Dec 14, 2016

The Umayyad Mosque of Damascus

Rmn-Grand Palais


In the heart of Damas
The Great Umayyad Mosque is located in Damascus, the capital of Syria. It is situated at the heart of the city, where the two main axes of the city, the "cardo" and the "decumanus", intersect.    
The Umayyad Dynasty
The Umayyad dynasty was a caliphate that governed the Muslim world from 661 until 750. After this dynasty came to power, Damascus became the capital of the Islamic Empire. The mosque was built between 705 and 715 on the orders of the Caliph al-Walid I. It was built on the site of the byzantine church of Saint John the Baptist (the mosque still houses the relics of the saint today) which itself had replaced a Roman temple. The role of the mosque was to accomodate believers for Friday prayers, as well as to bear witness to the power of the Umayyad dynasty.
Architectural Continuity
The design of the mosque was completely new at the time. It was based on the basilican design of Byzantine churches.

The building is noteworthy both for its harmonious proportions and its large size: 157 meters long and 97 meters wide. The courtyard measures 122 meters by 50 meters and the prayer hall is 136 meters by 36 meters.

The history of the mosque is marked by fires, which occurred in 1060, 1166, 1401, 1479, and 1893, when the frame and furnishings were completely destroyed.

It was restored between 1904 and 1910 and its current condition is fairly close to how it would have appeared originally.

A sumptuous decor...
The mosque's mosaics show opulent cities surrounded by luscious vegetation. Due to the earthquakes and fires that punctuated the mosque's history, by the beginning of the 20th Century, there were very few remains of the mosaics on the walls. Archaeologists believed them to be lost, but a stunning panel had been hidden under a layer of lime plaster in the Ottoman era.

Paradoxically, it was rediscovered following the 1893 fire. The effect of the heat cracked the plaster, exposing the glass tesserae.

In 1928, Victor Eustache, known as "de Lorey", then Director of the Institut français of Damascus, discovered the 875m2 area of mosaics on the portico. He began a project to create life-sized replicas, reproducing the vivid colors of the decoration.

The undertaking was never completed, but nine replicas were produced. The replicas were created by three young Syrians: Fehmi Kabbani, Kamal Kallas, and Nazmi Khair, students at the School of Modern Arabic Art, which had been set up by the French administration. The architect Lucien Cavro supervised the restoration of the mosaics.

A cultural heritage in danger
In 2011, the ravages of the war between the Syrian regime and the rebels threatens the Ancient City of Damascus. Today, it is included on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger.

Reconstructing the past with technology

Thanks to the work of historians past and present and digitization, we are able to restore the splendor of the mosque for future generations.

Sites éternels, Grand Palais
Credits: Story

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