The Taj Mahal of today – The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi may be the capital and the richest of the Emirates, but it has been slow in attracting the tourism interest or even the business savvy of its close neighbour Dubai. It is trying to catch up now, and with a Guggenheim and Louvre on the way amongst other ambitious projects, I hope it does fill in the big culture bubble that is leaving those of us who are not mall crazy a bit wanting and bored. For now, other than being tourist unfriendly and backpacker hostile, it adds little to a trip here. We could have easily missed it, if not for wanting to set our eyes on just one of its opulent gems.
Our taste for modern mosque delicacy had been wet in Muscat, where we spent an embarrassingly long time staring at… a chandelier. And when we learned that the same German company had made another one for the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and we could walk on the biggest carpet in the world, we knew we had to go.
The mosque is of impressive size and if you are passing by on any of the roads around, you cannot miss its gleaming snow white occupation of five football fields of land. We approached slowly from the bus stop, walked around to a small gate and entered into the gardens around it. Not a person in sight, as is often the benefit in not arriving via the main entrance.
One may be excused in erroneously assuming the whiteness was achieved by a paint. The enormous structure is flawlessly brilliant white all over. The translucent nature of the Taj Mahal marble is nowhere to be found in its Macedonian counterpart, which covers the whole external structure of the mosque. Yes, this is marble, people. All of it.
Artisans and materials from all over the world and half a billion dollars have made this place possible. Precious stones inlaid in marble from different corners of the world, plenty of gold, state of the art lighting, thousands of Swarovski crystals, Arabic calligraphers from Syria, Jordan and the UAE contributed their skill for this beautiful building and this is just the beginning. The list goes on and on and on. And very little of it matters if the result is just a loud manifestation of extraordinary wealth.Is it?
Covered in my black abaya, I shimmied around the place in awe. And when my bare feet settled perfectly on that lush Persian carpet, all 35 tons of it, lining the floor of the main prayer hall… I was gone, completely won by what was in front of me. We walked every corner of the hall, while the children discovered that the world’s biggest carpet is a rather fun surface to play on. Every corner, every view, every surface I looked at was perfect and an example of what we can do when money is not of concern even today. It required wealth and yet, it showed that which is priceless in each and every one of us.
This is, hands down, my modern Taj Mahal, standing proudly on its own two feet without being propped up by legends and love stories. I will leave you with some pictures so you can make your own judgements, because my objectivity melted somewhere along the way.