When I was to go UAE two months ago, the city that I was looking forward to was in fact, Dubai, not Abu Dhabi. But all thanks to Instagram, I came across photos of this mosque in Abu Dhabi, which I found out to be called the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and my focus of excitement changed.
The mosque that took my breath away –
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
It looked so gorgeous in photos! I couldn’t wait to see the mosque in person.
On the very first morning that we woke up in Abu Dhabi, we had a half-day tour arranged (read my review of the tour here) of the city. Sheikh Zayed Mosque is the first program in the itinerary. We were picked up by Emirates Tours & Safaris, and a longgggg 1.5 hours later, we finally arrived at the mosque’s carpark.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque isn’t called the Grand Mosque for nothing.
But first, we had to clear security.
The Grand Mosque observes a very strict dress-code.
For ladies, you have to be covered in loose, opaque clothing, which should cover your wrists and ankles. Men can’t be dressed sloppily either. Staff will check that you’re in the appropriate clothing before allowing you entry.
Our tour operator had prepared abayas (a long dress) and headscarves for ladies. I was actually in a T-shirt and loose pants, but not worried because even if the tour operator didn’t provide, visitors can borrow the abayas at the mosque. I draped an abaya over my outfit, wrapped my head with the headscarf, leaving just my face exposed. Without a hiccup for us ladies, we made it past the security.
The story behind Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Opened in Dec 2007, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was the vision of UAE’s first President, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He wanted a beautiful mosque that will be open for everyone to appreciate, including non-Muslims. This mosque was intended to spread tolerance, peace, and co-existence. The construction of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque thus began in Abu Dhabi, UAE’s capital city.
Unfortunately, the President didn’t live to see it finished, as he passed away in 2004. As per his wishes, the mosque is now his final resting place.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque quick facts at a glance:
- The construction took almost 12 years, 38 contracting companies and 3,500 workers.
- It was built at a cost AED$2.5 billion – an estimated USD$660m in today’s currency.
- In line with the unity theme, the design involved artisans, craftsmen, and materials from all over the world. Natural materials were the main choice – marble, stone, ceramics, gold, crystals, semi-precious stones.
- The mosque incorporates 3 styles of architecture: Mughal, Moorish, Ottoman.
- There’re 82 perfectly shaped domes, 1,048 columns, 24-carat gilded chandeliers at this mosque.
- When it was built, it held the largest chandelier in the world. As of today, the largest chandelier in Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the 3rd largest in the world.
- The mosque holds the largest hand-knotted carpet in the world.
- Sheikh Zayed mosque is the largest mosque in UAE.
An elegant mosque
It’s impossible to not feel overwhelmed by the mosque’s magnificence as you step onto its grounds. There were so many details all around to observe (and photos I couldn’t help taking). I was overwhelmed trying to take it all in. Add to the fact that we had less than an hour during our day tour to finish exploring this mosque. Our tour guide was talking about the mosque and moving way too fast, I didn’t hear much details, actually.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the third largest mosque in the world, spanning space that can hold 41,000 worshippers at one time.
Why is the Grand Mosque so white?
At first glance, you’ll notice this mosque is really white. It was a cloudless day for us, so the blue of the sky totally contrasted the white-based mosque perfectly.
Well, white was a color that the founder was fond of, as the color symbolizes purity and piety. The Grand Mosque is thus adorned tastefully with Greek and Italian white marble – considered to be one of the purest in the world.
Palm-tree columns & floral motifs
Unique floral motifs climb up each of the palm-tree-inspired columns gracefully. At the crown of each column, you can observe the intricate carvings of leaves and texture.
Over at the 17,000 sq-meter courtyard, bigger floral motifs decorate its mosaic flooring. These floral displays were designed by Kevin Dean — an artist and designer. He had been appointed by Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed, and worked with the mosque’s Italian architects and specialists.
Those crystal chandeliers
There are seven crystal chandeliers in total at the Grand Mosque’s foyers and halls. All of them were made using gilded stainless steel and gilded brass, with approximately 40kg of 24-carat galvanized gold. Each chandelier also has glass panels fixed with Swarovski crystals. A sight to behold indeed!
Then, you’ll enter a carpeted area, which is the main prayer hall. Look upwards of the centre of the prayer hall and you’ll see the largest chandelier among the 7 chandeliers in the Grand Mosque. This intricate piece of art of a chandelier consists of millions of Swarovski crystals and 24K plated gold. It’s 10m wide and weighs 8 tons!
Fun fact: This chandelier is NOT the largest in the world. It’s the 3rd largest =)
Step onto the World-Famous Carpet
Inside the main prayer hall, you’ll step onto the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. This carpet took about 8 months to be designed, and then hand-knotted over 12 months by more than 1,200 Iranian artisans. The world-famous carpet was colored with 25 natural colors, using 35 tons of wool and 12 tons of cotton. Being really huge at 5,700 sq-metres, the carpet was dissected into separate pieces, transported over to Abu Dhabi, then weaved together again at the Grand Mosque.
A lunar lighting system lights up the mosque at night
The mosque has a unique lighting system that reflects the moon’s phases, which means every day, the lighting looks a bit different. Colors change every night, from white (during full-moon) with wisps of white clouds, to dark blue as the moon wanes. In between, there’re 14 shades of blue and white, wow.
To make this possible, twenty-two light towers with a number of projectors were installed at the mosque.
I first saw night shots of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on Dennis Stever‘s Instagram. It remains my regret of not having gone again in the evening and night!
I also wished I had more time at the Grand Mosque.
Was the Grand Mosque worth a visit?
UAE’s weather can be atrociously HOT, but as I was there in end-Nov, it was considered winter and the weather was the best at 20+°C. The abaya that my day tour lent me was opaque but made of thin fabric. By the time I left the Grand Mosque at about 11.15am, I was already sweating walking in the sun to the coach at the carpark. But any hassle that comes with visiting this Grand Mosque was WELL WORTH IT! I felt extremely glad to be able to see this Grand Mosque in person!
The designs of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque are nothing less than mind-blowing. You have to see the mosque for yourself!
What to know before visiting Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
- What to Wear | The mosque observes a very strict dress-code. Men should keep knees and shoulders covered. Ladies should be fully covered, revealing only your face and hands. According to their website, you can borrow the long dress (abaya) and headscarf (shaya) from one of the service desks at the mosque.
- Security | Bags will be scanned before entry. Bring no food nor drinks. One of my travel companions had a laptop and he had to put it back on the coach before being allowed entry.
- A little into the mosque, you’ll be required to remove your shoes and place them on the shoe racks.
- No food and drinks nor smoking is allowed.
- Entrance Fees | Entry is free. There are also free guided tours which you can join. Check the mosque’s website for schedules.
- The mosque welcomes all visitors. For non-Muslims, you can visit everyday between 9am-10pm except for Friday mornings. Check for change of timing during the holy month of Ramadan.
Visited: Nov 2016
Information Sources: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s website | Abu Dhabi eGovernment Gateway
Image credits: Dress-code graphic guide is from Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s website | Night shot of the mosque is by Dennis Stever
Interesting link to read: Interview with Kevin Dean
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