Earlier this year whilst en route to Australia, I decided to stopover in Abu Dhabi. I had visited its Emirati neighbour, Dubai, on a number of previous occasions over the years but as I had never been to Abu Dhabi, thought that this was the perfect opportunity to do so — not least because I was flying with Etihad Airlines. Whilst the purpose of the stopover was simply to break the long journey, I felt that I would have to capitalise on the opportunity to visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, which I’d read a lot about before. Having previously visited some mosques in Turkey — most notably, the Sultanahmet and Hagia Sofia in Istanbul — I was already aware of how almost indescribably beautiful these houses of worship can be.
The first thing that strikes you about the Sheihk Zayed Mosque is how dazzlingly white it is, especially framed against those clear blue skies of the Middle East. It is a modern structure built using modern building techniques but decorated by some of the world’s most talented craftsmen and artisans. Construction of the mosque was initiated by the late president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who wanted to establish a structure which unites the cultural diversity of the Islamic world and the historical and modern values of architecture and art. It is a huge but extraordinarily beautiful building whose ornate decoration and architectural features (both inside and out) echo traditional motifs but reinterpret them in a truly modern way. All of the internal walls and columns are decorated in hand-carved pieces of marble and semi-precious stones, mimicking beautiful flowers and blossoms which are complemented on the ground by what is reputedly the world’s largest carpet, which was made by an Iranian company, using a combination of wools from both Iran and New Zealand which took something like 1,300 carpet knotters several years to make. The carpet apparently contains over 2.25 BILLION knots and covers an area of approximately 60,000 square feet. The main prayer hall of the mosque is large enough to accommodate congregations of up to 7,000 people although in terms of overall capacity, the mosque can accommodate up to 40,000 — no wonder when you consider that the overall internal volume of the mosque spans over 30 acres!
It took over 3,000 workers from 38 separate contracting companies from all around the world over 11 years to complete the construction of the mosque and from what I could see during the course of my visit, some of that work was still in progress although the building didn’t look incomplete in any way. If you’re into chandeliers, then you’ve come to the right place as some of the world’s largest examples are suspended from the ornate ceilings of the mosque and are like gigantic examples of the works of master glass artisans such as Dale Chihuly.
Whether you are religious or not; whether you are into architecture or not, the Sheihk Zayed mosque will quite literally take your breadth away with its sheer beauty, opulence, originality and scale. Truly one of the modern ‘Wonders of the World!’