Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Discovering the missing cultural link: the Umayyad Mosque

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/12/2009

View of the Umayyad Mosque

Damascus caught me off guard. I didn’t expect to be so easily seduced by a city with such a dull geomorphology and bland urban landscape.

The new neighbourhoods were completely uneventful… though I did find a couple of good books there. But it’s the old town that cast a spell on me. Its architecture surprised me. I didn’t expect to find this type of construction less than 130 km from my hometown.

Sure I was impressed  by the Souks, especially Souk al-Hamidiyeh which starts with a roman structure and ends with a 19th century ottoman one. But it’s the small streets behind it, with their wooden structures and fascinating windows that struck me the most.

What completely blew my mind  was the Umayyade Mosque. I  had seen a picture or two of this building before, and had always thought that the building had originally been a church, that of Saint John the Baptist. What I learned before getting to Damascus was that the church had been totally destroyed and the whole structure was actually islamic. So I expected to see a structure similar to that of Anjar, the summer residence of the Umayad situated in Lebanon, within a roman urban structure and a blend of arabic and roman architecture. What I saw was an extremely harmonious structure that blends roman and byzantine elements while reinterpreting them to suit the new prevailing culture and developing islamic components to them. This reminded me of some Churches in Rome where the roman elements are still visible and yet reinterpreted to suit a burgeoning christian civilisation. I think that the byzantine and roman roots of Islam are nowhere more visible than in this impressive building that wouldn’t have shocked the eye were it situated in Rome.

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