Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – a walkthrough through a modern architectural beauty

Dubai Skyline

Dubai Skyline

Just last week our family, together with family friends, spent a few days in the UAE, or more precisely in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Both cities are showcases of a mix of extremely beautiful, highly futuristic and utterly eccentric architecture.

While the Burj Khalifa, the highest building in the world at 828m, Burj Al Arab (the “sail”), the Dubai Frame (Dubai’s newest tourist attraction) and the Abu Dhabi Louvre are absolutely stunning, it was The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi (Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque) that completely took our breath away. It reminded me of the Taj Mahal, yet it is a lot bigger, much more open and decidedly more modern. In contrast to the Taj, the mosque is only 12 (!) years old. The building was conceived by late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who is also buried there.


The Grand Mosque


Some fun facts …

The mosque

  • Is the largest in the country. It masterfully combines Persian, Mughal (the style of the  Taj Mahal), Moorish, Alexandrian, and Indo Islamic design elements.
  • is large enough to accommodate 41,000 people during EID (Salat al-Eid, Prayer of the two Eids) prayers
  • was designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky and was built under the lead of Italian contractor Impregilo
  • is constructed from mostly natural and long lasting materials such as marble (i.e. more than 100,000 tons), gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics
  • Artisans and materials came from many countries, including India, Italy, Egypt, New Zealand, Germany, etc.
  • The carpet in the main prayer hall is the world’s largest carpet. It measure 5627m². 1200 to 1300 carpet knotters worked on it for 2 years, putting in more than 2 billion knots!
  • The mosque’s chandeliers are from Germany, Munich. Millions of Swarowski crystals are used here. The largest chandelier (at the center of the main prayer hall) measures 10m across and 15 in height.
  • 1000+ pillars adorned with gold plated capitals grace the open archways leading to the actual mosque. (Sources: Wikipedia, Lonely Planet)

Prior to our visit, we had already seen a few pictures of the mosque and our expectations were accordingly high. But, going there and experiencing the gorgeous building first hand was still a completely different story. We went there on a Friday afternoon after the mosque was reopened following the Friday prayer. (On all other days it’s open all day long).

Upon arrival at the grounds surrounding the mosque, we were first directed to some shacks (men and women separate) where they checked whether we were dressed appropriately.  As most of us did not meet their stringent requirements  (long sleeves, long pants – not even showing your ankles, something to cover your hair) they handed us their drably coloured, but actually quite ok looking (and very light) robes. Even the girls needed to wear them. Almost needless to say, the husbands did not need any additional clothing to cover up. They were dressed perfectly in their jeans and T-shirts. Before entering the actual building, all of us had to leave our shoes behind. Thankfully, there were large shelves set up labeled with numbers so that shoe recovery  at the end of our visit was not an issue.


Water features surrounding the mosque

Despite the fact that there were literally thousands of people visiting at the same time, the space still felt serene and open. I don’t even recall it as noisy … My daughter Isabella was commenting the entire time how beautiful it was … I have never seen her so mesmerized by architecture, …


Moorish-style archway


Below I am sharing some of the pictures we took. My hope is that you may want to add a visit to that mosque to your bucket list once you have finished reading this post! Enjoy! 🙂

The Moorish style archway

Each of the 1000+ columns supporting the archway is clad in white marble and inlaid with intricate floral designs made from semi-precious stones (including lapis lazuli, red agate, amethyst, jasper, and mother of pearl). The capitals are gold-plated and reminiscent of palm fronds. On one side of the archway is the central courtyard, on the other the expansive water features.

The Courtyard

The central courtyard with its gigantic floral designs measures about 17,000m² and is considered the largest example of marble mosaic in the world. We were not allowed to cross it.

Small prayer hall

Before we entered the main prayer hall, we passed through a smaller one which was exquisitely  decorated. At first I thought that this is already the big hall … but as the floor was not covered with carpet, I quickly realized that this was simply an ante chamber of sorts – a very pretty one, indeed!

Both walls and flooring feature the gorgeous floral design that we had already seen on the columns and in the courtyard. The floral theme is also repeated in the design of the glass windows that open towards the interior courtyard. A large chandelier reaching down from the ceiling forms the focal point of this extraordinary space.

The main prayer hall

Several gigantic chandeliers adorn the ceiling of the main prayer hall. The largest one weighs about 12 tons. The many marble columns are inlaid with mother-of-pearl and the woollen carpet features highly complicated floral patterns. The walls are dressed in floral patterns as well, some details of which are even rendered translucent (see below).

One warning here: Despite all this beauty, one should not forget that this is a mosque and thus NOT a place to take Western-style “beautiful selfies” or other portrait pictures.  We observed an incident that involved a female tourist as she took off her head dress to have some pictures taken by her friend.  That prayer hall-photo op did not end well. The pair was almost immediately approached by a guard and asked to turn over their mobile phone …

Exterior of the mosque in the evening


Cheers, Sabine

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