Thursday, November 15: After driving over 5 hours last night from Nizwa and checking in at the Centro Al Manhal Hotel in Abu Dhabi, my friend Tony and I are ready to begin our exploration of the city bright and early. Immediately after an excellent breakfast at the hotel, we head to the Marina Mall, where we catch the Big Bus Tours Abu Dhabi. I am usually keen to do these tours, if they are available, whenever I arrive in a new city. It helps me get a feel for the layout of the city and what there is to see.
Sitting on the top deck of the bus, we drive past the Emirates Palace Hotel and then cruise slowly down the long Sultan Bin Zayed Street until we get to the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Mosque, also known as the Grand Mosque, where we disembark. This is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and the 8th largest mosque in the world. The mosque can accommodate 40,000 people, and often reaches that capacity or more during Eid.
The pools along the arcades reflect the mosque’s spectacular columns and add yet another dimension to the overall design.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s design and construction used artisans and materials from a multitude of countries including Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, India, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Greece and United Arab Emirates. More than 3,000 workers and 38 contracting companies took part in the construction of the mosque. Natural materials were chosen for much of its design and construction due to their long-lasting qualities, including gold, marble, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics.
Non-Muslims are invited to explore on their own, and tours are also available. This is unique as many mosques don’t allow non-Muslims to enter. However, in order to enter, men and women must be dressed modestly. Women are given an abaya (full-length black robe) and a shayla (headscarf). All people must remove their shoes before entering.
The world’s largest Persian carpet covers the main prayer hall in a lush green floral design. It is said to have taken 2,000 workers two years to complete. The carpet weighs 35 tons and is made of New Zealand and Iranian wool. It has over 2 billion knots.
Seven gold-plated Swarovski crystal chandeliers imported from Germany hang from the ceiling; we think several of them look like Christmas trees with their reds, greens and golds.
The courtyard, with its floral design, is considered to be the largest example of marble mosaic in the world.
The mosque showcases 80 marble domes, held up by over 1,000 pillars. Inspired by both Mughal and Moorish mosque architecture, its minarets are classically Arab while its archways are Moorish.
After all is said and done, visiting this gorgeous mosque is definitely the highlight of our trip to Abu Dhabi.