4-9 MAY 2001
S Y R I A
THE GREAT OMAYYAD MOSQUE
Short history of the Mosque
3000 BC: Aramean temple to Hadad
1st century: Temple to Jupiter
193-211: Restored under Septimus Severus
379: Church of St. John the Baptist under Emperor Theodosius
636: South wall became Mosque shared with Moslems after Damascus was taken by the Arabs
706-715: Omayyad Caliph Al-Walid built the Great Mosque in the present shape. The Christians were compensated with four permanent Church sites elsewhere within the Old City.
1893: Prayer Hall rebuild by the Ottomans after severe fire.
With the Arab conquest of Damascus (636) began the symbolic appropriation of the city with the building of a small mosque ("masghid" in Arabic, a place of worship) within the temonos of the old temple which already housed the Theodosian Church of St. John the Baptist.
At the beginning of the eighth century, the Omayyad Caliph Al-Walid controlled the southern Mediterranean and dedicated himself to governing the occupied territories. In 706 he ordered the building of a great mosque, a work which was brought to completion in less than ten years, after having demolished the existing buildings within the sacred walls, among which was the cathedral of Damascus dedicated to St. John the Baptist (see the information sheet on the Greek-Orthodox Church of Damascus [English, Italian]. The only things that were spared were the three towers which were transformed into minarets, destroyed and rebuilt (the Minaret of Jesus, also called the East Minaret, at the corner of the former basilica of St. John the Baptist; the Minaret of Qayt or West Minaret; the Minaret of the Spouse, which is the oldest). The building was covered with marble and mosaics on a gold background; the work was entrusted by the Omayyad Caliph to skilled Byzantine workmanship. The mosaic decorations, according to the iconoclastic norms of Islam, did not include any human figures, but only houses, palaces, floral decorations and streams of water. Originally it was to be 4,000 square meters in addition to a more extensive mosaic decoration, which was never realized. One part was destroyed and another part, hidden under a layer of plaster with the progressive sharpening of the iconoclastic tendency of Islam, was brought to light in 1928.
What is being called the "Great Mosque of the Omayyad" includes not only the gathering place for the Friday prayers and sermons, but all that is within the sacred walls, that is to say, a complex of buildings: The Prayer Room and Madrasa ("Koranic" schools" and of Arab epigraphy).