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3 January 2016 / leggypeggy

Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, still intact

Omayyad Mosque with the Dome of the Treasury

Omayyad Mosque with the Dome of the Treasury on the left and Minaret of the Bride in the centre background (2009)

An early view of the Treasury Dome

An early view of the Treasury Dome

Last week I introduced my connection to Syria and promised to write more about this country that was my home for several years in the early 1980s and where our first daughter, Libby, was born (and that’s another story worth telling).

I could recount all the tragedies and horrors Syria has seen over the last few years, but I’d rather start on a positive note.

Not everything in Syria is gone. While much of the north is in ruins, as far as I can determine, the Omayyad (Umayyad) Mosque, in the heart of old Damascus, stands undamaged.

I first saw this magnificent structure on a hot day in 1977. I was visiting from Egypt, where I was studying at the University of Cairo. Back then, I spent most of an afternoon enjoying the mosque’s architecture, its fine mosaic detail, the coolness of its surfaces and the sense of community that surged through the place.

Omayyad Mosque

An arcade with lots of space for kids to run and study

By the time I travelled to Syria, I’d already had a year in Cairo and had visited many of its mosques. But this Great Mosque of Damascus, as it is sometimes known, was the first time I saw so many children running around so joyously. And for every child I saw running, there was one lying on the cool marble floors studying and doing homework.

The only other times I’ve seen such relaxed and casual enjoyment in a house of worship were in pagodas in Burma (but more about them another time).

So, not surprisingly, the Omayyad Mosque stuck in my memory. I was lucky enough to return to Syria (and Damascus) in 1980 after I married Poor John (yeah, someday I will write about our unexpected and unconventional wedding in Jordan).

One of my first touristic adventures in Damascus in 1980 was to return to the souk/bazaar that leads to the mosque.

I went again not long after Libby was born in 1981.

Omayyad Mosque

Omayyad Mosque—stairway to pulpit

Omayyad Mosque

Omayyad Mosque alcove

Interestingly, I have absolutely no recollection of needing to don a hijab (black cloak and headdress) to enter the mosque in 1977 or in the 1980s. I needed to when I revisited in 2009, but the garments were offered to all women and at no charge.

What I do remember about that 1981 outing with Libby is the many women who rushed up me to inspect the baby. I had her in a sack on my chest and everyone lifted the little blanket I used to shield her from the sun.

They were keen to know, how old is the baby? My answer of two weeks shocked every single one of them. Then I got the well-meaning lessons. Babies aren’t supposed to leave the house until they are 40 days old.

Omayyad Mosque

Stained glass windows

Omayyad Mosque

Chandelier

Omayyad Mosque

Friday teachings

I wonder what they would have said if I’d told them she was four days old when she attended the Australian Club’s first Happy Hour (another story which includes the sweepstake betting on when she’d be born). Oh, yeah, and she was 42 days old when she rode a horse, in a sack on my chest, down the chasm (siq) to the Nabatean village of Petra in Jordan.

So many more stories to tell about that part of the world.

In the meantime, here’s a bit more about the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus.

The Great Mosque of Damascus
The Omayyad Mosque is one of the oldest and largest mosques in the world. Some Muslims considered it to be Islam’s fourth most holy place.

Damascus is thought to be the longest continually surviving city in the world and construction on this important mosque is thought to have begun in 634 with completion in 712. It was built on the site of a Christian basilica dedicated to John the Baptist, who is honoured as a prophet by both Christians and Muslims. The mosque still has a shrine to him.

Shrine to John the Baptist

Shrine to John the Baptist

The mosque has seen a lot of change over the centuries. If you want a lot of detail, check out the entry on Wikipedia.

In a nutshell, it has seen fire, strife and many rulers. It’s been controlled by the Umayyads, Abbasids, Seljuk Turks, Mamluks, Ottomans, French and more.

The mosque is rectangular in shape, measuring 97 by 156 metres. There are three arcades (which is where I saw kids studying), a prayer room (with John the Baptist’s shrine), various domes (including the clock and the treasury domes) and three minarets.

The minarets are called the Minaret of the Bride, the Minaret of Jesus and the Western Minaret or Minaret of Qaitbay.

Dome of the Clock

Dome of the Clock

If you’ve travelled widely, you might be interested to know that the Omayyad’s floor plan has been used for many other mosques. These include al-Azhar and Baybars Mosques in Cairo, the Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain and the Bursa Grand and Selimiye Mosques in Turkey.

As for spelling, I use Omayyad while many others use Umayyad.

As for the future, I hope I am able to revisit this wonderful mosque. More importantly, I hope Libby is able to revisit the land of her birth.

By the way, if you have an interest in Middle Eastern food, you might like the recipe for flat bread on my cooking blog.

71 Comments

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  1. Derrick / Jan 3 2016 11:31 pm

    There are still lots of places to visit, but with the current climate and all these wars going on, it’s getting harder every day. I know there are still places I want to visit, places, people to see and meet.

    I just wish things would would sort themselves out so ordinary people could get back to living their lives.

    It’s not the people that start these wars, it’s the politicians, if they had to fight, see what a war is like, they wouldn’t start them

    Liked by 4 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 3 2016 11:36 pm

      Derrick you are so right. If the people who started the wars had to fight them, I think there wouldn’t be so many wars.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Derrick / Jan 3 2016 11:40 pm

    I don’t think there is a politician in power now that has even served in the forces of any kind, it should be policy that any politician should serve at least 5 years in the forces, at least that would show they are really commited to their country (if they had seen action, they wouldn’t be so eager to send troops anywhere)

    Liked by 3 people

  3. fiftywordsdaily / Jan 3 2016 11:43 pm

    Such an informative and interesting post, which so much food for thought. Many thanks, Nick

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Andrew Petcher / Jan 4 2016 12:10 am

    A beautiful place, let’s hope it survives the civil war. your post reminded me about how shocked I was when my daughter took her new baby supermarket shopping when she was barely a week old!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. luckyjc007 / Jan 4 2016 12:39 am

    A very interesting post and the photos are beautiful. I remember carrying my first child into the bank when he was only a week old…he had to go where I went , there was no babysitter. I had him in a little carrier and people would be amazed to learn that I had such a tiny baby with me. The day he was born he weighed 5 and a half pounds. Times change and peoples opinions change. It’s too bad they think of war instead of really trying to get along with one another.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 4 2016 7:45 am

      Same for me with Libby. I didn’t have a babysitter, so she went where I went. And yes, wouldn’t it be wonderful if people spent more time trying to get along.

      Like

  6. mommermom / Jan 4 2016 3:10 am

    I am really enjoying your up close and personal experiences of this area and the Syrian people. Thank you for sharing and all of the lovely pictures. I look forward to the next chapter.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 4 2016 7:47 am

      Thank you. I’m trying to decide what to write about next. Lots of options.

      Like

  7. Carol Ferenc / Jan 4 2016 4:03 am

    This beautiful building has a fascinating history! I truly hope it survives intact and you and Libby will be able to revisit someday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 4 2016 7:48 am

      I’m so relieved the mosque in Damascus has survived. The mosque in Aleppo hasn’t and I have some before photos of that to share.

      Like

      • Carol Ferenc / Jan 4 2016 8:53 am

        Your stories of Syria are so fascinating, Peggy!

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Jan 4 2016 9:14 am

        Thanks.

        Like

  8. susan@marsha'sbungalow / Jan 4 2016 4:05 am

    So much to look at! I love the way you weave your personal stories with the historical, and also hope that one day Libby will be able to safely return.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 4 2016 8:45 am

      I’m glad you like the combination because I’d find it hard to separate the two. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Ti Yazar / Jan 4 2016 5:05 am

    The articles you write very valuable. I’ve never heard of this mosque earlier. I look forward to your next article 👍

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Dorothy Webster / Jan 4 2016 6:09 am

    Another great post Peggy. Lets hope this amazing building survives and you can revisit with Libby.
    My son decided against visiting his birthplace in Ibadan, Nigeria for safety readons. Shame as it was a lovely place to live once too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 4 2016 8:44 am

      We can both hope our children get to see their places of birth one day—sooner rather than later.

      Like

  11. wfdec / Jan 4 2016 8:32 am

    Why oh why does so much beauty get spoiled by so much hatred and violence.
    PS. When son Daniel was only 12months we had him in a carrying thingo on my chest facing forward and he kept being called a kangaroo.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Lynz Real Cooking / Jan 5 2016 12:06 am

    It makes me sad to see these pictures! My first visit was in 1988 and I have pictures of my little baby sitting there at the mosque! Your post made me smile as you talked about your little baby! Yes a big no no to leave the house at all until 40 days! What an informative and sentimental look back! My in laws still live in Damascus and I hear from them here and there on fb. You sure have a rich travel history Peggy, thanks for sharing these pictures and memories!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 5 2016 12:17 am

      The pictures make me sad too, but at least the mosque is still undamaged. I have lots more to post about Damascus and Syria in general so I hope you’ll tag a long.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lynz Real Cooking / Jan 5 2016 12:20 am

        I am so glad Peggy and I will be following along for sure! It is amazing that the mosque remains undamaged!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Sy S. / Jan 5 2016 12:22 am

    Hello Pegz,

    Interesting to read about one of the more important world mosques, Omayyad… and in Damascus… new to me and thankfully not destroyed. And that you had a new born baby and traveling around, with people so interested. I wonder why the local people don’t go out with a new baby until 40 days? safety, religious reasons… Second, all right, how about a few Syrian recipes on P32 cook blog..

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 5 2016 7:47 am

      I think the 40 days is for health reasons—thinking maybe babies aren’t yet ‘tough’ enough.
      And you won’t believe this, but I don’t have a single Syrian cookbook. I have some with Syrian recipes, but no Syrians books. They mustn’t have displayed any when I was there, but now that you mention it, I see there are some available online.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Zambian Lady / Jan 5 2016 5:40 am

    Your post has made me realize that I have never visited a house of worship of another religion. In Zambia, people are discouraged from taking babies out ‘unnecessarily’ before six months as we believe that their immune systems have not developed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 5 2016 7:44 am

      Wow, six months to keep babies in. That’s a long, long time.
      As for houses of worships, I hope you have a chance to visit some different ones. They can be so fascinating and eye-opening.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. milliethom / Jan 5 2016 7:23 am

    Fabulous post, Peggy. The history is wonderful, especially supported by your beautiful photos. The architecture of the Omayyad Mosque is incredible and so very detailed. I find Islamic architecture just awe-inpiring. I visited the Mezquita Mosque in Cordoba last April and was left dumb-struck by that. I didn’t know that the Mosque in Damascus provided the floor plan for it, though.
    I love all your little snippets about other stories you still have to tell! I’ll be ready to read them when you do get round to writing them up.I also found the attitudes of the women in Damascus to your new baby really interesting. I wonder how they decided on 40 days as the safe time for a baby to meet the great outdoors? 40 days is such a biblical number, used in many stories in both Old and New Testaments. Does that have anything to do with it?

    Liked by 3 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 5 2016 7:55 am

      Thanks Millie for your interest in Syria. It’s a place so close to my heart.
      As for the 40 days, the number does occur in lots of literature and customs. Bedouins/nomads say that even if it is your worst enemy, if someone grabs a hold of your tent pole and is in need of help, you must care for them for 40 days and 40 nights. And then there’s quarantine—it used to be 40 days. So not sure exactly where it comes from.

      Liked by 2 people

      • milliethom / Jan 5 2016 8:57 am

        Perhaps the quarantine idea – in that they see 40 days as a time for precautions (meaning taking baby ouside could in some way be dangerous, as in the risk of infections). Well, that’s enough guessing. I’ll just be satisfied with your answer that no one is sure where it came from. 😀 Thanks for the explanation, Peggy.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Jan 5 2016 9:06 am

        Have done a bit of exploring and think the 40 days comes from quarantine. At the time of the Black Death in the 1300s, passengers were not allowed to leave ships (and ships could not dock) for that period. Quarantine comes from Venetian and means 40. We may never know whether that’s the history of keeping babies inside. The custom is certainly not narrow in its application. Try googling ‘why keep babies inside for 40 days’. Lots of English links.

        Like

  16. Vicki / Jan 5 2016 9:17 am

    That mosque is absolutely stunning. The detail in the 4th & 5th images is amazing.

    (I’m just thinking you must have a whole library devoted to photos and moments of your travels 😀 )

    Liked by 3 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 5 2016 2:09 pm

      Oh Vicki, don’t mention the library of photos. I have 22,000 images on one computer and 43,000 on another. I’m trying to cull down to 20,000 and 40,000.

      Liked by 3 people

  17. Thys / Jan 5 2016 2:36 pm

    The detail on those buildings is simply mind boggling… I keep staring at the intricate work they have done…

    Liked by 3 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 5 2016 4:40 pm

      I really must post more photos from mosques. The mosaics and other artworks are really extraordinary.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Traveling Rockhopper / Jan 5 2016 6:19 pm

    Such a beautiful mosque!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. thegreyeye / Jan 7 2016 12:08 pm

    Absolutely stunning. I can also feel the nostalgia in every sentence. About hijab, even most part of the world, Muslim women were not used to wear it regularly even 10-15 yrs back. In fact, it is the most logical to wear in the middle eastern deserts where heat wave are common. But now a days I see it everywhere increasingly. Also I found many posts about wearing it. Recently I asked one girl, who wrote it is important to wear hijab because everyone will see you more respectfully ( certainly I don’t believe respect can be earned by piece of clothe), that if she knows the true meaning or reason behind wearing a hijab, but she never answered my question.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 7 2016 7:12 pm

      Yes, the wearing of the hijab has an interesting history. Few women wore it in the Middle Eastern countries I visited and lived in during the 1970s and 80s unless, as you said, they were protecting themselves from the harsh sun. I don’t mind the hijab, but hope women wear it by choice and not by force.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Faraday's Candle / Jan 7 2016 1:57 pm

    The details of the architecture are captured beautifully in your photos.
    So fascinating! That part of the world seem more exotic and foreign than ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 7 2016 7:14 pm

      Thanks for the compliment and for stopping by. It’s been fun for me to go back through my photos of Syria.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. BunKaryudo / Jan 8 2016 9:39 pm

    That was fascinating. I was interested to read that the rules regarding entry seem to have changed. I imagine that reflects a greater sensitivity over religious issues than in years past. Also, although I imagined Damascus must be an old city, I had no idea quite how old.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 9 2016 9:32 am

      Damascus is even mentioned in the book of Genesis.

      Liked by 1 person

      • BunKaryudo / Jan 10 2016 4:19 am

        It’s a city with a lot of history behind it. With any luck, it’ll have a wonderful future ahead of it too, once this terrible civil war is over.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Jan 10 2016 10:06 am

        I like to think of Damascus as a survivor. Syria too.

        Like

  22. singhcircle / Jan 10 2016 12:59 am

    Stunning! So much of civilisation has been destroyed, though!

    Liked by 2 people

  23. LaVagabonde / Jan 16 2016 10:34 pm

    What a beautiful building. I hope it continues to weather the storm.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. anna / Jan 17 2016 12:00 pm

    Syria was high on my list for many years… Never got to it before baby girl was born, and now, who knows?? I have a good friend from Aleppo (currently living in Italy though) who always told me he would show me his beautiful city one day. Not sure how much is even left of it though. What a sad sad state of affairs for such a beautiful country. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and background for us who haven’t been. X

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 17 2016 6:18 pm

      Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. Aleppo is/was a beautiful city. Tonight I’ll try to do a post on the citadel there. Then you’ll at least have had a glimpse of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • anna / Jan 17 2016 6:26 pm

        Oh that would be great. I’ve seen the pics before, it looked amazing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Jan 17 2016 6:30 pm

        I even have some night shots. Better get busy on the post. 🙂

        Like

  25. Elouise / Jan 21 2016 8:27 am

    I loved seeing this! Just knowing there are sites such as this that haven’t yet been damaged is heartening. I wonder what the atmosphere is like today–around the Omayyad Mosque. Thanks, Peggy!
    Elouise

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 21 2016 11:16 am

      Elouise, I wonder too. I hope there’s a shred of optimism. Things aren’t so good in Aleppo. The Omayyad Mosque there has been badly damaged.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. tony / Jan 22 2016 10:51 pm

    I don’t know how to comment on this. The Omayyad Mosque is so beautiful! Stunning photographs,

    Tony
    http://breadtagsagas.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  27. xaranahara / Jan 24 2016 9:57 am

    Wow. What wonderful stories! The mosque is absolutely beautiful! I’m glad that place is still intact.

    Like

  28. Ray / Mar 11 2016 12:55 pm

    Really tragic to see the unnecessary destruction of Syria due to a bunch of blood thirsty, backwards thinking, disgusting pieces of … well, you get my point. Would love to read more about your time in Syria in the 1970s/1980s when you have time. That would have been an epic time to have visit the Middle East I bet!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 13 2016 4:38 pm

      It really was amazing times and I promise to write more about it (and pics too).

      Like

  29. barkinginthedark / Jan 13 2017 10:55 am

    i can’t get over how you get around…and always with great pix. continue…

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 13 2017 12:23 pm

      We will. Don’t have the sense to stay home. Earlier today I tried to comment on your latest post, but for some reason my comments aren’t sticking on any blogs but my own and one other. Cheers to you.

      Like

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