It is a long bus ride from the city, and when I approach the Grand Mosque of Sheikh Zayed, I understand why it is so far away: the architects needed a huge open space to build this enormous building which simply could not have been squeezed into the city. Four white minarets soar into the blue sky; in between, a square building with lots of domes - all white. But it is not possible to walk directly to the mosque. You have to descend into a futuristic dome, walk an endless underground corridor, get a ticket, and get at ground level again right in front of the mosque which now looks even more daunting. All around, there are reflecting pools, which double the effect of the arches and slender columns as long as there is no wind. There are fountains. After looking at the exterior from a distance, it is time to move closer.
Resisting the temptation to enter the gigantic courtyard, I walk around the building, to its west side. I have come at the end of a hot day, and I am following the light. I stop at the northwest corner of the mosque to have a look again: from this vantage point, I can oversee much of the structure. Its many arches, columns, domes, in perfect symmetry. The orientation is directly towards Mecca. The Grand Mosque is built according to a well thought plan, executed by workers from Asia, Africa, Europe and Oceania. It is a fusion of styles: Persian, Mughal, Pakistani, Egyptian, Moorish, and Arab. It is time to get closer, and marvel at the reflection of the shining house of prayer in the pools which are more like a mirror here. Moving around the west side, I come across more fountains, but it seems impossible to reach the mausoleum of Sheikh Zayed, the late president of the United Arab Emirates who initiated the project that started in 1996. In fact, one of the guardians even sends me back from the southwest corner of the building, so I walk back and try to get in. But another guard tells me this is the ladies section, allows me to take few shots (saying he is a photographer himself) and then lets me walk across the gigantic courtyard. The marble mosaic with a floral motif is considered the biggest of its kind on the planet. Too bad it is not possible to climb the minarets for a view.
It is time to enter now, and I find out there are several spots from where to have a glimpse of the main prayer hall. Some gigantic chandeliers hang high from the ceiling before I reach the prayer hall itself. Unfortunately, it is not possible to actually enter. On the floor: the largest carpet of the world, measuring over 5,500 square metres, made in Iran. Hanging from the ceiling: huge chandeliers, with millions of Swarovski crystals. On the columns: marble with mother of pearl. Walking around the corner, I come to another viewpoint, which gives a better impression of the rich interior. The name of Allah appears in calligraphy all around the mosque in white on dark blue. I take a rest at the southeast corner, as dusk falls over the gigantic house of prayer that if the Grand Mosque. Lights switch on, and probably the best spectacle starts now. People walking: both visitors and worshippers mingle, the call to prayer, the darkness that slowly envelopes the mosque, the lights that make its appearance like a fairy tale. Then, when it gets darker still, the reflection of the lit arches in the pools double its beauty. I once more walk around the building, and inside the courtyard. The arches, the lit domes, and the silhouettes of the minarets seem to be floating on a yellowish light. Peaceful beauty.
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