It’s Abu Dhabi’s star attraction, attracting millions each year, yet despite the footfall, there’s a wonderful air of calm that surrounds the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
The UAE’s largest and most ornate place of worship doesn’t disappoint and with visitors traveling from around the globe to bask in the opulence, it’s no surprise a staggering 3.4 million tourists came to experience it in 2017.
In the same year, it was ranked as the world’s second-favorite landmark according to TripAdvisor — surpassing other world stunners such as St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and the Taj Mahal in India — with Angkor Wat in Cambodia beating it to the top spot.
Work on Abu Dhabi’s beacon of splendor started in 1996 and took 12 years to complete at the reported cost of around $545 million. Now the third-largest mosque in the world at 22,412 square meters, it covers an area equivalent to nearly four football fields.
It holds more than 40,000 worshipers and has three Guinness World Records, for largest handwoven carpet and the biggest chandelier, as well as the largest dome of its kind in the world.
Spiritual significance and endless superlatives come together under 82 white marble domes, 1,096 exterior columns, 96 semi-precious jewel-encrusted internal columns and seven 24-carat gold plated Swarovski crystal chandeliers, making it the jaw-dropping centerpiece of the city’s cultural legacy.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque takes its name from the UAE’s first president and the ruler of Abu Dhabi, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who conceived the idea.
He took architectural direction of the project with his wish for it to be his final resting place. After his death in 2004, his body was buried in the mosque’s courtyard.
The spectacular monument, which was inspired by Persian, Mughal and Moorish architecture, was a truly international collaboration of more than 3,000 artisans from 38 global construction companies.
Arguably the real opulence is in the tiny details, such as precious stones like amethyst and jasper embedded into the columns and the intricate floral patterns in mother-of-pearl radiating across the the walls.