Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria
Space and Symbolism
By Shijo Jose (A/2371/2011)
History of Architecture
II Year Sem IV
Great Mosque of Damascus, also called Umayyad Mosque, the earliest surviving stone mosque, built between ad 705 and 715 by the Umayyad Caliph al-Walīd I. The mosque stands on the site of a 1st-century Hellenic temple to Jupiter and of a later church ‘Basilica of Saint John the Baptist’. Some Syrio-Roman fragments remain in the structure, as does a shrine supposedly enclosing a relic honoured by Muslims as well as Christians - the head of St. John the Baptist. The mosque occupies a huge quadrangle 515 by 330 feet (157 by 100 m) and contains a large open courtyard surrounded by an arcade of arches supported by slender columns. The liwan, or hall of worship, running the length of the south side of the mosque, is divided into three long aisles by rows of columns and arches. A transept with a central octagonal dome, originally wooden, cuts across the aisles at their midpoint. The marble grilles that cover the windows in the south wall are the earliest example of geometric interlace in Islāmic architecture. The walls of the mosque were once covered with more than an acre of mosaics depicting a fanciful landscape thought to be the Quʾrānic paradise, but only fragments survive. The mosque was destroyed by Timur in 1401, rebuilt by the Arabs, and damaged by fire in 1893. Although it could not be restored to its original splendour, the mosque is still an impressive architectural monument.
History and Development
Damascus was the capital of the Aramaean state Aram-Damascus during the Iron age. They followed the cult of Hadad-Ramman, the god of thunderstorms and rain, and erected a temple dedicated to him at the site of the present-day Mosque. The site likely consisted of a walled courtyard, a small chamber for worship, and a tower-like structure typically symbolizing the "high place" of storm gods, in this case Hadad.
In 64AD, the Romans conquered Damascus and assimilated Hadad with their own god of thunder – Jupiter. With the exception of the much increased scale of the building, most of its original Semitic design was preserved; the walled courtyard was largely left intact. In the center of the courtyard stood the cella, an image of the god which followers would honor. There was one tower at each of courtyard's four corners. The towers were used for rituals in line with ancient Semitic religious traditions where sacrifices were made on high places. It was separated from the city by two sets of walls. The first, wider wall spanned a wide area that included a market and the second wall surrounded the actual sanctuary of Jupiter. It was the largest temple in Roman Syria. Towards the end of the 4th-century, in 391, the Temple of Jupiter was converted into the Cathedral of Saint John by the Christian emperor of the Byzantine Empire. Later in the 6th-century the legend came about that Saint John's head was buried there.
However, a century after, the Umayyad dynasty which chose Damascus to be the administrative capital of the Muslim world and the sixth Umayyad caliph, al-Walid I, commissioned the construction of a large congregational mosque which completely altered the layout of the building and most of the cathedral was demolished, including a prayer hall that had been built for Muslims in the South Eastern part of the building. During the construction of the mosque, workers found a cave-chapel which had a box containing the head of St. John the Baptist, or Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā in Islam and al-Walid I ordered the head buried under a specific pillar in the mosque that was later inlaid with marble.
In 750, the Abbasid dynasty came to power and moved the capital of the Caliphate to Baghdad and built the Dome of the Clock in the eastern section of the mosque in 780. Nine years later, they initiated the construction of the Dome of the...
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