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Thursday, March 22: This morning Kathy and I go to Muscat early to visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the only mosque in Oman open to non-Muslims and one of the largest in the Gulf.  It opened in 2001 and has room for around 20,000 worshipers in two prayer halls and surrounding courtyards.   It is only open to the public on Saturday-Thursday, from 8:00-11:00 a.m. and women must wear long sleeves and cover their heads.

the east end garden approach to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

We enter the mosque through spacious gardens divided by water channels on the eastern end. The perfume of honeysuckle bushes scents the air near the entrance.  Cool cone-shaped trees, round clipped bushes, yellow flowers and trees with bright-red fuzzy spiked flowers (called bottle brush trees) are neatly arranged in the gardens.  Tour groups are lining up, women covering themselves in head scarves and long sleeves.  It’s a hot morning, as always here in Oman, and we’re in search of a cool dark place. At this point, there is nowhere to escape the heat and the sun.

yours truly, looking ridiculous in a head scarf

yours truly, looking ridiculous in a head scarf

bottle brush trees and lines of rounded bushes in the garden leading to the Grand Mosque

The entry into the main walled compound of the mosque

The mosque sits within a walled courtyard with a minaret at each corner, plus a fifth, larger minaret halfway along the north wall.  White and red-brown marble are the materials of the day here, mostly in contemporary Islamic style.  The minarets resemble those on Egyptian mosques and the wooden ceilings and tile work are from Omani and Persian traditions.  The latticed golden dome over the main prayer hall is original.

the inside of the Ladies’ Prayer Hall

We go into the Ladies’ Prayer Hall first (men are allowed to visit), which has some beautiful woodwork and stained glass windows, but when we see the main prayer hall (musalla) later, it’s clear that the women get shortchanged.  The Ladies’ Prayer Hall is much less ornate, smaller, plainer, and all around relatively unimpressive.

the tallest minaret on the north wall

the minaret at the northeast end of the mosque

archways in the northern wall

Outside we wander through the large courtyard along the north wall, where we see some beautiful tile work and gardens.

another tiled niche

mosaic tile in a niche along the north wall

the tile work

We can see the dome of the main prayer hall (musalla), supported on four huge pillars and colored in whites, grays and sea-greens.

the main prayer hall and its latticed dome

Finally we enter the opulent main prayer hall.  Of course when it’s closed to the public, this prayer hall is for men only.  The men must be on the fast track to heaven, from the looks of this hall.  A huge Swarovski crystal chandelier in the center of the hall is 14 meters tall; it was once claimed to be the largest in the world until an even larger one was built in Qatar in 2010.

the huge Swarovski chandelier hanging in the dome

the dome with the chandelier

A gorgeous carpet covers the floor and is said to be the world’s second largest.  It took 400 female weavers from Iran four years to make it.  It is 60 x 70 meters and weighs 21 tons.  It contains 1.7 million knots.

a close up of the carpet that took 400 women 4 years to make

i can only capture a small part of the carpet in my camera

At one point we meet a monk from Thailand in his orange robes and ask if we can photograph him.  I find the dichotomy interesting, a Buddhist monk in an Islamic mosque… 🙂

a Buddhist monk in an Islamic mosque

a Buddhist monk in an Islamic mosque

Finally, at the opposite end of the prayer hall, we find a stunning niche of mosaics in glowing colors.  Arabic calligraphy, vases and floral motifs in sea-foam green, yellow, black and white are topped with small bowl-like hollows containing patterns of stars.  It’s like a miniature heaven inside the mosque.

A lovely morning at the mosque.  I love seeing this place, especially the tile work and mosaics, the Islamic calligraphy from the Quran, and the flower motifs decorating the walls and niches.  The scale is immense.   After we leave, we go to Mutrah Souq, and the Bait Muzna Art Gallery.  Fun times. 🙂

the heavenly niche opposite the entrance, lit by stars

glowing niche

parting view of the main prayer hall