For the love of Damascus
Located within the old city walls of Damascus is the Ummayad mosque, otherwise known as the great mosque of Damascus. Constructed in 634, it was built on the site of a Christian basilica dedicated to Yayha (St. John the Baptist) and is one of the few mosques to retain its same, byzantine influenced 8th century artwork and architectural structure.
The great mosque of Damascus has been used as a prototype for other mosques in the region including the al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, the Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain, and the Selimiye Mosque in Turkey. It is considered one of the oldest mosques in the world and the forth holiest place in Islam.
A trip to Damascus would almost certainly entail a visit or two to the Ummayad mosque, no matter the religious background. Hours would be spent sat socializing and praying within the marble walls of the grand courtyard. In 2008 I visited the ‘Goldenes Dachl’ (the golden roof), a landmark within Innsbruck, Austria. A tall, slim building, sandwiched between other, identical buildings, but which allegedly attracted over 500 European visitors per year. It struck me how people crowded to see the fire-gilded, copper roof and I wondered if these same people had heard of the golden mosque of Damascus, a building whose interior, exterior and entire façade was covered in intricate golden mosaics all depicting stories of paradise.
The Umayyad mosque is such a significant building to all Syrians. Life is centered inside and outside of its walls and it 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?’ and it is for this reason, along with how significant a role its art and presence had on my artistic development that I decided it needed a central place within this body of work.