Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Going to Mecca and Madina | Architectural take

What I liked the most about both places is the well preserved layers of history.
In the Nabawi Mosque which as I mentioned before lays the grave of the Prophet Mohammed PBUH you can distinguish between the first renovation and expansion works done in early Islamic times [Umayyad –not sure]… and between the latest done by the Saudis…
The amount of work done is amazing. The tiles, the ceiling, the arches are very interesting and well done. The air conditioning system is great. I’ve been told that it’s one of the biggest efficiently air conditioned projects ever. In any case it is really a great job well done.
The Islamic patterns used everywhere is beautifully done and adds a lot to the presence of the place.
One of my favorite architectural features in the Nabawi Mosque is the opening wooden domes. On the grid of the arches you have squares covered with wooden elegantly carved domes. These domes after the early Sunrise Prayer slides open allowing the people to see the sky above and feel the chilling early morning breeze. The sliding movement happens in a beautiful pace almost silently giving an ordinary mechanical action a deep mystic feeling.

As for the Meccan mosque where in the middle sits the Kaaba is another story. Mecca compared to Madina is much hotter. The mosque is not air conditioned as the Nabawi mosque but that’s due to many reasons… first the Kaaba is situated under the sky with no ceiling and around it there is an open yard where people go around in circles… surrounding the yard is the mosque which is again has been built and renovated couple of times and you can easily trace the process and stages of expansion and renovation.
The mosque is built on a system of columns and arches open to the yard with no walls thus fans hanging from the ceiling is what is used rather than air conditioning units. But as the mosque gets away from the Kaaba and becomes more closed normal units are used and the temperature drops down.
Of course this is a compromise people have to make… either be in a cool area or in an area where they can see Kaaba…
The yard itself though open is conditioned since the tiles of the ground are actually cold… I don’t know how… but is just amazing.

The sizes of the two mosques are great… and the efforts done to preserve and maintain both must be as great.

One negative point I had about both mosques was the urban fabric around. The Saudi government has allowed many hotels and high rise buildings to be constructed at a very near distance which I felt killed the view for the two mosques. I remember getting annoyed when I was praying at the upper level in the Meccan Mosque and I was looking at one of the minarets and just behind it there was this huge tower under construction way taller than it… and I felt it deprived the mosque some of its holiness…

If it was my call I would leave a huge yard and space around the mosques just to respect it and only allow pedestrian movement around. Walking to the mosque is in itself an act of worship so I don’t see a problem in letting people walk a longer distance and respecting the view and the presence of the greatest two mosques in the Islamic culture.

:: related
Going to Mecca and Madina | Spiritual take

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