The Umayyad Mosque
Quoted from W. Durant: "The Age of Faith" by Simon and Shuster; New York; 1950; pages 230-231:
Damascus... Five converging streams made its hinterland the "Garden of the Earth," fed a hundred public fountains, a hundred public baths, and 120,000 gardens, and flowed out westward into a "Valley of Violets" twelve miles long and three miles wide.
"Damascus," said Idrisi, "is the most delightful of all God's cities." In the heart of the town, amid a population of some 140,000 souls, rose the palace of the caliphs, built by Muawiya I, gaudy with gold and marble, brilliant with mosaics in floors and walls, cool with ever-flowing fountain and cascades.
On the north side stood the Great Mosque, one of 572 mosques in the city, and the sole surviving relic of Umayyad Damascus. In Roman days a temple of Jupiter had adorned the site; on its ruins Theodosius I had built (379) the cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Walid I, about 705, proposed to the Christians that the cathedral should be remodelled and form part of a new mosque, and promised to give them ground and materials for another cathedral anywhere else in the city.
The whole land tax of the [Umayyad Caliphate], we are told, was devoted for seven years to the construction of the mosque; in addition a large sum was given to the Christians to finance a new cathedral. Artists and artisans were brought in from India, Persia, Constantinople, Egypt, Libya, Tunis, and Algeria; all together I 2,000 workmen were employed, and the task was completed in eight years. Muslim travellers unanimously describe it as the most magnificent structure in Islam; and the Abbassid caliphs al-Madi and al-Mamun-no lovers of the Umayyads or Damascus-ranked it above all other buildings on the earth. A great battlemented wall, with interior colonnades, enclosed a spacious marble-paved court.
On the south side of this enclosure rose the mosque, built of squared stones and guarded by three minarets-one of which is the oldest in Islam. The roof and dome-fifty feet in diameter-were covered with plates of lead. The interior, 429 feet long, was divided into nave and aisles by two tiers of white marble columns, from whose gold-plated Corinthian capitals sprang round or horseshoe arches, the first Muslim examples of this latter form. The mosaic floor was covered with carpets; the walls were faced with coloured marble mosaics and enamelled tiles; six beautiful grilles of marble divided the interior. In one wall, facing Mecca, was a mihrab lined with gold, silver, and precious stones. Lighting was effected through seventy- four windows of coloured glass, and 12,000 lamps. "If," said a traveller, "a man were to sojourn here a hundred years, and pondered each day on what he saw, he would see something new every day." A Greek ambassador, allowed to enter it, confessed to his associates: "I had told our Senate that the power of the Arabs would soon pass away; but now, seeing here how they have built, I know that of a surety their dominion will endure great length of days".
The Great Mosque of Damascus suffered by fire in 1069, was restored, was burnt almost to the ground by Timur in 1400, was rebuilt, and was severely injured by fire in 1894; since then plaster and whitewash have replaced the medieval decoration.
by: Quoted from W. Durant, Sat 20 July, 2002