The Grand Mosque is named after His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father and first president of the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Zayed served in his position for over 30 years until his demise in 2004, shortly before the completion of the mosque. He was laid to rest in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque.
The Grand Mosque is the third largest mosque in the world behind only the Great Mosque at Mecca, and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina. The building complex covers over 240,000 sq ft (22,000 sq m) laid out over about 12 h (30 ac) of land. The construction commenced in 1994 and it opened its doors to the public in 2007.
Syrian architect Youssef Abdelke designed the mosque, and British artist and illustrator Kevin Dean created the floral designs for the walls and the courtyard. The Halcrow Group from the United Kingdom served as the construction supervisor in the initial phase and project consultant for the second phase of the project. This was a significant undertaking that involved over 35 contracting companies and over 3,000 workers. At its full capacity, the Grand Mosque can host over 41,000 worshippers at a time, with 10,000 in the main prayer hall alone.
Building Materials of the Grand Mosque
The Grand Mosque is a symbiosis of exquisite building materials and talent sourced from countries all over the world including Morocco, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Germany, Pakistan, India, Australia, and New Zealand. Its most prominent feature is the pure white façade, achieved by high-quality Sivac marble, mined from the quarries of Prilep in North Macedonia. Chosen for its radiant white pigment, the extraction of Sivac marble dates back to the Roman period when it was used to create some of the finest structures in antiquity.
The marble floors of the Grand Mosque, inlaid with mosaic patterns, remain cool underfoot even on the hottest desert day. Other natural materials including ceramics, crystal, gold, and gemstones were utilized for their beauty and longevity. The brilliant white hue combined with the other premium materials creates an ethereal visual effect that imparts a sense of tranquility and luxury.
The design of the Grand Mosque is a symphony of Mughal and Persian influences that are among the most elevated architectural achievements in Islamic architecture. The dome layout and floor plan were inspired by the Badshahi Mosque of the Mughal period. located in Lahore, Pakistan, the Badshahi Mosque at one time was the largest mosque in the world. The minarets are a prominent feature of traditional Arab design while the archways are inspired by Moorish architecture.
Iconic Features of the Grand Mosque
The courtyard of the Grand Mosque spans 17,000 sq m (180,000 sq ft) and is considered to be the largest example of marble mosaic design in the world. At the four corners of the courtyard are four minarets, each approximately 350 ft (106 m) tall. Each minaret is comprised of three different geometric shapes with a square base and octagonal section attributed to the Mameluke period and a third cylindrical section derived from the Ottomans. The iconic crowning lantern, covered with gold-glass mosaic, dates back to the Fatimid era. Perhaps the most prominent structural element of the Grand Mosque are 82 domes of varying sizes that are positioned throughout. The domes carry pure white marble cladding and are topped with crescent-shaped finials made of gold glass. The largest dome is placed at the very center of the main prayer hall.
The interior of the domes feature traditional Moroccan artwork and ornamentation as well as inlaid verses from the Holy Quran. Large, elongated windows allow natural light to enter the prayer halls, illuminating the exquisite interior.
The Grand Mosque is flanked by distinctive columns made of white marble panels inlaid with floral ornamentation of precious and semi-precious stones. The inlay technique, known as pietra dura, originates from 16th-century Italy. It was also employed in the grand columns of the Taj Mahal in India. These columns are surmounted by anodized aluminum golden capitals, crafted into the shape of a palm treetop. There are 1096 columns around the exterior arcade and 96 that provide structural support to the three main domes.
Calligraphic works in Naskhi, Thuluth, and Kufic styles adorn the mosque. The 99 names of Allah adorn the wall of the Qibla in traditional Kufic calligraphy.
Largest Handmade Rug
Ali Khalighi of Grreh Rug Co. designed the iconic rug located in the main prayer hall at the Grand Mosque. This carpet measuring 60,570 sq ft (5,627 sq m), was woven by 1,200-1,300 carpet knotters, and is the largest hand-knotted rug in the world. The fabric is predominantly wool (from New Zealand and Iran) although one-third of it is made of cotton. It features 2,268,000,000 knots, woven over a period of two years. The design of the rug took approximately eight months to complete and the knotting took about 12 months. The remaining time was utilized for the transportation of individual sections of the carpet that were later woven together onsite.
Among the exquisite finishing touches of the Grand Mosque are the seven Swarovski crystal chandeliers created by the Faustig of Munich, Germany. Brightly colored crystals are fastened together to resemble upturned palm trees. The elaborate fixtures are made of stainless steel, brass, and 24-karat gold plating, forming patterns that complement the design on the handcrafted rug beneath them.
Among the most striking features of the mosque is an elaborate lighting effect designed to reflect the phases of the moon. There are 22 light towers with light projectors that project clouds of a mesmerizing bluish-gray hue onto the external surfaces of the mosque’s façade. The brightness is adjusted each day to follow the cycles of the moon from the darker crescent moon stage to the vibrant full moon stage.
Sheikh Zayed’s Legacy
It was Sheikh Zayed’s intent for the Grand Mosque to serve not only as a celebration of the great cultural, artistic, and architectural diversity of the Islamic world but also as a repository of Islamic literature in many languages as well as publications dating back two centuries. The Grand Mosque is a vision of sublime luxury and is among the most visited tourist destinations in the world.