When I turned one of the streets of ancient Basra, I found myself in front of a wall with some arches and pillars. On the left, I saw columns towering above the stone street. Behind the arches, I saw a massive closed wooden door. While looking at the building, mainly a blind wall behind the arches, and a square tower on top, the door was opened and an older Arab dressed in a simple greyish white jellaba came out. He summoned me in, and behind the door, a large area opened itself to my eyes. I had just entered the Omar Mosque, or Jami al-Arouss as it is also called.
Quite soon, I noted that the mosque had very different styles, different colours, different pillars, obviously from different times. It gave the impression of someone who had assembled the building from whatever material he came across in the immediate neighbourhood. In fact, that might well have been the case. The Omar mosque initially was a pagan temple, and some parts have been added later. I saw black basalt pillars, beige marble ones, and I saw stone walls and plastered walls. Once this had sunk in, I was left with a deep sensation of antiquity. Some say the mosque is the third oldest mosque in the entire world, others contest this. But one thing is certain: this is a very old building, primitive, very honest in its message, completely void of any overkill of decorations or luxury. It just becomes clear from looking at it and letting it soak in.
Adding to this sensation were slabs of stone, used as buliding blocks, where I clearly saw Greek and Roman inscriptions. On others, I saw Nabatean inscriptions as well. The very gentle imam was so kind to give me a ladder, put it against a pillar and let me climb to get a better view of one of the inscriptions. When I was down on earth again, I continued wondering and wandering in the Omar mosque. Wondering about its origins, its history, the books on the small bookshelves, on small wooden stools, and even lying on the floor. When I stepped outside the Omar mosque, my visit had conquered a place in my head as a memorable experience.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Omar Mosque (Syria). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Omar Mosque. Read more about this site.