As we turned the last motorway corner, I almost lifted out of my seat. Against the cloudless blue sky, curving white domes rose to meet us, towers stretched along the pavement, and gilded columns lined reflective pools.
“It’s….beautiful…” I breathed.
Our cab driver had nodded knowingly when we got into his car. “Ahh, you are off to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque are you? It is so very beautiful.” Having moved to Abu Dhabi himself 15 years ago himself, he gave us a mini-tour on route pointing out several of the hotels that lined the route, swung along the highway turnoffs and sped towards the minarets we had spied in the distance.
Honestly, the best way to read this post is to left click the photos & open them in full view - don't worry about reading the blather until later - there are so many beautiful angles of this incredible building and I broke my own 12 photos per post rule but it's worth it.
Once we poured out of the car and I had borrowed a black gown to cover my jeans, we walked into the glory of white marble that is the Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Before visiting I had worried that the Grand Mosque was going to be one of those places that is photoshopped beyond belief, only to disappoint in real life, but I'm fairly certain it is impossible to take bad photos of this opulent temple.
His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan had wanted to establish a structure which unites the cultural diversity of Islamic world, the historical and modern values of architecture and art. The building complex measures approximately 290 m (960 ft) by 420 m (1,380 ft), covering an area of more than 12 hectares (30 acres), exclusive of exterior landscaping and vehicle parking.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque's design and construction "unites the world", using artisans and materials from many countries including India, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Republic of Macedonia and United Arab Emirates. Credit.
My cousin had tipped us off, advising that we visit around sunset, taking in one of the free guided tours, and it was the best piece of travel advice we've ever had. Unfortunately it meant that instead of 300 photos we took 600 - not bad work for 4 hours.
Our guides took us through some of the history of the building, before asking us to remove our shoes and moving quietly into the main prayer hall. So as to not disturb the worshipers we wore headsets through which our guide jovially told us about the 7 Swarovski chandeliers (that his own Mum didn't believe him about until he brought her), the worlds largest hand-knotted carpet and the stunningly illuminated The 99 names (qualities or attributes) of God (Allah) featured on the Qibla wall in traditional Kufic calligraphy, designed by the prominent UAE calligrapher — Mohammed Mandi Al Tamimi.
The Mosque was a hushed, respectful place, but as the sun began to dip below the horizon, the Muezzin began a haunting adhan, a call to prayer, that stopped every person in their tracks. It sent a shiver down my spine (and the thought of it now still does.)
The unique lightning system was designed to reflect the phases of the moon. Soft undulating clouds of a bluish gray colour are projected onto the white marble external surfaces of the mosque including the façade and domes. Each day appears a little different from the next as the lighting cycle commences with darker clouds when the month is in its early stages and the moon is a small crescent.
As the moon progresses through its cycle and becomes full, so does the lightning effect become more brilliant. There are twenty-two light towers consisting of an efficient number of light projectors to achieve this creative effect. Credit
We hadn't thought it could get any more beautiful, but it did.
Unfortunately the lights dimming didn't stop the onslaught of tourist selfies, but what can you do? On our visit to Dubai this was the most beautiful building we saw. In fact, I'm going to call it and say it is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.