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great mosque of damascus 709-15 AD, syria, easter 2004

interior of the great mosque, containing the shrine of st. john the baptist.


the muslim builders of the early mosques may at first seem to have learnt and borrowed everything from rome and persia but at a closer look reveals a quality entirely new and unique to islamic architecture: the mosques are spaces without hierarchy.


this is something that could not be imagined in the catholic church, in imperial rome or at the court in iran. the core meaning of the word islam is submission. this call for submission to God includes all muslims without exception. thus, the mosques became the successful translation into space of this central islamic tenet, that the true hierarchy exists not between man and man but between man and God.


the generous, not to say enormous, prayer hall of the umayyad mosque in damascus is in constant use thoughout the day - which is somewhat surprising when you are used to the empty churches of northern europe. groups of people are scattered on the floor, reading, listening, talking. a young married couple are receiving counseling in a quiet area near the back wall. children are looked after...


...most of the interior and all of the columns are part of a reconstruction after the fire in 1893. the ottoman capitals are very clumsy. I haven't yet found out if the original columns were spolia as in the courtyard or if they were made for the house by the greek roman artisans who built it (in which case they would/could have looked much like this:


more words, yada, yada, yada.


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Taken on April 2, 2004