Mosques are a prevalent form of religious architecture throughout the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. While many of these structures date back more than 1,000 years, there are also some newer mosques that demonstrate impressive craftsmanship. Here are a five of the most beautiful mosques in the MENA region:
Great Mosque of Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the Great Mosque of Mecca goes by many names. Among these are the Holy Mosque, the Haram Mosque, and the Al Masjid al-Haram.
The Great Mosque of Mecca surrounds the most sacred shrine in the Islamic religion, the Ka’bah. It is this holy place that Muslims direct their prayers to when they pray towards Mecca. The Ka’bah also serves as the focal point for the millions of Islamic pilgrims who visit the Great Mosque of Mecca each year to participate in the holy ritual of circling the cube-shaped structure, which sits in the mosque’s central courtyard.
The first Muslim structure on this site was erected in the 7th century. Since then, the mosque has undergone many renovations, including extensive additions in the 1500s. The most recent refurbishment outfitted the mosque with escalators and expanded its area to almost 4 million square feet. As a result, the Great Mosque of Mecca can now accommodate more than 800,000 visitors at a time.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, UAE
A more recently built structure is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Workers began construction in 1996 and completed the project in two phases, finishing in 2007. The third-largest mosque in the world, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was intentionally lifted high above sea and street level so that it would be visible from a far distance. Upon its completion, the first event the mosque hosted was the funeral for Sheikh Zayed, who is buried there.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which can hold 40,000 visitors, is home to one of the world’s biggest chandeliers, which weighs more than 2,400 pounds and stretches 32 feet wide. Other dramatic features at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque include six additional gold-plated chandeliers, over 80 domes, a multitude of columns, and an enormous hand-knotted rug.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Oman
Oman’s capital city of Muscat is home to the 4 million-square-foot Sultan Qaboos Mosque. Combining artistic traditions from several Islamic eras, the mosque was finished in 2001.
Four minarets, each over 140 feet tall, mark the corners of the rectangular structure. The prayer hall, which can hold more than 6,500 worshippers, is covered by a 111-foot dome embellished with a Swarovski crystal chandelier.
In addition to the prayer hall, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque features a library with 20,000 volumes and an Institute of Islamic Sciences. It also boasts a conference hall with a 300-person capacity.
Hassan II Mosque, Morocco
Perched on an ocean-side cliff, the Hassan II Mosque is an icon for the Moroccan city of Casablanca. It was built in 1993 to commemorate the birthday of King Hassan II, who ruled until his death in 1999.
Visitors to the mosque can appreciate the wide variety of Moroccan artisanship on display. Not only does the building boast an abundance of hand-carved wood and stone, but it also features intricately patterned marble floors and inlay, gilded ceilings, and colorful ceramic tiles.
The mosque has a variety of unusual design elements, including a retractable ceiling that acts as a sunroof and a glass floor in the mosque’s basement through which one can see the ocean and rock cliffs below. In addition, the floor of the prayer hall, which can accommodate up to 25,000 believers, is heated.
Hassan II Mosque is home to the world’s tallest minaret. At 689 feet high, this structure is also the tallest building in the country.
Al-Saleh Mosque, Yemen
The Al-Saleh Mosque is the largest and most modern mosque in Yemen’s of capital city of Sana’a. Named for former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah, the facility can hold nearly 45,000 worshippers in the main prayer hall. The mosque complex also includes a separate women’s prayer room with space for an additional 2,000 worshippers, as well as an Islamic Science College.
Completed in 2008, the Al Saleh Mosque took about eight years to build and cost more than $60 million. The mosque’s design features include six minarets, each more than 300 feet tall, more than 20 domes, and multiple crystal chandeliers. As a testament to the mosque’s importance, it is featured on the nation’s currency.
Al Fateh Mosque, Bahrain
Al Fateh Mosque can hold 7,000 people at a time. Although it is small compared to some of the region’s grander mosques, it is still one of the world’s largest mosques.
Located in the capital city of Manama, Al Fateh Mosque was completed in 1987. It features many luxurious construction materials, including Indian teak wood, Austrian crystal, and Italian marble. Weighing more than 130,000 pounds, the fiberglass dome topping the mosque is the largest of its kind in the world.
In 2006, the country’s national library was added to the mosque complex. Many of the books in the 7,000-volume collection are more than 100 years old.