Travel to Damascus in Syria and you will be confronted by a true symbol of this ancient region with the equally ancient and spiritually important Umayyad Mosque. This magnificent structure was built in 705 AD by the Umayyad Caliph al-Walid ibn Abdul Malek. This important religious symbol was built at the height of the Arab Umayyad Empire to rival the great Islamic mosques of Mecca and Medina. Originating from northern Arabia, the Umayyad Empire brought to Damascus a cultural revolution setting in place new religious and social rules. The conversion to Islam by the majority of the population saw the cities inhabitants conforming to the teachings of the Quran. A succession of Umayyad rulers developed the cultural and administrative centers of the new Islamic capital. The peak of this development was the construction of a great Mosque to centre prominently in newly occupied Umayyad Damascus.

The Umayyad Damascus Mosque was constructed on a site with a long history of religious worship. The ancient Syrians first used the site as a temple for the Aramean god, Hadad. Following the expansion of the Roman Empire, the new occupants of the region utilized the site building a temple in honor of Jupiter. A period of Christian and then Islamic domination in the region finally led to the decision to establish a grand Mosque to act as a beacon of success of the Umayyad Empire. It is believed that the Mosque was built in negotiation with the Christian population who were promised their own church in commemoration of St Paul in return for the exclusive right of Muslim worship at the proposed Umayyad Damascus religious site.

The Umayyad Mosque is adorned by golden mosaics and features three original tall minarets. The Mosque contains a large prayer hall and is set around a grand courtyard. Most interestingly, especially for those history buffs, the Umayyad Mosque houses the resting place of perhaps the most famous Arab leader ever, Saladin. This masterful tactician thwarted Christian attempts to regain control of Jerusalem during the third crusade under the leadership of the legendary English King, Richard the Lion Heart. A simple red domed Mausoleum built in 1193 at the end of a pleasant garden, houses one of history’s most revered figures. Sitting at the southern end of the Umayyad Damascus Mosque is the splendid Azem Palace with its inviting courtyards full of colorful flowers and palatial fountains. The courtyard offers a perfect place to take a rest from the oppressive heat of the afternoon. Next to Saladin’s tomb stands a school. Believed to have been built in the 12th century, visitors can view the intricate decorations of inscriptions and lettering. The school now houses an Arabic calligraphy museum.

Damascus Syria gives tourists a great informative vacation and allows visitors to explore Islamic religion and culture. Religious tourism to Damascus is popular and many come simply to see the magnificence of the Umayyad Mosque, which reflects the success of the Arab Umayyad Empire so well. The superb example of Umayyad architecture will no doubt feature on any organized tour of Damascus sightseeing destinations and the mosque will be well served by all year round tourist numbers. When visiting the site considerations and sensitivity should be strictly adhered to because of its religious function. Respect should be made by avoiding certain liberal western customs, particularly surrounding women. Women and men should be dressed conservatively when visiting any religious site and public displays of affection should be discouraged. Your tour guide will advise you of Islamic customs and any important considerations you need to be aware of when visiting this historic site in advance.

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