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Friday, November 19, 2010

Umayyad Mosque

Locations in old Damascus that are rich in history include the site of the Umayyad Mosque, previously the Church of St. John the Baptist and prior to that a Roman temple ... this spot has been considered sacred ground of 3000 years.  A visit now has several rules:  no shoes and a rather full cover-up for women.  If you forgot your burqa, there are extras conveniently available in a dressing room near the entrance.
While just plain stone walls on the outside, the beauty of the Umayyid Mosque is breathtakingly apparent starting with the vast inner courtyard.  The marble floor shimmers like a clean shallow pond while the colorful mosaics reminded me of the Church of St. Apollinaris in Ravenna, which seems appropriate since Apollinaris was a Syrian saint.

Inside there is an enormous open space covered in carpet whose design is a repeat of small prayer rug sections, all pointing toward Mecca. This space is  important for Orthodox and other Christians since contains a small chapel-like structure holding the head of John the Baptist.  
Peaking inside the "chapel" one sees a sacophagus drapped in green silk and lit with greenish lights.  Muslims also pray at this chapel and push money through a small opening.
In addition, in a room off of the center of the mosque, there is another small structure believed to contain either the remains of Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, or of Hussein, the son of Imam Ali, who was the son-in-law of Mohammed by the latter's daughter Fatima.  Observant Muslims also pray here as push money through a side opening.
The mosque also has a famous minaret called the Jesus Minaret and, according to Muslim belief, is the spot where Jesus is to appear on the Day of Judgment.

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