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Middle East and Islamic Studies

Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

Great Mosque of Damascus, also called Umayyad Mosque, was built between AD 705 and 715 by the Umayyad Caliph al-Walid I. The mosque stands on the site of a 1st-century Hellenic temple to Jupiter and of a later church of St. 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 Islamic architecture. The walls of the mosque were once covered with more than an acre of mosaics depicting a fanciful landscape thought to be the Koranic 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.1

1. "Great Mosque of Damascus." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 19 Aug. 2014.

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