Mosque of the Flowers
fulfilling a Sultan’s dream
The Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Cost $545 million
Can accommodate up to 40,960 worshippers
12 years to build employing 3,000 construction workers
22,412 m2 surface area
85 domes, 1,000 columns and 4 minarets
38 companies from across the globe worked on the design and construction
Although religion is integral to Muslims around the world, Islam’s legacy and grandeur are not limited to its spirituality alone; it goes far beyond just this. Islamic art features at the very heart of oriental architecture. In this way, mosques are not only a symbol of religion or simply a place to pray, but are an important mark of Islamic civilization.
Cities are often measured by their grandeur or the magnificence of their architecture. Mosques are not only a symbol of Islam, or simply a place to pray but are also a mark of civilization. Important leaders throughout history have left their mark in one way or another – in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed has left his on the city forever.
In many countries, especially in Arab countries, tourists include some important locations on their ‘must see’ lists – including mosques. Notable mosques include Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Almasjid Al-Haram Mosque, Mecca, Saudi Arabia; King Hassan Vth Mosque, Casablanca; Morocco; the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey; Putra Mosque, in Malaysia (which appears to float on the waters of Putrajaya Lake); the Omayyad Mosque in Syria; Bahrain’s Grand Mosque; and the Mosque of Mohammad Ali Pasha, Cairo.
In the United Arab Emirates, the perfect examplar of modern religious architecture is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Tourists and worshippers alike are fascinated by this amazing, yet unusual place.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is located in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. This beautiful place was built in honour of the memory of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the beloved ‘Father of the United Arab Emirates’ as many Emirati call him, who died in 2004 and is buried in the courtyard of his mosque.
Fantini Mosaici is the Italian company that gave this must-see site its truly remarkable mosaic work. The mosque is decorated inside and out with the most amazing floral and Islamic-theme mosaics.
The cost of bringing this mosque to reality has been quite considerable. To an experienced visitor’s eye, the quality and quantity of the natural materials used tell their own story. They were included due to their durability and include stone, marble, semi-precious stones, gold, crystals and ceramics.
The design of the mosque is inspired by the vision of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan based on tolerance rooted in the traditions of the golden Islamic era, and on respect and the exchange of ideas for the enrichment of human life and society. Sheikh Zayed’s input was reflected in many aspects of the design such as the dimensions of the minarets and the courtyard, the colours and the construction materials. Turning Abu Dhabi into a ‘green area’ is achieved by the use of water in the design, as is the use of green marble and the ubiquitous emphasis on vegetation and on the landscape of the mosque as a whole.
The original design
The mosque’s initial architectural design was Moroccan and included global features such as exterior walls of Turkish design. The mosque’s initial designs were extended under the supervision of Italian architects Rocco Magnoli (who died in 2007) and Lorenzo Carmellini.
Design features include the five-pointed star representing the cosmos, and the palm representing nature or the palm of the hand that writes the book. There is a strong floral element to the decorative design: a pentagonal pattern, redefined with curved lines generating floral motifs giving rise to a complex weave of materials and finishes using different colours, materials and forms.
The internal walls of the prayer room are replete with floral patterns, a decoration consisting of white marble, polychrome marble and glass mosaics in shades ranging from dark to light. The floral pattern is repeated on the qibla wall, but without colour modulation to avoid reducing the worshippers’ concentration during prayers.
The central partition, 25m long, represents an open page in a book, with Allah’s ninety-nine names cut into the marble and backlit: inserted in pentagrams and linked to each other by naturalistic sprays composed of white gold mosaic inlays, they bring to life the metaphor of the transition of prayer towards Mecca.
The mosque has approximately 1,000 columns with 20,000 marble panels inlaid with semi-precious stones, including lapis lazuli, red agate, amethyst, abalone shell and mother of pearl. Additionally, the mosque has four beautiful minarets standing at almost 107m tall each at the four corners of the huge mosque.
Construction to ‘unite the world’
There are four areas in the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque where Fantini Mosaici worked with its multicultural team to create the incredibly beautiful mosaics – most notably the main courtyard, designed by British artist, Kevin Dean. “For the main courtyard I used flowers that can be found in the Middle Eastern region – mostly irises, tulips, lilies and roses”, Dean recollects in an article in The National.
“The original idea was that they would cover the whole of the sahan, but it was decided in the end to take out a lot of the design. This amazing space is filled with mosaics of flowers of the region. In the main prayer hall, the species come from the Middle East; at the north entrance, they come from the northern hemisphere; and at the south entrance, they come from the south. The idea was to represent the fact that Islam is an international faith”.
The flowers in the sahan include poppies (Papaver orientale), while Dean selected jasmine (Jasminum officinale) for the northern entrance and red frangipani (Plumeria rubra) on the opposite side.
For the entrance to the mosque’s main prayer hall – the only part of his design where floor mosaics are transferred to the walls – Dean used morning glories and the desert-dwelling Pergularia tomentosa.
Thirty different types of marble were used in the construction of the mosque, originating from across the globe: most originated from Greece, Macedonia, Italy, India and China.
A record breaking building:
The world’s largest carpet
With sparkling green as its dominant colour, this 60,500ft2, 47 tonne carpet was made by 1,200 female weavers in Iran who worked on it for over two years.
The world’s largest chandelier
This huge chandelier hangs at the centre point of the main dome. The chandelier measures 50ft high, 33ft in diameter and weighs 12 tonnes. It was made in Germany and is so huge that a staircase was made within the chandelier for maintenance purposes!
The world’s largest dome
The mosque boasts 82 white marble domes of Moroccan design. The main dome measures 32.8m in diameter with a height of 785m from the outside. These domes are believed to be the largest of their kind according to the Turkish Research Centre for Islamic History and Culture.