Iranian delegation visiting the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus.
The Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque, falls within the boundaries of the Ancient City of Damascus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Mosque stands on ground that has been considered sacred for three thousand years. It’s believed a temple to Hadad the Aramaean god of rain and fertility first existed on the site. The temple was dated to around 1,000 BCE, after the discovery of a basalt orthostat (large upright stone) in a corner of the mosque.
During the first century CE, the Romans built a colossal temple to their god Jupiter over the Armaean temple. Constructed on a rectangular platform, its estimated size was 385 metres by 300 metres. Although a small section of its outer wall still remains, almost nothing of the temple itself still exists.
With the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Temple of Jupiter was converted to a Christian church dedicated to John the Baptist, probably during the rule of Emperor Theodosius (379-395 CE). The church became an important place of pilgrimage during the first centuries of the Byzantine era. In 661 CE, Damascus under the Umayyad Dynasty became the capital of the Islamic Empire and as such a new impressive place of worship was demanded. Under Caliph Khalid Ibn al-Walid the Christian church was demolished and work was started on a mosque in 708 C E.
In the decade it took to build, over a 1000 artisans were used to create a structure covered in mosaics with precious stones inlaid in prayer booths. Its wooden ceiling was inlaid with gold. In later years the Great Mosque suffered its fair share of misfortune. In 1069 much of the building was ravaged by fire and in 1260 Mongol hordes destroyed it along with much of the city. During the 15th century the great Tartar warlord Tamerlane set fire to the inside of the mosque and several centuries later in 1893, during the Ottoman Empire, much of the prayer hall was reduced to ashes after yet another fire.Today the prayer hall, topped by an imposing dome, is the heart of the building.