The Grand Mosque of Damascus, also known as the Umayyad (Omayyad, Omawi)Mosque, is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world. Located in the old city of Damascus, Muslims consider it to be one of the holiest mosques. It is also of great architectural importance.
The mosque holds a shrine which is said to contain the head of John the Baptist, honoured as a prophet by both Christians and Muslims. The head was supposedly found during the excavations for the building of the mosque. The tomb of Saladin stands in a small garden adjoining the north wall of the mosque.
In 2001 Pope John Paul II visited the mosque, primarily to visit the relics of John the Baptist. It was the first time a pope paid a visit to a mosque.
The spot where the mosque now stands was a temple of Hadad in the Aramaean era. The Aramaean presence was attested by the discovery of a basalt orthostat depicting a sphinx, excavated in the north-east corner of mosque. The site was later temple of Jupiter in the Roman era, then a Christian church dedicated to John the Baptist in the Byzantine era.
Initially, the Muslim conquest of Damascus in 636 did not affect the church, as the building was shared by Muslim and Christian worshippers. It remained a church although the Muslims built a mud brick structure against the southern wall so that they could pray. Under the Umayyad caliph Al-Walid I, however, the church was demolished and between 706 and 715 the current mosque built in its place; an indemnity was paid to the Christians in compensation.
The new mosque was the most impressive in the Islamic world at the time, and the interior walls were covered with fine mosaics, considered to depict paradise, or possibly the Ghouta which tradition holds so impressed Muhammad that he declined to enter it, preferring to taste paradise in the afterlife. The building was considered one of the marvels of the world, because it was one of the largest of its time. The exterior walls were based on the walls of the temple of Jupiter and measure 100 by 157,5 m.
It contains a large number of mosaics and geometric patterns. It is thought that the mosque used to have the largest golden mosaic in the world, at over 4.000 m². In 1893 a fire damaged the mosque extensively and many mosaics were lost, although some have been restored since.
The caliph asked and obtained from the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire 200 skilled workers to decorate the mosque, as evidenced by the partly Byzantine style of the building.
These guys are always to clean the mosque court (umayyad), so you can go there barefoot. They are now having a chat and a break.
Construction of the mosque was based on the house of the Prophet in Medina, which had many functions: it was a place for personal and collective prayer, religious education, political meetings, administration of justice and relief of the sick and homeless.
Here are pics from the square of Umayyad Mosque.