5 Beautiful Mosques Seen Through My Eyes
5 Beautiful Mosques Seen Through My Eyes.
I have been extremely lucky to have traveled the world and visited these beautiful mosques.
Mostly through trade, Islam spread to the far corners of the world and it has brought me great joy to visit historic mosques from the Middle East to the Far East.
I’ve had a fascination, and love, of old Islamic architecture since my teens: for me there is nothing more exotic and romantic than the domes and minarets of the Istanbul skyline.
Last year I visited the wonderful Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumper, Malaysia, where they have an exhibition of model mosques showing the development and history of mosque design throughout the world.
Wandering around the exhibit, peering into miniature arches, it dawned on me how lucky I have been to have actually walked into many of these model courtyards for real.
Here are my five favourite beautiful mosques that I have so far had the pleasure of seeing with my own eyes. I’ve yet to travel to Iran or Uzbekistan, I’m pretty sure this list would be longer if I had, oh to dream!
While these 5 beautiful mosques are in no particular order, I have saved the best until last…
1. Jama Masjid, Delhi, India
This spectacular red mosque was built in the 1600’s by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, and it is no surprise that the Jama Masjid is so beautiful, Shah Jahan was also responsible for the heavenly Taj Mahal.
One of the things I love about many mosques is the open, airy spaces, and this mosque has it in abundance, the courtyard can hold 25,000 people!
It stands on a high vantage point just across from the Red Fort and it is a respite of peace from the chaos of New Delhi.
We ‘acquired’ a guide to show us around the mosque, he took us into the relic room – which also appeared to be the women’s prayer hall – and a grunting custodian opened an elaborate cabinet to show us the prized treasures within.
A glass vial held a single red hair from the Prophet Mohammed’s beard (Ginger? Well, you learn something new every day!), while a piece of marble had His footprint imprinted on it and the custodian brought out a box revealing the ancient leather of one of His sandals.
That red beard hair played on my mind for days!
Our guide insisted on taking photos with my camera, he got me some great shots of the relics, and that cheesy one of the pair of us in front of the relic cabinet, women praying around us! I would never, ever, have posed for it normally, but it’s now one of my favourite ever travel photos!
2. Sultanahmet Camii (The Blue Mosque), Istanbul, Turkey
One a bitterly cold January we spent a week in Istanbul, a place I’d dreamed of visiting for years. The highlight was the Hagia Sofia, but the sublime Blue Mosque comes in a close second.
Padding around the mosque in my thick winter socks I could not draw my eyes away from the incredible, highly decorative roof. The blue tiles, which give the mosque its nickname, are like looking to heaven.
This Ottoman Era mosque dates from the early 1600s and combines elements of the nearby Byzantine Hagia Sofia with traditional Islamic architecture to create something magnificent: if you love tiles like I do, you’ll love this mosque.
The Istanbul skyline may be glorious, but those domes are just as beautiful inside as well!
4. The Great Mosque, Xi’an, China
And now for something completely different! Islam travelled to China along the ancient silk routes linking the east and the west, in Xi’an it flourished and a great mosque was constructed using traditional Chinese temple design: there are no domes and minarets here, instead there is a pagoda and pavilions.
This is a very old mosque, it was founded in the 742 a little over a hundred years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed, showing that it didn’t take long for Islam to reach the far east. Most of what you see today isn’t as old as that though.
It was wonderful to explore this quiet old mosque in the heart of the bustling Islamic Quarter of Xi’an, only close inspection reveals it is a mosque and not a typical Chinese temple, Arabic script being the main giveaway.
Enclosed by an outer wall, the interlinked courtyards are connected through ancient arches topped with glossy tiles. A long, low player hall stands quietly at the back of the courtyards, it looks as old as time (although it’s only a couple of hundred years old).
It really is one of the loveliest mosques I’ve been too.
4. The National Mosque, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
For airy spaces KL’s National Mosque wins hands down, this modern design is abundant with reflective surfaces; pools and fountains add to the play of light.
The National Mosque, or Masjid Negara, was constructed in 1965, shortly after Malaysia’s independence and it is considered an important symbol of Islamic Malaysia.
It has an interesting design, the roof over the prayer hall is designed to look like an open umbrella, and after a number of visits to Malaysia now I entirely understand why, oh boy does it rain! The tall minaret is topped with a folded umbrella.
The geometric screens used around the mosque are my favourite detail, they seem ethereal, a gauzy partition from the crazy city outside.
As with a couple of these mosques, non-muslims are required to wear a cover-up robe to visit (unless you are very well covered), I particularly liked the purple robes here at the National Mosque, rather fetching!
Malaysia’s National Mosque is certainly one of the most photogenic mosques I’ve visited: it is an absolute joy to wander around with a camera with all that beautiful light!
5. The Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria
So, I’ve saved the best for last: this is the breathtaking Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, one of the oldest mosques in the world and an extraordinarily beautiful one that has been used as a blueprint for many other subsequent mosque designs.
I still find it slightly hard to believe I’ve actually seen it with my own eyes, I have to pinch myself!
It dates from 715 and the glittering mosaics encrusting some of the walls and the Dome of the Treasury (seen in the above photograph) date from that era too, done by Byzantine craftsmen.
Damascus is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and this ancient mosque stands on the site of a Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter. Part of the temple still stands – in ruins – at the entrance to the Souk Al-Hamidiyah and some of the columns were used in the construction of prayer hall within the mosque.
Inside the main prayer hall, or sanctuary, is a green windowed shrine dedicated to John the Baptist. Legend has it that John the Baptist’s head is buried beneath the shrine – in between the Roman temple and the mosque, a Christian church occupied the site – and pilgrims press their foreheads to the green windows to see visions.
The courtyard is another wonderfully serene space, it was winter when we visited yet people sat around enjoying the peace while a few children played on the sleek courtyard floor.
I had to wear a vast grey robe that transformed me into an extra from Star Wars, either that or a potato sack, I’m guessing that was the look they were going for! It looked particularly bulky with my big ski jacket on under it, mind you, it was wonderfully cosy.
When I think of how peaceful the Umayyad Mosque was when we visited in 2008 I find it hard to imagine what Syria is going through now, it is so devastatingly sad.
*some of the photographs in this post were taken by my other half, CT Hodgson.
Do you have a favourite mosque or a great story from visiting one? Comment below, I’d love to hear from you!