Every major city has its synonymous landmark, a proud icon which can relate only to that city. If London has the Parliament and Big Ben, if New York has the Statue of Liberty; and if Paris of course has the Tour Eiffel, then Abu Dhabi has the mesmerizing Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
The mosque was launched by the late Sheikh, and leader of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, after whom the mosque is named. Construction lasted from 1996 – 2007. Unfortunately, Sheikh Zayed passed away before he could see his creation. Appropriately, the beautiful mosque complex was chosen as the final resting place for Sheikh Zayed.
Construction lasted for eleven years at a cost of US$545 million, incorporating the finest materials from all over the world: marble from Macedonia, chandeliers from Germany, carpet made in Iran with New Zealand wool, and much more. Sheikh Zayed’s vision was for the mosque to be a symbol of the world coming together. More than 3,000 workers and 38 companies were involved with the mosque’s creation. With a capacity for 41,000 worshippers at one time, it is the UAE’s largest mosque.
The thermometer teetered around a cruel 42 degree Celsius on the day of my September visit. The air was so humid, it felt almost too thick to breathe. The next air conditioned building could not come soon enough. But upon first sight of the mosque, none of that seemed to matter. It is a photographer’s paradise, every corner presents a different view, a different patchwork of colour. With every different angle, your photos seem to be getting more and more beautiful, the mosque becoming increasingly stunning.
The view of the courtyard and some of the 82 domes of the mosque is the first sight that greets you as you go through the main entrance. The white, marble archway perfectly frames the central dome, like an elaborate frame around a masterpiece.
The archway opened up, presenting the courtyard in its full splendour. Made from marble of the purest white and decorated with elaborate, colourful patterns of Arab design, the sprawling size and luminous colour make the courtyard a wondrous sight in its own right. The midday sun pounding upon the white marble, gave the courtyard an almost blinding quality. It is not permitted to walk across the courtyard, meaning it’s not spoiled by hordes of tourists walking upon it.
Each pattern is meticulously placed, in perfect symmetry. That’s one of the many things to love about this fascinating building. Everything is in perfect alignment, every inch was thought through meticulously and everything has its place. There is not one blemish, one thing out of place. It’s as though you are walking on a piece of art, a sculpture of the finest craftsmanship. Where else could you walk around on a piece of art which costs over half a billion dollars? It’s not like you can walk up to Michelangelo’s David in Florence, Italy and swing you arm around him to grab a selfie.
Heading towards the prayer hall, you will wander along a walkway, in between the courtyard and a crystal blue pool, reflecting the archways of the mosque in perfect symmetry. Once at the door to the mosque’s interior, you will need to remove your socks and shoes and place them on the provided show rack. Remember where on the rack you left them, and try to put them in a more memorable spot, maybe at the far end of one of the rows. This way, it will be quicker to find them on the way out.
Once inside, you’ll see how the splendour of the mosque’s exterior has been translated in doors too. The mesmerizing colours of the carpet, the glistening chandeliers and more white marble adorned with gold creates a spectrum of colour.
The carpet alone holds a world record. It is the largest piece of single (not joined pieces) carpet anywhere in the world. At 5,700 squared meters, it took 1,200 people over 12 months to make the carpet by hand in Iran. It felt a little bizarre to be walking on the world’s most expensive carpet in barefoot. Relating back to my earlier point, where else can you get so close to such architectural art? The mosque is also home to the world’s heaviest chandelier. The German-made chandelier weighs 12 tonnes, incorporates 40kg of 24 carat galvanised gold and is decorated with countless Swarovski crystals.
Wandering around the mosque’s prayer hall gives the same sensation as wandering the outside. You never know what colours, what beautiful sight will be waiting as you turn a corner, how if you get the angles just right, you can see the chandeliers perfectly framed by the golden-clad archways.
After leaving the prayer hall, don’t forget to collect your shoes! Continue walking around the grounds of the mosque, see it from as many angles as you can. No two perspectives on the mosque give the same view or the same photo. The beauty is in the detail, every single inch of the building is made from some kind of elaborate, beautiful material, and has been planned down to the last detail.
To wrap up, if you are in Abu Dhabi, make time to visit the mosque if you didn’t plan it already. You will not be disappointed. I don’t consider myself an architecture connoisseur by any means, but this building truly in spectacular and must be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
If you’ve already visited the mosque, share below what you thought of it and any stories about your visit. I’d love to hear them.
As usual, all photos featured here were taken and are owned by myself.
Many thanks for reading, and happy travels,