important pilgrimage site of early Byzantine Christianity, continued to function even after the Islamic conquest of Damascus in 636. Following their occupation of the ancient city, the Muslims shared the great Roman temple platform with the Christians, the Christians retaining possession of their church and the Muslims using the southern part of the Roman temenos for their prayers. In 706 an Umayyad caliph demolished the church and constructed an enormous mosque upon the same site. Using thousands of craftsmen of Coptic, Persian, Indian and Greek origin, the construction took ten years to complete and included a prayer hall, a large courtyard and rooms for visiting pilgrims.

Inside the mosque is a small shrine of John the Baptist (Prophet Yahia to the Muslims) where tradition holds that the head of John is buried. This head is believed to possess magical powers and continues to be the focus of the Mandaeans’ annual pilgrimage, when they press their foreheads against the metal grill of the shrine and reportedly experience prophetic visions. Adjacent to the prayer hall, along the eastern wall of the courtyard, is the entrance to another shrine chamber. According to legend this shrine holds the head of Zechariah, the father of St. John the Baptist, or the head of Hussein, the son of Imam Ali, who was the son in law of Muhammad and the forth of the ‘Rightly Guided Caliphs’. There are several other pilgrimage sites in the Damascus area including the Shrine of Ibn Arabi, the Cave of the Seven Sleepers on Mount Qaysun, and the shrine of Lady Zeinab at the Sayyida Zeinab Mosque. The granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, through Fatima, Lady Zeinab was the sister of Imam Hussein and Imam Hasan.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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Great Mosque of Damascus

According to legend, the head of John the Baptist, a verifiable prophet in both Christian and Muslim beliefs, lives in a shrine of the Umayyad Mosque or Great Mosque of Damascus. The mosque stands on the site of a 1st-century Hellenic temple to Jupiter, guarding a big open courtyard, flanked by an cloister of arches supported by slender columns. The liwan, or hall of worship, running the length of the south side of the mosque, is divided into three long aisles by rows of columns and arches. A transept with a central octagonal dome, originally wooden, cuts across the aisles at their midpoint. Geometric interlace is evident throughout the building, something which became prevalent in Islamic architecture and design (much more than in the west).

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