This Holy Month of Ramadan, join us on a journey from the far western reaches of MENA via the capital of Fars and on to European Russia as we tour five extraordinary mosques.
A mosque is the sacred place where Muslims come together for prayer. It also has been, and continues to be, a centre for education, information dissemination and the settlement of disputes. In many places, these religious sanctuaries also serve as city squares and the centres of social life.
Due to the significance of mosques’ purposes, construction techniques, architectural designs and strong conceptual meanings become indivisibly integrated and important.
Here, Trendesign highlights an eclectic combination of remarkable examples, from the ancient to the contemporary, the colossal to the modest and the liberally embellished to the innovatively constructed…
HASSAN II MOSQUE
The landmark Grande Mosqueé Hassan II, as it’s known locally, is built both on land and over sea. The huge complex stands as the largest mosque in Africa (with the tallest minaret is the world) and was only made possible through personal donations and pledges by businesses.
When his father King Mohammed V passed away in 1961, King Hassan II called on Morocco’s finest artisans to submit plans for a worthy mausoleum. It wasn’t until 1980 that King Hassan II made his ambitions to build this landmark monument clear, announcing at his birthday celebrations that he wished “Casablanca to be endowed with a large, fine building of which it can be proud of for all time”.
Construction began in 1986 and was completed in 1993. French architect Michel Pinseau, who had lived in Morocco, won the tenure for his design and was aided by civil engineering group, Bouygues. Estimates recall that 1,400 men worked on the construction by day and another 1,100 by night, with a total of 10,000 craftsmen involved in building and beautifying the monument.
At a cost of around JOD462.3 million, the expense of the endeavour (as well as subsequent repairs of JOD39.4 million in addition to upkeep) caused some controversy in the relatively poor Kingdom. It is estimated that 12 million people donated – from as little as a few dinars – to the construction, and all received a personalised certificate of contribution. Influxes also came from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as well as construction loans from Western countries.
The mosque is the seventh largest in the world, although King Hassan II had originally hoped it would only be eclipsed by the Masjid Al Haram in Mecca. It can accommodate 25,000 worshippers inside, with another 80,000 in the surrounding plazas outside.
The 22-acre site on Casablanca’s Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah Boulevard includes; a 20,000-square-metre Basilica-plan mosque (T-shaped and typical of North African designs); a two-storey 4,840-square-metre madrassa (Islamic school); a museum of Moroccan history; conference halls; an expansive library; and vast underground hammams (bathhouses). Other water features include 41 ornate fountains dispersed throughout the courtyard and lush gardens.
Water is highly significant to the design concept given that the mosque itself juts out over the Atlantic Ocean and offers fascinating underwater views. According to King Hassan II, this was envisioned “because God’s throne is on water.” “Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the creator on firm soil, can contemplate God’s sky and ocean,” he added in a statement. The mosque’s placement also ensures minimal noise pollution as well as a welcomed, cool sea breeze.
Elaborate and innovative construction techniques were employed to make the King’s dream a reality: a platform linking a natural rock outcrop reclaimed from the sea was built as a foundation; an 800-metre temporary pier constructed; and an enormous breakwaters set to protect the mosque from waves, which can reach up to 10-metres.
The entire complex’s decoration is respectful of traditional Moroccan design and melds Moorish and Roman influences. Exteriors are ornamented with polished marble and geometric-floral Zellige (terra cotta covered with enamel) tile work in a vivid emerald as well as titanium, bronze and granite embellishments.
Inside, the central prayer hall is a space so vast that it could accommodate the Notre Dame of Paris. Its ceiling is punctuated by a succession of domes, undulating in a form that is reminiscent of the ocean to which its glass floors and windows open out. The interior’s striking murqanas (ornamented ceiling vaults), grand stone floors, beautiful mosaics, sculpted plaster mouldings and ornately carved and painted wood ceilings are sights to behold.
The mosque structure is composed of reinforced concrete and all materials that could be sourced locally were – the granite from Tafaroute, marble from Agadir and cedar wood from the Atlas Mountains. Bare minimum imports include: Italian granite for the columns and spectacular Murano glass chandeliers.
The cast-aluminium tiled roof is retractable – allowing worship under moon and stars – and its 210-metre-high minaret is fitted with a laser that casts a 30-kilometre beam of light out across the sea towards Mecca. Furthermore, construction of the minaret, the tallest religious structure in the world, even lead to the development of B.H.P, a high resistant concrete four times stronger than any used before. When listing iconic and architecturally rich mosques, it truly is hard to look past the monumental scale of this modern marvel.
YESIL VADI MOSQUE
The Yesil Vadi Mosque design was devised to emphasise its principal function and present the possibility as well as merits of a contemporary-styled centre of worship. “Bearing in mind all of the traditional, spatial and semantic criteria, this mosque takes the concept of communal memory to heart,” states Adnan Kazmaogly the principal architect and founder of his eponymous MAM Architectural Research Center.
Standing in central Istanbul, the mosque was completed in 2012. Its central 25-metre-diametre half-hemisphere, or exaggerated dome, was envisaged to represent “The Great Beyond (Allah)”. The secondary, smaller and intersecting half-hemisphere represents “The World (The Prophet of God, Mohammed)”.
The seamless spatial effect of a hemisphere shape was chosen to identify with ideas of infinite existence, of the universe and, most notably, of unity. “Unity of existence constitutes the essence of Islamic thinking. Unity can denote a combination of all the parts, elements and individuals into an effective whole,” explains Kazmaogly in relation to his concept. Two-dimensional spheres: circles are also extensively seen throughout the design. Subtractions into these forms serve as gateways to the social complex’s different zones as well as hollows that house functional areas. These include: a 350-person prayer hall, 250-person meeting hall, library, social activity units, courtyard and meeting square.
The main structure occupies only half the site and is bordered by a shallow triangular pool (unfilled in photography) and a thin water channel. These bodies of water throw a reflection that wondrously unites the real and reflected hemispheres into a sphere. The placement of the complex and pool also isolates them, both functionally and symbolically, from the bustling city environment that surrounds the site. In the courtyard, another statement water feature flows. It was designed to be symbolic of life and complementary to adjoining marble pavers that are reminiscent of stability and death. This space also displays a concrete console stele structure, engraved with the first chapter of the Qur’an, between two musalla stones (spaces outside of the mosque for praying).
The mosque’s minaret provides a visual focal point and instant identifier from afar. It is detached from the main structure and sized according to the golden ratio – the proportional ratio believed by the likes of Le Corbusier and other influential 20th century architects to be aesthetically superior. The minaret’s form seeks to symbolise the fact that it is a “religious communication antenna” and also the spiritual rise or ascension. A paraboloid affixed to a cylinder, the minaret also features smaller cylindrical tubes, which form its gallery (from where the call to prayer may be given), cap and crescent. These tubes illuminate the minaret with the help of fibre optic lighting elements fitted at both ends, while the cap conceals another modern-day addition: a speaker system that amplifies the call to prayer.
Eleven windows by the circular opening between the two half-hemispheres channel light into the central interior. Luminescence also passes through ornately engraved lattices of prayers in beautiful Kufic calligraphy. Additional steeped windows provide extra natural light during the daylight hours.
The mihrab (wall niche indicating the direction of the Kabaa in Mecca) has been created by indenting shell-like pieces of wall and is bathed in light by rear and overhead windows. It is emphasised with engraved symmetric calligraphy reading “Bismala”, a noun representative of the phrase, “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful”.
The primary material used for the interior of Yesil Vadi Mosque is white Marmara marble. It was chosen to express purity and contrasts pleasantly with the olive-leaf hues of the floor carpets. The minbar (a pulpit in the mosque where the imam stands to deliver sermons) is made of clear glass and crystal marble. Another marble feature, the clock above the mihrab, features calligraphy of the phrase, “Mashallah” (“God has willed it”), and links back to the design concept of infinity. The interiors are embellished with gold leaf, an element chosen for its associations with endurance. Eye-catching examples include masses of golden “waw” letters (the Arabic conjunction for “and”) as well as “wallah” (“by Allah”), which cascade down the dome interior. Other metals, namely stainless steel, are extensively used and bring an atmosphere of modernity and evoke confidence and strength. In addition to the pre-eminent seventh century Kufic calligraphy, Taliq script, which originated in Iran in the 10th century, is employed in the meeting hall.
According to Kazmaogly, “Ottoman mosques have a technical balance that highlights a hint of heavenly transcendence.” His ambitiously futuristic and refreshingly modern design is by no means an exception.
The iconic twisted tower, the Malwiya (“snail shell”) Minaret, of the Great Mosque of Samarra continues to stand after a millennium. Located on the banks of the Tigris River outside Samarra in Iraq, it was commissioned by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil in 848 and completed in 851. The lover of architecture relocated from Baghdad, 120km south, to avoid conflict and threw himself into developing the medieval Abbasid capital by creating monuments of renown including 20 grand palaces and this marvel, the largest mosque in the entire world.
Originally, the brick congregational mosque occupied 42 acres, with a main building of 83,000-square-metres. The mosque included 17 aisles and its walls were believed to have been adorned with stunning mosaics made of dark blue glass. Stucco carvings in floral and Islamic geometric designs were added as interior embellishments.
Outside of this centre of worship, an arcade surrounded its courtyard, which was oriented towards Mecca. A 10-metre-high brick wall served as the outer-perimeter of the rectangular mosque, and the faithful could enter through 16 gates, framed with arched windows. Forty-four semi-circular towers, including four main corner structures, and were linked by a frieze of bevelled cuboid niches dotting the walls.
The Great Mosque remained unrivalled until its destruction 400 years later at the hands of Hulagu Khan. The 52-metre-high minaret and crumbling sections of the outer wall are all that the Mongolian conqueror left undamaged. Situated almost 30 metres to the north of where the mosque once stood, remains the 52-metre-high Malwiya Minaret, a unique conical tower reminiscent of the ancient ziggurat temples of Mesopotamia. This imposing sandstone structure measures 33-metres at its base. At its top, it hosts a round vestibule, featuring eight-pointed niches.
In 2005, destruction besieged the site once more, degrading the minaret’s top and parts of the spiral ramp. According to some accounts, insurgents bombed the tower, targeting US troops who had been using it as a lookout. Others, including that of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his Iraq Inquiry testimony, claim that the attack was carried out to incite Sunni-Shiite violence and further destabilise Iraq – which, looking at recent turns in events, would seem to have come to fruition.
Though this marvellous mosque fell into disuse in the 11th century, a trickle of defying patrons continue to follow the spiralling path up to enjoy the view today, just as caliph Al-Mutawakkil once did, famously astride his white donkey.
NASIR AL-MULK MOSQUE
Though small in comparison to the other houses of worship listed, this historic mosque is known world-over for the kaleidoscopic light emitted through its windows onto its splendid colonnaded aisles.
Also known as the Rainbow Mosque, Shiraz’s Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque was built between 1876 and 1888. It was commissioned by Mirzar Hasan-Ali-Khan Nassir Al-Mulk, a lord of the Qajar Dynasty.
The mosque was designed by Muhammad Hasan-e-Memar and Muhammad Reza Kashi Paz-e-Shirazi and the structure has endured many earthquakes, due in part to its construction using flexible wood as struts within the walls. Today it is under the protection of the Nasir Al-Mulk’s Endowment Foundation, which has undertaken extensive restorations.
From the outside, the mosque on Goade-e-Araban place appears humble and insignificant, however in the hours of early to mid-morning it offers visitors a chance to witness something truly spectacular.
The complex entrance leads to a modest central courtyard with a rectangular ornamental pool, which reflects the murqanas of the traditional panj kaseh-i (five iwans or rectangular vaulted halls) layout. The hosseinieh (a congregation hall for Shia commemoration ceremonies) stands in the eastern corner and also houses a small museum, with a gavchah (a cow well) adjoining it, while a madrassa occupies the northern-most corner.
A shabestan, or winter prayer hall, lies in the western corner and it is here that light shines through the mosque’s breathtaking stained-glass façade, beaming vibrant hues onto 12 spiral-carved stone pillars and the silk Persian rugs that carpet the floor.
The brick walls of the Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque’s interior also catch this captivating luminescence. These are predominantly dusty pink in colour, which has lead to the coining of its other common name, the Pink Mosque. Hand-painted tiles decorating the rear and side walls exhibit meticulously hand-painted designs punctuated by an unusually deep shade of blue and include calligraphy of Shia religious texts illustrated in plaques.
Luminescence is brilliantly cast across the mosque’s floor and its 12 spiral-carved columns
Above the spectacular polychrome light show are successions of arches with entrancing geometric and floral detailing, which also adorn murqanas-like dome recesses. These ceilings were inspired by the grand 15th century Shah Mosque in Isfahan, which was the capital of Persia at that time and remains an architecturally iconic city. Nevertheless, a journey south to experience Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque does not disappoint.
QOL SHARIF MOSQUE
Located in the Kazan Kremlin, Qol Sharif Mosque was Russia’s largest mosque when it was constructed and today, in its second incarnation, serves as a symbol of religious tolerance.
Built in the 16th century, the original mosque was named in tribute to Seid Qol Sharif, a heroic Tartar imam, poet and diplomat. He died defending Kazan when Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible conquered it in 1552 and Russian Orthodox Christianity became the official religion. Qol Sharif Mosque is believed to have been of a traditional Volga Bavarian design but also influenced by Renaissance and Ottoman architecture. Some scholars claim that its form made a significant impression and that similarities can be seen in the design of the famous Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.
The new Qol Sharif mosque flourishes in a more peaceful time, standing opposite the Orthodox Blagoveshchensk Cathedral. Inaugurated in 2005 and supported by donations from many countries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the architecture of the new 6,000-worshiper mosque is decisively modern.
Designed by architects Mikhail Safronov, Ayvar Sattarov and Shamil Latypov, and constructed from monolithic ferro-concrete, the elegant white-and-blue mosque spans across four levels. The lower stilobate-podium houses a museum on the history of Islam in Tatarstan. The first floor is for male worshipers, while women pray on the second. Above the prayer areas lies an observational mezzanine for other visitors. This complex also includes two pavilions, a library, a publishing house, an Imam’s office and ornamental pools.
Fifty-five-metre tall minarets at its four corners, two additional smaller-towers linked via bridges to the stone central dome, and another captivating lotus-shaped dome define the design of the mosque. The towering structure employs unmistakable Russian influences in a colour scheme of pure white and vibrant turquoise with gilded finishing touches. Marble with latticework detailing at the two main basement entrances and richly stained wooden architraves work to enrich the aesthetics. Inside, the mosque’s walls feature inscriptions of verses from the Qur’an, lit through commandingly tall arched windows. There are also wood engravings, leather patchwork, embroidery and other types of ornamental and artistic decoration that draw from the rich tradition of arts and crafts of the Tatar people.
Dedicated to the “Millennium of Kazan” as well as its namesake martyr, the mosque has been envisioned to serve as a cornerstone of Kazan’s architectural landscape.
Photography: Engin Gercek, Elle Murrell and Courtesy of Corbis