On the tour we were able to access behind the scenes passageways and enter rooms not accessible to the general public. Our guide was interesting and informative regarding the architectural details and history of the mosque – the largest in the country.
Entry to the mosque
The external columns made of white marble panels inlaid with precious and semi- precious stones such as lapis lazuli, red agate, amethyst, abalone shell and nacre in the design of the date palm.
The Courtyard with marble mosaic designs illustrated by British artist Kevin Dean.
Main Prayer Hall
The carpet in the main prayer hall is the world’s largest hand knotted carpet weighing 35 tons.
Free Cultural tours are available with an Emirati guide
There are seven crystal chandeliers made by Faustig in Munich Germany. The largest weighs 12 tons.
“The late Sheikh Zayed aimed to establish a historical Mosque, personifying the Islamic message of peace, tolerance and diversity. He intended to turn the Grand Mosque into a living reference in modern Islamic architecture linking the past with the present in a harmonious melody.
The Mosque is the fruit of Sheikh Zayed’s unique vision. The father of the UAE has created an Islamic monument, a center for Islamic sciences and an emblem of genuine Islamic values, in order to illuminate the horizons of Islamic thought rooted in tolerance, love and peace. “
“The Grand Mosque was constructed between 1996 and 2007. It was designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky. The building complex measures approximately 290 by 420 m (950 by 1,380 ft), covering an area of more than 12 hectares (30 acres), excluding exterior landscaping and vehicle parking. The main axis of the building is rotated about 11° south of true west, aligning it in the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
The project was launched by the late president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who wanted to establish a structure that would unite the cultural diversity of the Islamic world with the historical and modern values of architecture and art. His final resting place is located on the grounds adjacent to the complex.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center (SZGMC) offices are located in the west minarets. SZGMC manages the day-to-day operations and serves as a center of learning and discovery through its educational cultural activities and visitor programs. The library, located in the northeast minaret, serves the community with classic books and publications addressing a range of Islamic subjects: sciences, civilization, calligraphy, the arts, and coins, including some rare publications dating back more than 200 years. The collection comprises material in a broad range of languages, including Arabic, English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Korean.
For two years running, it was voted the world's second favorite landmark by TripAdvisor.
Design and construction
The design of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque has been inspired by Persian, Mughal, and the Alexandrian Mosque of Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque in Egypt, also the Indo-Islamic mosque architecture, particularly the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan being direct influences. The dome layout and floorplan of the mosque was inspired by the Badshahi Mosque. Its archways are quintessentially Moorish, and its minarets classically Arab.
Under lead contractor Impregilo (Italy), more than 3,000 workers and 38 sub-contracting companies took part in its construction. The mosque was completed under a second contract by a Joint Venture between ACC and Six Construct (part of BESIX ) between 2004 and 2007.] Natural materials were chosen for much of its design and construction due to their long-lasting qualities, including marble stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics. Artisans and materials came from many countries including India, Italy, Germany, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, North Macedonia and the UAE.
Dimensions and statistics
The mosque is large enough to accommodate over 40,000 worshippers, while the main prayer hall can hold over 7,000. There are two smaller prayer halls, with a capacity of 1,500 each, one of which is the women's prayer hall.
There are four minarets on the four corners of the courtyard which rise about 107 m (351 ft) in height. The courtyard, with its floral design, measures about 17,000 m2 (180,000 sq ft), and is considered to be the largest example of marble mosaic in the world.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has many special and unique elements: The carpet in the main prayer hall is considered to be the world's largest carpet made by Iran's Carpet Company and designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi. This carpet measures 5,627 m2 (60,570 sq ft), and was made by around 1,200-1,300 carpet knotters. The weight of this carpet is 35 ton and is predominantly made from wool (originating from New Zealand and Iran). There are 2,268,000,000 knots within the carpet and it took approximately two years to complete.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has seven imported chandeliers from the company Faustig in Munich, Germany that incorporate millions of Swarovski crystals. The largest chandelier is the second largest known chandelier inside a mosque, the third largest in the world, and has a 10 m (33 ft) diameter and a 15 m (49 ft) height.
The pools along the arcades reflect the mosque's columns, which become illuminated at night. The unique lighting system was designed by lighting architects Speirs and Major Associates to reflect the phases of the moon. Beautiful bluish gray clouds are projected in lights onto the external walls and get brighter and darker according to the phase of the moon.
The 96 columns in the main prayer hall are clad with marble and inlaid with mother of pearl, one of the few places where one can see this craftsmanship.
The 99 names (qualities or attributes) of God (Allah) are featured on the Qibla wall in traditional Kufic calligraphy, designed by the prominent UAE calligrapher — Mohammed Mandi Al Tamimi. The Qibla wall also features subtle fibre-optic lighting, which is integrated as part of the organic design.
In total, three calligraphy styles — Naskhi, Thuluth and Kufic — are used throughout the mosque and were drafted by Mohammed Mandi Al Tamimi of the UAE, Farouk Haddad of Syria and Mohammed Allam of Jordan. “ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheikh_Zayed_Mosque
The beautiful mosaic floor in the courtyard was designed by British artist Kevin Dean. Dean worked with the mosque’s Italian architects Spatium, and marble mosaic specialists Fantini Mosaici of Milan.
“Dean started the design process the traditional way with hand-rendered drawings and paintings on paper.
“I went away and did several ideas for what the courtyard might look like – the sahan was always the main focus – and from then on, I was asked to look at the archways looking into the courtyard and then internal floors and walls as well.
“For the main courtyard I used flowers that can be found in the Middle Eastern region – mostly irises, tulips, lilies and roses,” Dean recollects.
“The original idea was that they would cover the whole of the sahan, but it was decided in the end to take out a lot of the design.
“In the main prayer hall, the species come from the Middle East; at the north entrance, they come from the northern hemisphere; and at the south entrance, they come from the south. The idea was to represent the fact that Islam is an international faith.”
The flowers in the sahan include poppies (Papaver orientale), while Dean selected jasmine (Jasminum officinale) for the northern entrance and red frangipani (Plumeria rubra) on the opposite side.
For the entrance to the mosque’s main prayer hall – the only part of his design where floor mosaics are transferred to the walls – Dean used morning glories and the desert-dwelling Pergularia tomentosa.
“It’s a wild plant that you can find in the desert,” says Dean. “I got the idea from somebody at the municipality. They were very helpful and they gave me books and literature that I took away with me.”
A low-growing perennial with heart-shaped leaves, Pergularia, or ghalqah as it is known in Arabic, is commonly found in the north-eastern part of Abu Dhabi and the Northern Emirates, where its latex-like sap was traditionally used as a treatment for skin disorders and in the preparation of hides for tanning.
Once Dean had finished his “painted designs”, he then spent time travelling between the UK, Abu Dhabi and Fantini Mosaici’s workshops in Carrara, Italy, to see his vision transferred from watercolour to marble.
“In all, there are about 30 colours that occur in marble naturally, and we selected the most appropriate marble colours to suit my design,” he explains.
“Fantini Mosaici have a special programme whereby a painted flower can be converted into what looks like a marble design with all of the different textures and colours, which made it quite easy to see what the final design would look like.”
It was only when he was working at the marble workshops in Italy that Dean finally started to appreciate the enormity of the design.
Once Dean’s idea had been transferred to a marble slab using computer-aided drawings, the stone was then cut using a water jet.
The flowers were then mounted on four-metre-square concrete slabs, like the pieces of some enormous jigsaw, before being shipped to Abu Dhabi.
Finally, as the elements of the design neared completion, they were hand-finished by craftsmen using chips of white marble. Dean remembers visiting the construction site at a time when 400 men were employed just to add the finishing touches to the mosaic.
The area where those workmen toiled is now filled with tourists and worshippers. More than 3.3 million people visited the mosque in 2013, with the building attracting 15,000 tourists a day in high season. An estimated 40,000 worshippers congregated for Eid Al Fitr prayers in July 2014.
Dean finds the numbers amazing, and he’s still coming to terms with his involvement in a project that became rather more than just a job.
“In a way, this job changed my life. When I tell people at home, they’re amazed that someone should have done this for a mosque, as I have a lot of sympathy for Islam but I am not a Muslim,” the designer explains.
“I still get a lot of emails from people who’ve come here and then want to ask me questions about it. They often say that they were amazed to hear that an Englishman was responsible for the design.
“I think it was very generous of the people involved to have allowed an Englishman to design something that is so important to Abu Dhabi [and] I am very humbled by that, really.””