The story behind the painting…
There exists in the heart of the Austrian town of Innsbruck a tall, slim building with a golden roof that attracts many a visitor a year. I wonder if these same people, who travel great distances just so they can marvel at this glittering roof have heard of the golden mosque? Imagine, a building composed of a thousand golden arches and a courtyard so vast and tranquil - it reminds you of the ocean. Close your eyes and find yourself in the centre of the world situated in the oldest of cities, standing before the most peaceful and romantic of buildings, the splendours of which are guarded by tall walls and even taller trees.
Unlike the golden roof in Innsbruck, one is invited to rest within the courtyard of this golden Mosque; an open space which allows hundreds of guests to sit comfortably in large groups, each individual in casual conversation or deep in meditation, all are basking in the golden glow of the golden sun hitting golden walls. Such a sight is the Umayyad mosque. To look at the walls, ceiling or floor is to find another depiction of paradise exquisitely inlaid by the most talented of Byzantine craftsmen.
Hours can be lost in the shelter of this Mosque of mosaics. Watch as people enter and leave, see how the old man sits, fingering his olive wood prayer beads, gently rotating one bead after another bead completing his chain of ninety-nine. This old man has been here longer than you and I both. Listen as the call to prayer and song of bird pierces through the heat of this summer's sun, truly a melody to hear for the Levantine dialect is famous for its harmonic tune. Feel the gentle stir around you as bodies heavy and light make their way towards the marbled water fountain set as if an oasis in the middle of a vast marbled sea.
Feel yourself rise like those bodies around you, as you too come to make your ablutions, pray your prayers, and as your head touches the floor, feel the accumulative power of thousands of ancient civilization who lay heads before you, for now you are praying in one of the oldest mosques in existence.
Located within the old city walls of Damascus the Umayyad mosque, otherwise known as the Great Mosque of Damascus, was constructed in c-634 – 710 AD. It was built on the site of a Christian basilica dedicated to Yahya (St. John the Baptist) and is one of the few mosques to retain its Byzantine-influenced 8th century artwork and architectural structure.
The Umayyad mosque is a significant building to all Syrians. Life is centred inside and outside of its walls and the building plays a role in many a story and poem. Nazir Qabbani, one of the most revered contemporary poets in the Arab world and the national poet of Syria, wrote an ode to the mosque in his poem ‘Damascus, What are you doing to me?’’ It is for this reason, along with how significant a role its art and presence has had on my artistic development that I decided it needed a central place within my body of work.
Damascus, What Are You Doing to Me?
A poem by Nizar Qabbani (Edited)
‘I enter the courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque And greet everyone in it
Corner to . . . corner
Tile to . . . tile
Dove to . . . dove
I wander in the gardens of Kufi script
And pluck beautiful flowers of God's words
And hear with my eye the voice of the mosaics
And the music of agate prayer beads
A state of revelation and rapture overtakes me,
So I climb the steps of the first minaret that encounters me Calling:
"Come to the jasmine"
"Come to the jasmine"
Returning to you
Stained by the rains of my longing
Returning to fill my pockets
With nuts, green plums, and green almonds
Returning to my oyster shell
Returning to my birth bed
For the fountains of Versailles
Are no compensation for the Fountain Café
And Les Halles in Paris
Is no compensation for the Friday market
And Buckingham Palace in London
Is no compensation for Azem Palace
And the pigeons of San Marco in Venice
Are no more blessed than the doves in the Umayyad Mosque And Napoleon's tomb in Les Invalides
Is no more glorious than the tomb of Salah al-Din Al-Ayyubi . . .
This painting is now part of a private collection but prints are still available to buy. To get your print please contact email@example.com