Friday 13 April 2012

Amazed by a mosque

The highlight of our city tour today was of course this fabulous building, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, designed deliberately to be the showpiece of Islam, open to visitors to allow greater cultural understanding. It's so gloriously over the top, though, that religion scarcely got a look-in on our private tour, we were so busy dropping our jaws at the statistics, the materials used, and of course the cost: US$3 billion is a fairly conservative estimate, we were told. That's what happens when you build something on an area of 5 football fields out of white Carrara marble inlaid with lapis lazuli, garnets, amethysts and mother-of-pearl. Oh, and paua, which may have been the NZ material referred to in the brochure - or possibly the six big jade balls on the floor, whose purpose was a mystery unless it was to provide seats for a succession of small boys.

We had to dress up in a hot (very un-hot) nylon robe with an irritating head-scarf that kept coming undone, and go barefoot across the world's largest hand-knotted silk carpet in the prayer hall where there was a bit of a hubbub, to be honest, with cameras everywhere. The chandeliers with all their Swarovski crystals and gold were decidedly overdone, but the walls were beautiful with their inlay decoration and flowing Arabic script, and the pillared walks outside beside the reflecting pools were cool and elegant. It's unmissable and something of which the locals are justifiably proud. Also very evocative of the Taj Mahal, don't you think?

Today there was, unusually, time before the tour for a swim in the hotel pool, full of English families and Arab children watched over from the side by their presumably envious mothers all in black from head to toe. It's the first time in about 4 years that I've been able to fit in something so relaxing on a trip - but we ended the day with a hotel tour, sigh. Though, through a misunderstanding, we got to eat on our own, hooray, instead of singing for our supper with the hotel  marketing manager; and had a lovely Thai dinner chosen for us by an even lovelier Thai lady, as we sat in perfect conditions on the terrace beside the water, looking across to the lit-up skyline. Good day - but oh, so very long.

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