The Ummayad Mosque in Damascus is one of the dearest places to my heart, because not only was it my first taste of the beauty of religious architecture, but also because it opened my eyes to my own identity and the history of the area that my family hails from- Bilad Il Sham.
I remember that as soon as I was back home in Riyadh after my first visit to Damascus, I spent a good deal of time researching the history of the Ummayyad Mosque. At that time, I wasn’t as interested in art as I was in history, and because I didn’t know any other life than the one I had in Saudi Arabia where Levantines are collectively “Shwam” rather than Jordanians, Syrians, etc., my fascination had to do with a want to learn more about the region that people identify me with.
It opened my eyes- the Ummayyad Mosque was the first time I realized how intricately related religions are in our part of the world. To my fascination, I found out the spot where the mosque now stands was a temple for a Semitic God in the Armanaean era and a temple of Jupiter in the Roman era. Then, with the advent of Christianity, it became a Christian Church dedicated to John the Baptist. In 706, the Ummayyad Mosque was built, making the structure a mosaic of cultures, religions, and ideas.
Then, during my freshman year as an art student at Jordan University (picture above), the Fine Arts Faculty took us on a trip to Syria to delve into the art history of the region, and after a long tour with art proffessors of the Ummayyad mosque, my love for it grew even more.
The architecture of the mosque is as diverse as its history. The exterior walls were based on the walls of the temple of Jupiter, and 200 skilled workers were brought in from the Byzantine Empire to decorate the mosque, as evidenced by the partly Byzantine style of the building. Meanwhile, the interior of the mosque is reminiscent of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the walls are covered with fine mosaics portraying paradise, and it is supported by Greco-Roman Cornithian order columns.
And this is where my love for the Ummayyad Mosque stems- a rich history of acceptance where differences are embraced rather than burned, and a symbol for the diversity of the Levant.