Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque isn’t called
the Grand Mosque for nothing.
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 particular mosque in Abu Dhabi, which I found out to be called the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and my focus of excitement changed. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque looked so gorgeous in the photos! I couldn’t wait to see the mosque in person.
We arrived at Abu Dhabi’s airport late at night. A half-day tour was the plans for the next morning, with Sheikh Zayed Mosque being first in the list! We were picked up by Emirates Tours & Safaris early in the morning at our apartment. A long 1.5 hours later, we finally arrived at the mosque’s carpark.
–> Read my review of the half-day city tour!
The Grand Mosque observes a very strict code of dressing.
For ladies, you have to be covered in loose, opaque clothing, which should cover your wrists and ankles. The men can’t be dressed too sloppily either. Staff will check that you’re in the correct form of clothing before allowing you entry. I was in a T-shirt and loose pants but not that worried, as I knew I could borrow clothes at the mosque. Our day tour passed us abayas (a long dress) and headscarves for ladies if we need them. I draped an abaya over my clothes, covered my head with the headscarf, leaving just my face exposed. Without a hiccup, I made past the checks.
The Story behind the Mosque
The mosque was the vision of UAE’s first President, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He wanted a beautiful mosque constructed that will be open for everyone to appreciate, even non-Muslims. The mosque took almost 12 years, 38 contracting companies and 3,500 workers, costing AED 2.5 billion (>USD$680 million in today’s currency) to be built. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque opened in Dec 2007. The President didn’t live to see it finished though, as he passed away in 2004. As per his wishes, the mosque is his final resting place.
Everything is Immense
The third largest mosque in the world, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque spans space that can hold 41,000 worshippers at one time. This mosque features 82 perfectly shaped domes, 1,048 columns, 24-carat gilded chandeliers and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. It’s impossible to not feel overwhelmed by the mosque’s magnificence as you step onto its grounds!
There were so many details to see (and snap photos), I was overwhelmed trying to document everything down. Add to the fact that we had less than an hour to finish exploring (definitely not enough); our tour guide was sharing about the mosque and moving on too fast, argh.
The Whiteness of the Mosque
At first glance, you’ll notice this mosque is very white. White was a color that the founder was fond of, as the color symbolizes purity and piety. The Grand Mosque is very tastefully adorned with Greek and Italian white marble – considered to be one of the most pure in the world.
Floral motifs adorn the mosque’s courtyard and columns
Unique floral motifs climb up each of the columns gracefully. Over at the17,000 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.
At the crown of each column, you can see intricate carvings of leaves and texture.
These elegant chandeliers are another highlight
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!
The blue-colored chandeliers are at the foyer entrances.
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 of 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!
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.
Night lighting that follows the moon’s phases
The mosque has a unique lighting system which will reflect the moon’s phases, which means every day, the lighting looks a bit different. To make this possible, twenty-two light towers with a number of projectors were installed at the mosque.
I first saw them on Dennis Stever‘s Instagram. It remains my regret of not having went 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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