The Umayyad Mosque of Damascus

DAMAS, SYRIA

Rmn-Grand Palais

Sites éternels, Grand Palais

Carte de situation de la Grande Mosquée des Omeyyades, Damas (2016) by Rmn-GPRmn-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.    

Audience d'une ambassade vénitienne à Damas (1511) by Atelier de Gentile Bellini ?Original Source: Agence Photo Rmn-GP

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.

Étape de la restitution 3D de la Grand Mosquée des Omeyyades en nuage de points HD (2016) by DGAM & ICONEMRmn-Grand Palais

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.

Mosquée des Omeyyades de Damas, prise de la terrasse Baudin (1843) by Philibert-Joseph Girault de Prangey (1804-1892)Original Source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Gallica

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.

Intérieur de la salle de prière de la Grand Mosquée des Omeyyades de Damas (1911) by Lucien Roy (1850-1941)Original Source: MAPA / Mediathèque de l'architecture et du Patrimoine- Fonds Lucien Roy

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

Panneau au Barada, relevé des mosaïques de la Grande Mosquée de Damas (1929)Rmn-Grand Palais

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.

Fragments de mosaïques de la Grande Mosquée de Damas (0705/0715) by Anonyme, Coll. du musée du Louvre (DAI), ParisRmn-Grand Palais

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

Panneau au Barada, relevé des mosaïques de la Grande Mosquée de Damas (1929)Rmn-Grand Palais

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.

Restitution 3D de la cour de la Grande Mosquée des Omeyyades (2016) by IconemRmn-Grand Palais

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.

Restitution 3D de la cour de la Grande Mosquée des Omeyyades (2016) by Iconem & DGAMRmn-Grand Palais

Reconstructing the past with technology

Le site de la Mosquée des Omeyyades by Iconem, montage Rmn-GPRmn-Grand Palais

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

Credits: Story

We would like to thank all the people who have contributed to the construction of this journey through "Eternal Sites" and those who have given us valuable time and information as well as permission to reproduce their documentation.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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