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Bashar al-Assad’s Forces Attack Syria’s Famous 12th-Century Umayyad Mosque, Destroy Minaret

Aleppo-based activist Mohammed al-Khatib said a Syrian army tank fired a shell that “totally destroyed” the minaret.

It was completely deliberate.

Standing inside the mosque’s courtyard, a man who appears to be a rebel fighter says regime forces recently fired seven shells at the minaret, but failed to bring it down. He said that on Wednesday the shells hit their target.

“We were standing here today and suddenly shells started hitting the minaret. They [the army] then tried to storm the mosque but we pushed them back,” the man says.

There were handwritten Qur’anic manuscripts which the Free Syrian Army managed to salvage.

This is considered the fourth holiest place in Islam, and where Muslims believe Jesus/Isa (A.S.) will return when he descends back to earth near the end of time. Also, the tomb of the great Muslim leader Saladin is nearby. 

It was the second time in just over a week that a historic Sunni mosque in Syria has been seriously damaged by Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Last week the minaret of the historic Omari Mosque was destroyed. The Daraa mosque was built during the Islamic conquest of Syria in the days of Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab in the seventh century.

Bashar al-Assad - with the help of Russia, Hezb*llah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards - knows no bounds. 

I’m absolutely fuming that I’m finding it hard to type. 

BBC / Guardian

See also:

[Trigger warning] Rape carried about by Bashar al-Assad’s death squads, use of mice and rats

Airstrike carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s forces on a mosque in the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria [extremely graphic]

Bashar al-Assad’s soldiers torture Muslim-Syrian man and force him to call the dictator his God

The mosque also holds the tomb of St. John the Baptist.

Greater attention and urgency must be applied to the people of Syria.

Great Mosque at Damascus, Syria. 705-715. Constructed under Umayyad Caliph al Walid.

Though damaged by fire in 1863, the mosque remains characteristically Umayyad. As with the Dome of the Rock, the building is beautifully decorated, with the lower half covered in marble plaque and the top tier in full mosaic. The mosaics of the mosque are of large landscapes. Houses and pavilions divided by tall trees near a flowing river portray a heavenly scene. Aniconism is evident in the absence of people and animal representations.

[Great Mosque: overview]

Great Mosque at Damascus, Syria. 705-715. Constructed under the Umayyad Caliph al Walid.

What is now the Great Mosque was originally a Roman Temple, then converted to a church by Byzantines. Al Walid remastered the church plan, resulting in a somewhat unusual mosque style.

Deconstructing the church opened a courtyard, while the original enclosure walls were maintained. A prayer hall was constructed against the wall facing Mecca, it’s southern wall, making the qibla. The church’s facade was inverted to face the court, setting a trend for courtyard mosques in the future. The prayer hall is composed of three aisles, divided by thick stone columns salvaged from past architecture. Under the wooden dome and unique gable lies a screened space for ceremonies called a maqsura. The maqsura includes the minbar, a stepped platform where the imam or caliph lead prayers.

Click here for a 3D digital tour, check it out!

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel. 692. Constructed under Umayyad Caliph Abd al Malik.

Drawings and diagrams.

[Dome of the Rock: overview]

[Dome of the Rock: interior]

Dome of the Rock. Jerusalem, Israel. 692. Constructed under the Umayyad Caliph Abd al Malik.

The interior mosaic decorations have remained since the 7th century, as opposed to the building’s facade. In the 16th century the exterior mosaic was replaced with magnificent tile, then again in the 20th century.

These decorations feature crowns, jewels, jeweled vases, trophies, non-terrestrial trees, and honorifics (crowns of defeated/converted rulers).

The motifs avoid figural representations, solely utilizing Quranic verses to convey religious narrative, unlike early Christian architecture that displayed dogma through figures of Christ. Islam’s preference for aniconism hardens and slacks throughout its history.

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel. 692. Constructed under Umayyad Caliph Abd al Malik.

The Dome of the Rock is considered to be the first monumental architecture of Islam. Older Islamic works do exist from the al Rashidun Caliphate; however, these were not as large scale, used columns from past buildings, and incorporated less rhetoric. The Dome of the Rock is heavily influenced by late antiquity and Byzantium, but makes a significant effort to stand out. It purposefully creates presence in an area populated with prominent Jewish and Christian architecture.

Oleg Grabar treats the architectural designs, inscriptions, and jewel decor separately (though there is overlap), and considers the importance of location. Here’s a breakdown;

  • Architecture

The Dome of the Rock uses a central plan’s Martyrium or Ciborium, like that of Santa Costanza, Rome ca. 350. The Dome of the Rock’s formal difference is that you cannot step past the columns into its center and cannot see up the dome because of its raised drum, which creates a column of undisturbed light onto the rock.

  • Mosaics

Interior walls feature crowns, jewels, jeweled vases, trophies, non-terrestrial trees, and honorifics (crowns of defeated/converted rulers).

  • Inscriptions

The calligraphic form is Kufic. Quranic statements differentiate. Some are sympathetic to Christianity, praising Jesus, but assert one God.

  • Location

Ancient site of Solomon’s Temple & Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. The Dome of the Rock asserts Islam’s connections to Judaism and Christianity through the tradition of Abraham. The inscriptions state Islam’s difference by declaring that Jesus is indeed the son of Mary, but is only considered a prophet (Quran 19:35-37).

Mt. Moria and the Rock is significant to the Islamic tradition because it was previously believed to be the site of Isra and Mi’raj, Muhammad’s night journey. Their significance to the Jewish tradition includes: the Omphalos of Earth, the Tomb of Adam, and Abraham’s sacrifice.

Finally, the placement of the Dome of the Rock was meant to counter the Holy Sepulchre in presence and rhetoric.

The two engineers Yazid ibn Salam, a Jerusalemite, and Raja’ ibn Hayweh, from Baysan, were ordered to spend generously on the construction. In his Book of the Geography, Al-Muqaddasi reported that seven times the revenue of Egypt was used to build the Dome. During a discussion with his uncle on why the Caliph spent lavishly on building the mosques in Jerusalem and Damascus, al-Maqdisi writes:

O, my little son, thou hast no understanding. Verily he was right, and he was prompted to a worthy work. For he beheld Syria to be a country that had long been occupied by the Christians, and he noted there are beautiful churches still belonging to them, so enchantingly fair, and so renowned for their splendour, as are the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the churches of Lydda and Edessa. So he sought to build for the Muslims a mosque that should be unique and a wonder to the world. And in like manner is it not evident that Caliph Abd al-Malik, seeing the greatness of the martyrium of the Holy Sepulchre and its magnificence was moved lest it should dazzle the minds of Muslims and hence erected above the Rock the dome which is now seen there. [x]

I initially envisioned this blog as a platform for publishing and sharing my notes on Islamic Art and Architecture. “Islamic” art is long and expansive, so I hoped to create timelines and posts drawing comparisons on  overlapping aesthetics from Quranic manuscripts to architecture, to royal courts.

But I’m a sucker for art in general and steered off course quickly.

I follow other art and art history blogs to see what they’re doing, since, compared to virtually every other field, art history lacks an online presence (in topic diversity and voice, ranging from academics to enthusiasts). I admire blogs that are consistent and organized in their commitment to their objective.

That’s what I plan to do, first by creating a page for tags. Posts are tagged accurately, but viewers should know what to search and which tags receive most attention.

I’d like to share my notes like I did with my course readings. Unfortunately, creating neat documents combining images, diagrams, and text is not so easy on Google Drive. That, or I’m inept. Instead, I’ll break down lessons into groups of posts on the same topic and tag them accordingly.

I’m not an organized person by any stretch of the word, so this will be a process :) Stay tuned.


Sexy Papyri Vol. II: The Sonja Edition

These are some of my personal favourites. Respectively, these are:

  1. the Westcar Papyrus, a papyrus which contains five stories, or ‘fairy tales’ from the court of king Khufu (Cheops). Image courtesy of the Ägyptisches Museum in Berlin.
  2. the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, a mathematical ‘text book’ from the Second Intermediate Period. It has 84 problems and includes divisions, multiplications, fractions, geometry and more. Image courtesy of the British Museum.
  3. the Papyrus Ebers, a medical papyrus which contains 877 (!) pharmaceutical recipes and medicinal cures for various afflictions, ranging from simple to extremely complicated. Image courtesy of Leipzig Universität.
  4. the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, another medical papyrus that deals with actual surgery - i.e., how to set a dislocated jaw. Image courtesy of New York Academy of Medicine.

Now these are all pretty well-known papyri, so they’re not actually being kept behind doors because they’re not interesting enough for the general public, but they are my absolute favourites - and just look at that sexy, sexy handwriting. Rawr.


Anglo-Saxon brooch found in Kent, England, dates to about 600-700.

The ornate and colourful decoration on this brooch consists of cloisons (cells) inlaid with garnets and blue glass paste. The front is further enriched with filigree wires. The garnets themselves were possibly obtained by sea trade from India.

A brooch like this is an elaborate form of safety pin, with the pin hidden on the back of a decorative disk. Women who could afford it would wear such a brooch to close a cloak or veil over their chest. This brooch was found at the Kings Field, Faversham, Kent. This anglo-saxon cemetery is famous for the large number of extremely rich grave finds uncovered during the construction of a railway in the nineteenth century. (x)

Courtesy & currently located at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Photo taken by Johnbod.


Baroque melting away. An amazing transformation.


Melting wax candle replica of Giambologna’s 16th-century sculpture: The Rape of the Sabine Women by Urs Fischer