Umayyad Mosque - Atlas Obscura

Umayyad Mosque

Damascus, Syria

Also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus, this is one of the world's largest and oldest mosques. 


At the time of its completion in 715, the Umayyad Mosque was one of the largest structures in the world, and remains one of the oldest and largest mosques today.

It was built under the Umayyad dynasty and commissioned by the Caliph Al-Walid. Al-Walid enlisted 200 skilled Byzantine workers to create the mosaics covering the walls of the courtyard. The city depicted in the mosaics is lush, with towering shrubbery and a winding river. Some say the artwork depicts the city of heaven, while others that it depicts the old city of Damascus. But the fruitful trees are birdless and palatial houses are devoid of inhabitants—depictions of people and animals are often left out of Islamic religious art, to avoid idolatry.

Inside is the shrine of John the Baptist, with walls of green glass that seem to permanently emanate light from an undetermined source. Legend says that during the construction of the mosque, workers found a box containing the head of John the Baptist, which was then buried beneath a pillar.

Adjacent to the mosque and hidden in a corner of the garden is yet another shrine, this one for Saladin, the Kurdish-Iranian hero of the Crusades. The shrine is a big tourist draw for Iranians, but visitors from around the world pour in through the open doors at the first call to prayer at sunset.

Know Before You Go

Women will need to rent a brown headcover in most cases. Shoes are placed in lockers before entering the mosque. 

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February 14, 2024

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