Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque | October 03.2013

By Aysha Majid

Heading into the centre of Abu Dhabi, the huge, pure-white mosque with its tall towers and domes dominates the horizon. The vision of the UAE's first president, HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the legendary ruler's final resting place.

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We make our way through pristine stone columns to the women's changing area, where we're handed an abaya. If you haven't worn one of these, this is a perfect time to immerse yourself in the culture of your surroundings. The sheer size of the building is overwhelming. The attention to detail and polished tiled floors clad with Greek SIVEC marble shimmer. So tentatively cared for that in some lights you can see the reflection of the promenade, bordered by shallow tiled pools.

Before we enter the main mosque we remove our shoes. Gold leaf and pearl inlay are prominent and the world's largest hand-knotted carpet (a gargantuan Islamic medallion design intricately woven, having taken nearly two years to create) sprawls the floor of the solemn building. The centre is a symbolic, deep fiery red, purple and amber, while diffusing into fir green, calm tapioca and olive tones. The masterpiece was spearheaded by artist and third generation carpet maker Dr. Ali Khaliqi, and handcrafted by approximately 1200 artisans. Natural materials were chosen for most of the building's construction and gold and semi precious stones unearth kaleidoscopes of colour. Natural light and strategic down lighting is utilised in order to accentuate the painstaking handy-work of the hundreds of workers who helped make this majestic marvel become reality, and the huge Faustig crystal chandeliers (the largest weighing approximately 12 tons) offer an imposing feeling as you walk beneath them, reminding us just how small and insignificant we are.

The minbar (pulpit), with its dome shaped roof features floral and shell designs, is made of carved cedar, inlaid with glass mosaic, white gold and mother of pearl. On the third floor of the north manara is the library, offering a range of fascinating and rare manuscripts in numerous languages (some of which date back hundreds of years) addressing subjects such as arts, science, history and calligraphy.

Outside, the powdery sky and perfect wispy clouds paint a dreamy picture. With the silhouette of the mosque, its synonymous grand domes and slender turrets standing tall. It's hard to leave the solace of the huge courtyard with its flowers and palms. It seems that no matter what time of day you visit, the sunlight sets a peaceful backdrop and at night the domes turn to majestic blue, due to the lunar illumination lighting system. As the moon progresses through its cycle and becomes fuller, the effect becomes more intense. Combining Moroccan, Andalusian and Oriental minarets, fusing modern techniques of artistic glass work with the traditional Islamic designs of repetition and symmetry, this magnificent example of new-world Muslim architecture is a must visit and is sure to impress visitors interested in exploring the culture of the region.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Al Maqtaa, Abu Dhabi
02 441 6444