Homage to Syria: GREAT MOSQUE OF DAMASCUS (2)

Homage to Syria: GREAT MOSQUE OF DAMASCUS (2)

*Was fortunate enough to travel to Syria and see the country in 2008, three years before the war broke out. This is the reminder, the story about the country with immense cultural heritage, posted here with the wholehearted wish for peace to be restored and cities to be rebuilt.

One of the most important buildings in Damascus is by far the Umayyad Mosque. There was the Aramaic temple once at the same spot dedicated to the supreme god.

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Roman columns in the Old Damascus

Afterwards, the Roman temple was built in honor of Jupiter in the 2nd century AD – at the same grounds.

Then, in the 4th century AD the Basilica of John the Baptist was erected, which was again converted three centuries later into the great mosque dedicated to the Arab Umayyad dynasty founder, khalif Valid the First.

Byzantine mosaics

Imposing in its dimensions and open for tourist visits (women will get long abayas at the entrance), the Umayyad Mosque firstly appears before visitors with its vast courtyard where Roman columns can still be found. Most of its mosaics were created during the Byzantine era. They still represent the exceptional decorations of the building, blending in Islamic tradition of non presenting human faces in images.

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The grand Umayyad Mosque

Once, these mosaics covered the 400 square meters of the former church! Even though only one fourth of it remains, it is still of an imposing dimensions and it will leave every visitor with a jaw dropped in awe.

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Pavilion housing John the Baptist’s head

Inside – vast space for prayer with nice carpet in vivid colors that covers every centimeter of the floor, pillars all around, beautiful decorative ceiling. They say that the Umayyad Mosque was actually the role model for all the future Muslim temples which were to be built in the same manner with spacious prayer halls, huge courtyard with fountains for worshiper to use, and numerous pillars and arches.

John the Baptist’s head

As if all of this was not enough, there is also one big octagonal pavilion in the central area of the Mosque. They say that the actual head of one the prophet who is also mentioned in the Quran is preserved here, the one who, according to the New Testament, baptized Jesus himself. Yes, John the Baptist.

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Beautiful decorations inside the Mosque

(If you have visited the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and the Holy Relics Museum, as I have, then you are aware of the fact that they are claiming to guard the same head. No matter where it is, and even if it actually is in one of those places or not, I have to admit that I was glad to having seen both. It just went through my head: „Okay, and if it really is right here?“ And that was enough!)

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Worshipers and tourists in the Mosque

Monument to Salahuddin

At the very entrance to Damascus’ Old Souk there is a huge monument to greet you, depicting the great Muslim leader Salahuddin (or Saladin) al Ayyubi who became widely known during the Crusades. He died in this town at the end of the 12th century. There is a section in the Mosque dedicated to this famous general who led Muslims into the „holy war“ to conquer Jerusalem.

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Monument to Salahuddin Ayyubi

His remains were preserved inside the Citadel walls earlier, and than moved to Madrasa Aziziye, build by Salahuddin’s son Ayyub sultan al Aziz. Salahuddin was the great sultan of Egypt and Syria who once also controlled Mecca and Medina.

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Reliefs in the House of Saint Ananias

Saint Paul’s baptism

The Old City of Damascus is also well known for its Christian quarter. Here you will find traditional craft shops where Christian families sell mosaic-icons, charming picture frames, small boxes in interesting pattern designs. They will be thrilled to talk to you, haggle and negotiate the price for their respectable goods.

Next to the tall Roman wall there is the House of Saint Ananias. According to beliefs, this is where Saint Paul was baptized and where he regained his sight before he took off to his great missionary journey.

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Courtyard of the Damascus Museum

There is one particular reliefs in the Chapel depicting Saint Paul’s escape over the Damascus walls.

When I kept walking through one of the small streets here, I came across the Roman columns. There are four of them, each with 12 meters in heights.

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Children coming from school

Also, I have walked out to the gate and the great Citadel next to it that was built to defend the city against Crusaders’ invasions. During the Ottoman period, the Citadel also served as a prison.

There are a lot of small churches in the Christian district. I was walking and looking around, enjoying one of those narrow, bustling streets, and it was a rush hour, horns were honking, people shouting through their car windows, when a group of children rushed by my side, giggling, all dressed in blue school uniforms.

Refreshments

One of the musts in the Old City of Damascus was to stop by the fresh juice store. You just pick a fruit, the guy makes you a juice, pour it in a tall plastic cup to take or a large glass mug if you are going to drink it there, along with numerous ice cubes. It was a perfect stop for a break after all that pushing my way through the heat and crowds. Took couple of breaths and moved on, there was still a lot to be seen!

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Fresh juice break

The National Archaeology Museum in Damascus was not to be missed, but also the great view of the city from the Kasyun Hill. Syrians used to come here on weekends (Fridays and Saturdays) to rest with their families and enjoy the landscape.

Next: DAMASCUS, THINGS TO KNOW (3)

The full Homage to Syria SERIES

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0 comments on “Homage to Syria: GREAT MOSQUE OF DAMASCUS (2)

  1. I hope peace can be restored soon! There is immense history and culture there, I hope to see it with my own eyes at some point.

  2. This article reminds me how stupid we all people are… Another lovely places and its amazing people is now ruined and struggling to survive…
    Glad you managed to visit Syria earlier!

  3. I am glad you wrote this. I will probably never make it to this beautiful country and at least I can see a little this way in a positive light. Great pictures and post!

  4. This building has an amazing history… I has gone through so much, hopefully it will survive another was

    1. Hope it does, it would be such a waste. I have visited so many mosques through out my journeys, and I can sincerely say that the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus is my favorite! 🙂

  5. Incredible place to have been able to visit before the horrific war. Thank you for sharing your memories and these wonderful monuments.

  6. Another fantastic post! I am loving this series. I wish I could have visited before the current situation escalated to where it is now.

  7. it seems Syria is such a beautiful and historically rich place. History you described about mosque here is fabulous. You are lucky to visit the Syria. I wish things gets normal in Syria as soon as possible.

  8. This is great post! I am glad you got to see it before the war. Now all of that is probably destroyed. Your photos are beautiful

    1. Fingers crossed it all still stands, especially the Old Town, since the city is heavily guarded. Syrians have celebrated Easter there, in churches of various Christian denominations, calling for peace. I just hope the situation will soon settle down. Thanks!

  9. Thank you for sharing this beautiful side of Syria. Human beings are the worst- it makes me so mad that so many historical monuments and museums have been destroyed in recent years. Hoping for peace and restoration <3

  10. Pretty amazing that you were able to capture so many historical references before the war. It’s sad to think that many of these places and artifacts will be destroyed, irreparable or lost, along with the culture that goes with it. Hopefully, the fighting will one day stop, but even if a rebuild is possible, would still lament the loss of life, art, culture, history, etc.

  11. It is so sad to see what is happening in Syria at the moment and I hope they get their peace soon. I wish such monuments like the Umayyad mosque will be preserved for the future. It is such a beautiful place.

  12. Oh how beautiful! Wonderful post and very touching, especially now. It makes me sad to think what they are all going through right now and all the history and beautiful buildings that were destroyed. Thank you for sharing your experience and for all the amazing pictures.

  13. It’s so sad that such beauty and architecture is left in the mercy of a few individuals. I would have loved to visit this spectacular place

  14. I hope situation eases and we are all able to go to Syria soon to explore this part of Levantine region.
    This region is so full of history.

  15. That architecture is absolutely stunning! I love the Roman columns, it reminds me of the Roman Forum. Thanks for sharing!

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