Posts Tagged ‘United Arab Emirates’

Sheikh Zayed Mosque ~ Floral & Exquisite

April 18th, 2013 13 comments

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I finally made it to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque—the most exquisite mosque I’ve ever visited. I had not expected to be dazzled, but I was.

What impressed me first was the striking white of the mosque and its grand scale. Next, it was the gorgeous floral motifs and overwhelmingly feminine style. Meanwhile, the various architectural accents—domes, columns and archways—were amazing, too.  

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The mosque, which opened in 2007 in Abu Dhabi, was the vision of Sheikh Zayed, the founding father and first ruler of the United Arab Emirates. The tomb of Sheikh Zayed is located nearby the mosque.

The Design

The mosque is one of the largest in the world and accommodates over 40,000 worshippers. Stunning white with gold accents, the mosque is surrounding by reflective pools and features 1000 columns and 82 domes.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

A fusion of Arab, Moorish, and Mughal elements, the design of the mosque was directly influenced by mosques in Morocco and Pakistan, as well as the Taj Mahal in India. 

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

More than 3,000 people took part in the building of the mosque, which included artisans and materials from many countries, including Italy, Morocco, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, Greece, UK, Germany, New Zealand, and the UAE.

The archways are quintessentially Moorish.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Courtyard

The courtyard is massive and the floral design in the marble floor is not only spectacular, but also the largest example of a marble mosaic in the world.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The four minarets, placed in the four corners of the courtyard, are classically Arab in design.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Garden Foyer

Before entering the prayer area, one passes through the garden foyer, which echoes the flower motifs of the courtyard.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Main Prayer Hall

The Main Prayer Hall, which can accommodate 7,000 worshippers, is the heart of the mosque.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Qibla Wall (direction wall) features the 99 names of God written in Kufic calligraphy and designed by an Emirati calligrapher.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abi Dhabi

The prayer niche is made of gold leaf. 

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Carpet

Inside the hall is the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. Made of wool, the carpet is Iranian designed and made. It was crafted by 1,200 women and took two years to complete. The lines marked in the carpet tell the worshippers where to line up.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Women’s Prayer Hall

Without a doubt, this is the most beautiful women’s prayer area I’ve ever seen. Built to accommodate 1,500 women, the area is spacious and bright.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The ceiling, which was designed in Morocco, is made to match the carpet, which was designed in Malaysia. The two patterns mirror each other.  

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhbai

The mosque also houses a library with classic books on Islamic subjects relating to science, calligraphy, art, and civilization. The collection features a broad range of languages and includes rare and historic publications. Click here to find out more about the Sheikh Zayed Mosque Library.

Visiting the mosque

Opening hours and tour times vary slightly throughout the year. Currently, the mosque is open to visitors daily from 9:00am to 10:00pm and Fridays from 4:30pm to 10pm. I advise morning or evening visits during the hot months.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I highly recommend the guided tours. Our tour guide Khadija was very knowledgeable and well-spoken. Free tours are currently given daily at 10:00am, 11:00am and 5:00pm. Additional tours on Saturday are 2:00pm and 7:00pm. Friday tours are 5:00pm and 7:00pm. See website for up-to-date visiting hours and tour schedule.

What to wear

Of course, women must cover their hair. The mosque offers unique abayas for female visitors. The abaya comes with an attached hood with a tie. You can select either a long abaya (floor length) or short (shin-length), depending on what you are wearing underneath.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Alternatively, you can wear your own modest clothing: a loose-fitting tunic over a long skirt or wide-leg trousers (what I wore).

Sheikh Zayed Mosque - What to wear

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Men must be modest, too—long trousers and shirt with sleeves. See the website sidebar for more information on mosque manners.

Did you know?

In Abu Dhabi, there is only one muatheen—that is, the man who calls the worshipers to prayer five times per day.  Yes, just one. His athan (call to prayer) is not recorded, but is projected live from all mosques in Abu Dhabi.

Question: Have you been to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque? What were your impressions?

Bastakia Quarter ~ Rich in Dubai History

December 22nd, 2012 8 comments

To those who say Dubai is “not real,” I say: Get out of the hotels and malls. Venture down to one of the oldest neighborhoods in Dubai—Al Bastakia Quarter. Here, you’ll step into Dubai’s past and get a glimpse of what Dubai looked like in the days before oil. 

Bastakia, located along the Dubai Creek, is known for its traditional homes, wind towers, and labyrinth of narrow alleyways. Today the restored quarter is filled with art galleries, cafés, museums, and boutique hotels.

Rich in History

Traditionally a stronghold of rich merchant residents, Bastakia dates back to the 1890s when it was settled by pearl and textile traders from the Bastak region of Iran. Today many of the traditional homes are open to the public. When you enter one and step into its interior courtyard, you can imagine the beauty and comfort that these well-to-do merchants created for themselves.

Wind Towers

The distinctive architectural feature of Bastakia is the wind tower (barjeel in Arabic). Apparently, every house in Bastakia has at least one. In the early days, the number of wind towers indicated the wealth of the owner.

A symbol of UAE culture and heritage, the wind tower is not just ornamentation, but an early form of air conditioning. The open towers allow cool breezes to circulate around the inside while letting hot air to rise and escape.

Architectural Details

In addition to the courtyards and wind towers, Bastakia also features lovely traditional details, such as carved wooden doors, decorative grilles, hanging oil lamps, and wooden lattice.

The ceilings and roofs of these traditional homes are constructed with hardwood from Zanzibar.

Heritage Nearly Lost

After the discovery of oil in 1966, the merchants gradually moved out of Bastakia to other neighborhoods, and Bastakia began to house migrant workers. In the 1970s, half of Bastakia was destroyed to make way for a new office for the Ruler. The rest of the area fell into disrepair (except for the Majlis Art Gallery).

Prince Charles Visits

By 1989, the Dubai Municipality was scheduled to demolish Bastakia. That same year Prince Charles was planning a visit to the UAE. During his visit to Dubai, the prince, known for his love of architecture and historic buildings, asked to see Bastakia.

Legend has it that Prince Charles urged his hosts to preserve Bastakia. Soon after, the decision to demolish Bastakia was reversed.  Later, in 2005, the Dubai Municipality initiated a project aimed at restoring the quarter.

Art Galleries

Today Bastakia is filled with art galleries and cafés. Earlier I did a post about the Dar Ibn Al Haytham for Visual Arts located in Bastakia. Another gallery is the XVA Gallery, which features contemporary art with a shady courtyard café.

Meanwhile, the Majlis Art Gallery is the most well-known and oldest commercial art gallery in Dubai. The gallery opened in the 1970s and was one of the first Bastakia homes open to the public. The Majlis Gallery, which showcases both UAE-based and international artists, is named for the cushioned meeting room found in traditional Arab homes (the majlis).

For many years, the beloved Basta Art Café was located next to the Majlis Gallery. However, that café is no more. Now in its place is the Arabian Tea House Café.

Also Noteworthy

In one of Bastakia’s most elegant buildings, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding offers cultural breakfasts and lunches, as well as heritage tours and walking tours of the area.

If you’d like to see a real fort, the Dubai Museum is housed in Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest existing building in the city. This museum tells the history of Dubai, and it takes only an hour to see everything, (as the history of Dubai is short).

Did you know?

Prince Charles is known for helping to save Bastakia; however, someone else was involved. Before the prince’s visit, British architect Rayner Otter had taken up residence in one of the houses in Bastakia and undertook renovations within. When Rayner Otter heard about the plans to demolish the neighborhood, he wrote a letter to Prince Charles. And the rest is Dubai history.

Question: What are your impressions of Bastakia?

Book Review ~ From Rags to Riches by Mohammed Al-Fahim

August 21st, 2012 6 comments

The one book that all residents of the UAE should read is From Rags to Riches by Mohammed Al-Fahim. The subtitle is A Story of Abu Dhabi, but because Abu Dhabi is the capital, the book reads like the story of the UAE.

First published in 1995, the book is part history and part memoir. Al-Fahim recounts his childhood, the hardships his family endured and his experiences in the UAE from the 1950s onward. This is all woven with the history of the UAE and its dramatic transformation from a tribal society to a modern nation.

The book is full of fascinating anecdotes about life in the UAE before the discovery of oil. Al-Fahim explains that as a child, the kandura had no pockets because they had nothing to put in them. He recounts traveling by camel from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi and describes the treacherous job of pearl diving. He gives insights into why Sheikh Zayed is so revered by his people. Interestingly, Al-Fahim discusses how the British exploited the UAE and why he has forgiven them.

The book was ghostwritten by Susan Macaulay. She visited my book club some years ago and told us how she conducted a series of interviews with Mr. Al-Fahim, recorded his words and turned them into a cohesive story.

In short, this book provides illuminating insights into the history and culture of the United Arab Emirates. The book is sold all over the UAE in various languages, and I recommend it to all expats living here.

Question: Have you read from Rags to Riches? What are your thoughts on the book?