I finally went with Irene and the boys on a cruise. She found a great deal for a week of cruising to ports in the United Arab Emirates and Oman. I was looking forward to seeing the architecture and mosques, both new and old, of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and especially of Muscat. Shortly after our return, we also worked a flight together to Delhi, India. Our two day layover there enabled us to see more spectacular Mughal monuments from that Muslim dynasty in India, including the famous Taj Mahal.
|Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi|
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is the largest in the country. It took 11 years to build and was completed in 2007. Its design has a mix of Persian, Mughal and Moorish styles of architecture. The dome layout and floor plan was inspired by that of the Badashi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan while its archways are quintessentially Moorish and its minarets classically Arab.
The capacity for this mosque is 40 000 people, which is the number of worshippers it regularly receives for Friday prayers. The carpet in the main hall is the world's largest and is 60 500 square feet. It took over 1200 Iranian carpet knotters two years to complete. It has seven chandeliers that were made in Germany and that are covered in millions of Swarovsky crystals. The pillars are made from Macedonian marble and are covered in floral patterns (reminiscent of the Taj Mahal) and are inlaid with semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, red onyx, amethyst and abalone.
Our next stop was in Muscat, Oman. Whereas the cities of United Arab Emirates are full of modern glass skyscrapers, the Sultanate of Oman has chosen to keep a much more traditional Arabic style for all of its buildings. They are predominantly low rises that are white and tan brown, perfectly suited to the dry, rocky, and jagged mountains of the Arabian peninsula.
A visit to Muscat would be incomplete without visiting the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. As with the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, it is also relatively new (2001) however, like the city that surrounds it, the mosque is more subtle, with beautiful sand coloured walls and marble. Large geometric carved wooden doors are a perfect contrast to the light tan vaults and domes.
Another great example of Arabian architecture was the grounds of Sultan Qaboos' grand palace. We were there during their winter (a cool average of 28 C) and we often thought how strolling around the city would not be possible during summer months when temperatures hover around 45 degrees most of the time.
The ship sailed back to Dubai where we had our last full day to explore this modern city built from a humble fishing village just sixty years ago. The new towers, including the world's tallest, the Burj Khalifa, are indeed impressive. However, it was the traditional Bedouin architecture that we found to be fascinatinhg and worth exploring. The Emirate has done an excellent job maintaining and preserving its heritage as well as recreating certain buildings in the style of their past.
|Traditional souk (market) in Dubai|
|lanterns with Islamic patterns|
|The Burj Khalifa, lit up nightly with a multitude of changing light patterns.|
|Geometric patterns in the Dubai Mall|
|Traditional Arab coffee in the "Coffee Museum"|
Shortly after our return, Irene and I had a flight we worked to together to Delhi. With a longer than normal layover of two days, we were able to do a day trip to the Taj Mahal. I had been once before over twenty years ago but I was excited to see once again this masterpiece of Indian Islamic architecture. It was winter therefore quite cool and very foggy. We could barely see it from the entrance gate. Luckily, the fog lifted and we saw the famous mausoleum that the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had built for his wife's final resting place in the 1630s. Among the vast complex there is a mosque as well as a guest house and several other buildings along the banks of the Yamuna river. The Taj Mahal's ivory coloured marble is being cleaned for the first time ever, therefore the forward right minaret was covered in scaffolding, making the classic photo a little less classic. Apparently the main dome is next, starting sometime this summer.
|An average of 8 million tourists visit the Taj each year.|
The following day we went to old Delhi, and saw the Red Fort as well as the Jama Masjid, the Old Delhi Mosque. Both were built in the same period of the Mughal reign of Shah Jahan. The mosque is one of the largest in India.
|Nice view from the top of a minaret.|