I recently returned from a trip to the United Arab Emirates. While in the country I visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I was partial to Abu Dhabi, the nation’s capital, and more importantly the amazing architectural feat that is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. In order to ensure an all inclusive viewing of the mosque we went just before sunset. Getting there around 6pm allowed us to see the mosque in the daylight, at sunset and at dusk, all of which were sublime. I am partial to the building at dusk because of the blue lighting but I suggest going just before sunset and staying around an hour and a half to two hours, to experience the change of light.
The Grand Mosque is massive and can accommodate over 40,000 worshippers. Unfortunately I did not have a wide-angle lens with me, but my iPhone 6 did a fairly good job of capturing the beauty of this religious structure. The mosque was commissioned by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was the principal driving force behind the formation of the UAE and served as president from 1971 until 2004. He is buried near the mosque. The Grand Mosque took 11 years and US$545 million to build. It was completed in 2007.
So what was US$545 million spent on?! That money was used to bring in the best building materials and architects from around the world and it is evident. They say the mosque “unites the world” by using artisans and materials from around the world, including Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Greece and of course, UAE. Some of the materials used include marble, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics. Let’s just say, no cost was spared!
While approaching the mosque by car you cannot but help to acknowledge its mammoth presence. When I exited the escalator to enter the mosque I nearly stopped in my tracks. The stark white and gold building set against a cloudless blue ski was awe-inspiring. The four minarets tower over the building’s marble floors and the quintessentially Moorish archways. Upon entering the building you are immediately struck by the huge chandelier, which is one of seven that were made by a German company, with millions of Swarovski crystals! Everything in this building was simply spectacular.
To enter the mosque, men and women, regardless of your faith (or lack there of), must be covered properly. For both genders this means no shorts or tank tops, and women must cover their hair. For those who show up inappropriately dressed, women can borrow an abaya with an attached hijab, the traditional dress for women in UAE, and men can borrow a gandoora, which is the traditional long white robe. This is an active place of worship so it is important that you respect it as such. You are free to take pictures, but do so respectfully. If you pose too much or inappropriately you will be asked to delete the images and then asked to leave. Just ask Rihanna!
If you ever are in Abu Dhabi this is one site not to be missed. Even if you are visiting Dubai you can take a taxi to Abu Dhabi which will take about an hour and a half. I guarantee you, it is worth it! For more pictures from my visit to UAE and other travels follow me on Instagram: @jnambowa.