Two things triggered this blog. One the continuing Violence In Syria and Two the arrival of an Iranian friend to Bangalore. They took me back to the My travels in Middle East a year or so ago.
If you travel around Middle east, one question that you will keep encountering especially with travelers are their thoughts on the most impressive or beautiful mosque in the world. And since Mecca is incomparable, and not accessible to most travelers, the choice boils down to the following three
The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey
The LotfAllah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran
Ummaiyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria.
(Unfortunately, I have not uploaded the pictures Damascus yet)
Most people I met also rate it in the order I have mentioned above.
Blue mosque, inspired by Hagia Sophia, the masterpiece of Byzantine Architecture, which it stands opposite to in Istanbul is something else. You see a series of symmetrical layered domes, But most people come there not pray, but to have their photograph taken. I am not so fond of such places.
I have a special liking for Lotfallah Mosque in Isfahan, because Isfahan is probably the most beautiful big city in the world. Those lazy and lavish Tea Shops ( Iranians take their tea very seriously), Succulent Kebabs, and Fabulous Faloodas. I also have a fond memory of this mosque because the day I visited, a middle aged Flutist stood in the middle of the mosque and played the most haunting tune, and the music echoed in those beautifully painted mosaic tile walls like never I have heard before(It also ended dramatically, as music is not tolerated much in Iran, and he made a quick getaway as the Guards came looking.)
Damascus was the last city I visited (between Isfahan, Istanbul and Damascus) and there I found the mosque I think is the most fascinating and beautiful. You access this mosque via a large marketplace whose tin roofs have holes that were caused by French Aircraft fire, It leaves you with a eerie feeling as shafts of light come through it. At the end of the Market you see a Mosque, that does not look like a mosque, But once you leave your shoes behind go inside you can see the difference. It is beautiful not only because it has gold paintings of what paradise looks like for Islamic scholars, and the white courtyard and grand interiors, but because this is a living mosque. People still come to pray here. Children play in the courtyard as their parents sit and pray. I came to this mosque over and over again in my 7 day stay in Damascus, and felt completely at peace, despite the people. This place comes alive for Friday prayers, as you see an outpouring of faith like I’d never seen before.
If all the violence in Syria stops, make this the place to go when you are looking for a nice off the beaten path vacation and good food.