Sunday, August 8, 2010

Summer Travels 2010 - Part 7: The Gardens of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman

After traveling and lacking reliable internet access for the past month, I am now finally back home and will do my best to make up for the weeks devoid of posts. First up are the gardens of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman. Completed in 2001, it consists of a huge complex located on the Western outskirts of the Muscat Metropolitan Area, not far from the airport and clearly visible from the main highway that runs westwards out of the city. The enormous edifice boasts five minarets, a large central dome, imposing arched gateways, and seemingly endless galleries of arches, all built of creamy white sandstone. All of this is surrounded by sprawling, immaculately tended gardens whose design is closely tied in with the architecture of the buildings. Both the mosque and the grounds represent a contemporary take on many classical elements of Islamic design and combine influences from various parts of the Islamic World as well as different historical periods.

The central prayer hall of the mosque and the main minaret seen from one of the courtyards

Arched gateways in the outer galleries surrounding the mosque

A series of gates in the center of the complex

In the galleries that run around the whole complex, for example, one finds a large number of niches reminiscent of the mihrab ( محراب ), the niche which indicates the direction of Mecca in a mosque. Each niche is different, and sets of niches illustrate different decorative traditions from across the World of Islam. Each set is accompanied by plaques in both Arabic and English explaining the origin of the style. Meanwhile, the main prayer hall of the mosque contains the world's second-largest Persian carpet, massive crystal chandeliers, and a plethora of decorative details.

 A Moroccan-style niche in the outer gallery walk

 A niche with a contemporary design

 A niche with tile work in the style of Ottoman Iznik ware depicting cypress trees (Cupressus sempervirens) and grape vines (Vitis vinifera)

 One of the explanatory plaques

 The massive central chandelier of the main prayer hall

 The gardens are divided into several distinct sections, with a number of formal flowers gardens immediately surrounding the mosque transitioning into fields of flowering shrubs and groves of date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) further away. After passing through the visitor's entrance, one first enters a large garden space that evokes the traditional four-fold chahar bagh garden design found especially in the Persianate traditions of Central and South Asia, with long, straight water channels intersecting at right angles, flanked by rows of trees and flower beds. The choice of plants used here suggests a South Asian influence as well, with Polyalthia longifolia, one of India's most common street trees, lining the entrance walk and a row of neem trees (Azadirachta indica) flanking the opposite side of this part of the grounds. The central water channel and walk is lined with to different varieties of Plumeria obtusa and there are masses of Zinnia elegans for color, though presumably these are only there in summer and are replaced with other annuals during the cooler season.
The view from the entrance of the complex towards the mosque
 A view over the central water channel

 A large cluster of fragrant Plumeria obtusa flowers

Colorful beds of Zinnia elegans and white-flowered Plumeria obtusa
 A view from the mosque-side of the garden towards the entrance

To the left of the garden by the entrance is another garden room, a parterre of sorts which creates an elaborate design in colorful annuals, including Zinnia elegans and Lantana camara. While lovely when one walks through it, this garden is really meant to be viewed from the balcony of the adjoining minaret. From there,  the riotously colorful carpet of flowers can be seen to its full effect.
 A view towards a small side-gate
 View across the carpet garden towards the entrance garden
 One panel of the floral "carpet"
 The other half of the "carpet"
 The parterre as seen from the minaret
Even closer to the main building of the mosque are gleaming courtyards flanked by long borders. The borders in front of the mosque walls are planted with masses of Zinnias backed by clipped hedges of Ficus benjamina and Thevetia peruviana. Those along the outer galleries, on the other hand, are planted with a variety of trimmed shrubs providing foliage colors. 

 The borders along the wall of the mosque
 The shrub borders along the outer galleries
 The Zinnias throughout the complex are stunning -  they reminded me of flowers as they are depicted on seed packets
On the whole, the gardens of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque were the most impressive I saw during my time in Muscat, and the mosque itself is stunningly beautiful. In fact, a few weeks later I saw pictures of the mosque complex used as background images in the prayer broadcasts of an Islamic TV station in India. The complex is open to non-Muslims daily except Fridays from 8am to 11am and while that might seem a bit early, do try to make it if you happen to be in Muscat - There is hardly a more beautiful place to take a contemplative morning walk.

1 comment:

Thanks for stopping by!