Sheikh Zayed Mosque Abu Dhabi
A stunning piece of architecture on a grand scale, Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi should be on your list of places to visit while you're in the United Arab Emirates. Although the beaches in Abu Dhabi take some beating, it's definitely worth taking time out to explore this iconic and unusual place of worship. The largest mosque in the UAE, it's also known as the Grand Mosque and took more than a decade to build. Completed in 2007, it was designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky.
Firsts and records
Sheikh Zayad Mosque cost $545 million to build and has the largest marble courtyard in the world, as well as the world's largest hand-knotted carpet, weighing 35,000 kilos and covering 5,627 square metres. There are 96 columns in the main hall, all hand-finished with mother of pearl. It has 82 domes, more than a thousand columns in total throughout the building, and four minarets which stand a lofty 104 metres high. The mosque can hold more than 40,000 worshippers and frequently does so, at Friday gathering and Eid prayers. All truly remarkable statistics, but to really appreciate what an incredible building Sheikh Zayad Mosque is, you have to see it for yourself.
A building to “unite the world”
The planning and design of this incredible structure brought the world to Abu Dhabi. German chandeliers, Iranian carpets, marble from China and precious stones and minerals from Arabia and New Zealand can all be found here. Plus, a series of nine clocks showing prayer times, engineered and built in the UK. The layout and architectural features of the mosque were influenced by Persian, Mughal and Moorish designs, with the domes and floor plan being closely modelled on the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan. Its archways mimic Moorish structures, while the minarets are of a classic Arabian design. The whole project was the brainchild of the UAE's then president Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who wanted to create an architecturally significant place of worship that also expressed Islam's cultural diversity. Although he didn't live to see it finished, his funeral in 2004 was the first event to be held at the new Grand Mosque that would take his name. His grave can be found in the main courtyard.
When you visit
Women visiting Sheikh Zayed Mosque are asked to cover themselves from head to foot, with no bare arms or ankles, and a scarf or shaila to cover the head. You can borrow a shaila and an abaya (a long, robe-like dress) on entry, if you need to. Similar rules apply to male visitors, who can enter bare headed but must wear long trousers and sleeves. Entrance to the mosque is free, although you can book onto a tour with a knowledgeable English-speaking guide. They'll take you through the finer points of the mosque's design, helping to set it in a historical and cultural context. Sunset tours starting at 5pm are very popular, as this is a great time to see the dramatic columns and domes, thrown into shadow against a burning sky.