Umayyad Mosque - History and Facts | History Hit

Umayyad Mosque

Damascus, Syria

Peta Stamper

25 Aug 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Umayyad Mosque

Also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus, the Umayyad Mosque in Syria is not only one of the oldest and largest mosques in the world, but is the fourth holiest site in Islam. The mosque was built on top of a basilica to St John the Baptist after the Muslims took Damascus in 634 AD.

A 6th century legend says the head of the saint lives somewhere within the mosque. If you can’t find the relic when visiting, you can certainly find the mausoleum of Saladin in a small garden beside the north wall.

Umayyad Mosque history

In 661, the Islamic Caliphate came under the rule of the Umayyad dynasty, which chose Damascus to be the capital of the Muslim world. The sixth Umayyad caliph commissioned the construction of a mosque on the site of the Byzantine cathedral in 706 used by local Christians who had also built a Muslim prayer room.

The caliph al-Walid’s new mosque completely demolished the basilica, although features such as the arches were recycled. When the Christians protested, the caliph allowed them access to the seized churches in Damascus. The mosque was completed in 715, shortly after al-Walid’s death and was dedicated to the great city.

The Abbasid dynasty came to power in 750 and moved the capital of the Caliphate to Baghdad. The Abbasids had no interest in Damascus and the mosque suffered under their rule. However, because it was undeniably a triumph of Islam, the building was spared from the Abbasid’s systematic destruction of all things Umayyad.

Umayyad Mosque today

Today, entry to this beautiful Islamic landmark is free, but be aware you can’t enter without being dressed modestly (for women, that means covering shoulders and hair). The best time to go is early in the morning or in the later evenings when the mosque is lit up against the night sky, as this popular religious spot can become over-crowded.

Getting to the Umayyad Mosque

Located in the Umayyad Mosque Square, the mosque is easily found on foot in central Damascus.

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