- Location: Damascus, Syria
- Significance: Mosque
- Attraction Type: Mosque, Religious shrine, Relics, Architecture
- How to Reach: The Mosque is easily accessible from all parts of Damascus. You can take a taxi or a rented car to reach this famous shrine from your hotel.
- Nearest Airport: Damascus International Airport
This is the first great monumental structure of Islamic history — the Omayyad Mosque. Located in the historic city of Damascus in Syria, at the very confluence of pagan, Christian and Islamic faiths, the Omayyad Mosque is a testimony of the passing times and the changing influences of the eventful first millennium of human history. The greatest part of the mosque is that it is sacred to people of multiple faiths. It is basically a Sunni mosque but has relics and a history behind it that is supremely precious to the Shia followers. It is also sacred to the Christians because it contains the head of John the Baptist (called Yahya is Arabic).
The architecture of the Omayyad Mosque
The architecture of the mosque is a conglomeration of styles belonging to different phases of local history. Although there are signs that this was a place of worship for the Arameans even before the Christian period, the pillars dating to the 8th century AD, that surmount the dome of the treasury are the earliest structures that we see here. It is said that Greek and Roman’s sculptors were brought in to do the excellent paneling and the wood carvings of the ceiling that date back to the 13th century. The Byzantine style of its original construction can still be sensed on visiting the mosque. The present expansive prayer hall and the interiors are, however, largely Ottoman and belonging to the 19th century. Integrally linked to various phases of Damascus and Islamic history, it is only imperative that the mosque is a melting pot of different architectural styles almost set atop each other. The various renovations and restorations carried out at different times have also left their signs.
Important Sites in the Omayyad Mosque
There are a number of relics and spots in the Umayyad Mosque that speak highly of its history and are sacred to the followers of different sects and faiths. It is not unusual to see the pilgrims and tourists enter by the main gate (the Western Gate) and then divide into groups visiting those corners of the mosque that is of importance to their own faith. Some of the most important attractions of the Omayyad Mosque are:
The Entrance Gate (Bab as-Sa’at): This was the gate where the prisoners of Karbala were made to wait for 72 hours while Yazid I was making necessary preparations to have his palace decorated for his arrival.
The Shrine of John the Baptist: John the Baptist is highly regarded both in the Christian and the Islamic tradition. It is believed that his head, found during a recent excavation of the mosque, is kept here. Pope John Paul II visited the mosque to pay respect to the relic — the first time when a Pope visited a mosque.
The White Pulpit: This is the place from where Ali ibn Huseyn addressed the court of Yazid I on his arrival from Karbala, the raised platform in front is the place where the congregation stood. The wooden balcony just opposite to the raised floor is the place where Yazid sat when he held court.
The shrine of Huseyn: A metallic cubical indentation on the wall on the Eastern section of the mosque is the place where the head of Huseyn was displayed by Yazid, after his return from the Battle of Karbala.
Accommodation in Damascus
Damascus, being the capital of Syria, and an important tourist and pilgrimage center, has plenty of hotels belonging to both luxury and budget categories. Al Majed Hotel, Damascus Room, Dar Al Yasmin Hotel and Al Faris Hotel are some of the most popular ones.