The Great Mosque of Damascus is an iconic monument of world architecture, and the oldest mosque still standing in something close to its original state. This book is the first in-depth study of its foundation by the Umayyad dynasty, just as the first Islamic century was drawing to a close.
Towards the end of 705, the Umayyad caliph al-Walid determined to build a new monumental mosque at the heart of his capital Damascus. This required the seizure of a church that had stood there since the forceful closure, centuries earlier, of the Roman temple of Jupiter, the walls of which still stand today. When the Christians refused to cede their building, al-Walid decided to take it by force. This controversial act broke with the consensual politics of the early Islamic empire and triggered a major crisis, the ripples of which were felt as far afield as the Byzantine Empire. Still, events ran their course. Once the rubble of the church was cleared, al-Walid and his supervisors deployed complex logistics to create a building of dazzling opulence and splendour that marked a turning point in mosque architecture.
The book anchors the foundation of the Umayyad Mosque in its pre-Islamic past and brings to life the commotion that followed the destruction of the church. Alain George explores the process whereby craftsmen and materials were gathered to build the new mosque, seeks to reconstruct its Umayyad appearance, and investigates the subtle aesthetics that underpinned its stupendous ornament. This beautifully illustrated volume is based upon extensive research on new textual and visual sources, including Umayyad court poems and rare nineteenth-century photographs.
Alain Fouad George is I.M. Pei Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the University of Oxford. Born in Beirut, educated in France and England, he taught previously at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on early Islam, especially Umayyad and Abbasid art, and Arabic calligraphy. He is the author of The Rise of Islamic Calligraphy (2010), Midad: The Private and Intimate Lives of Arabic Calligraphy (2017), and Power, Patronage and Memory in Early Islam: Perspectives on Umayyad Elites (2018, co-edited with Andrew Marsham). In 2010, he was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize.
The book is sumptuously illustrated, enjoyable to read, and not too expensive for the high-quality art history book it is. It enters among the must-haves for scholars and libraries devoted to late antiquity, early Islam, art history, and Islamic studies.
Journal of Islamic Studies
Read full review
‘Although George’s book in not the first study of the building, nor likely to be the last, his book achieves a synthesis of earlier literature that is unprecedented in scope. Richly illustrated handsomely produced, it is a testament to the author’s creativity and resourcefulness, which have resulted in a landmark study.’
Sean W. Anthony, Burlington Magazine
‘…this sumptuously illustrated and beautifully produced book…shows us that there is still much to learn from buildings we thought we knew. Alain George fires the imagination through his careful but evocative reimagining.’
Scott Redford, Times Literary Supplement
Read full review
‘Alain George’s illuminating new study shows us that the Umayyad Mosque has always been claimed by rival faiths.’
Sameer Rahim, Apollo Magazine
‘Document of a Damascene Conversion’
‘George examines the mosque in great detail, illustrating practically every section of the building, the quality of the photographs almost making it seem like the reader is actually there looking at each part of the building…’
Asian Review of Books
‘In this comprehensive biography of the Umayyad Mosque, Alain George explores a wide range of sources to excavate the dense layers of the mosque’s history, also uncovering what the structure looked like when it was first built with its impressive marble and mosaic-clad walls.’
Asian Art Newspaper
‘This superlative book is to be highly recommended. George is a gifted writer, his book being very readable and informative, with multiple illustrations, such as old watercolours and photographs.’
‘For the first time we have a book which does full justice to the Umayyad mosque in Damascus. Alain George has used text, archaeology and perhaps most revealingly, old photographs to produce a rich scholarly, readable and exciting account of the mosque. This book marks a major advance in our understanding of the building.’
Hugh Kennedy, author of The Caliphate: A Pelican Introduction
‘Alain George provides a vivid picture of the Umayyad mosque as it was designed and erected at the very beginning of the eighth century. This book is a scientific and aesthetic tour de force, and will become an indispensable reference for historians and architecture lovers.’
Mathieu Tillier, author of L’invention du cadi. La justice des musulmans, des juifs et des chrétiens aux premiers siècles de l’Islam
‘This is an important study that brings many fresh insights to a building that has already generated much scholarship. Alain George is sensitive to the need to resolve discontinuities between primary textual accounts and the physical record of the standing structures and excavated material. This book will be read by specialists, but will also gain a wider readership among researchers engaged with similar problems in other regions and historical periods.’
Marcus Milwright, author of The Dome of the Rock and its Umayyad Mosaic Inscriptions
‘In sum, this book is not only a thorough historical investigation of a magnificent Islamic building but also a joyous, delightful journey through the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus. Such a journey is especially longed for by all those who have visited the mosque in the past and who wish to be able to experience it again, in a free and peaceful Syria.’
Susana Calvo Capilla, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians
‘Borrowing the model of the palimpsest, George’s The Umayyad Mosque of Damascus: Art, Faith and Empire in Early Islam takes the reader on a vivid tour of the renowned mosque’s history, meaning, and significance.’
Stephennie Mulder, Hyperallergic
Read full review
New Podcast: The Jewel of Damascus with Alain George – The Barakat Trust