Thursday 11 April 2013

Abu Dhabi: A Mosque and a Souq

I stopped off in Abu Dhabi on my way home from Australia because a) it's a long journey and it's more pleasant to get off the plane and go to a hotel than to get straight onto another plane, b) because I was curious to visit the UAE and c) because I'd never visited and could count it as my new country for 2013.  (These reasons are in no particular order.)  

With only 48 hours in Abu Dhabi (and being fairly jet lagged) I focused on a few key things I wanted to visit.  The first was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which we passed on the way from the airport to my hotel.  In the sunrise all of the domes and minarets were tinted a rosy pink.  When I visited later in the day, everything was blindingly white - I literally had to put on my sunglasses to see properly.

The building of the Mosque was initiated by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, the 'father' of the UAE, and he is buried in its grounds (though access to the mausoleum is limited).  It is one of the largest mosques in the world and a great source of pride to the Emiratis I met.

Inside, there is lavish attention to detail.  Flowers inset into the marble floors,

and floral motifs creeping up the walls, not to mention the windows.

The carpets were equally stunning - and because, it being a mosque, all visitors have to go barefoot inside, you really experience the thick pile first hand.  First foot?

The scale of the Mosque is fairly breathtaking and visiting was a fascinating experience - although I found its size overwhelming.  It would be interesting to see whether, as it ages, it develops a patina like, say, the Taj Mahal.  But sadly none of us will be around in 400 years to compare notes.

After leaving the Mosque, I went downtown to the Souk/Central Market, a Norman Foster-designed reimagining of the traditional souk.  There's a nod to tradition in the use of materials, the latticing and the play of light in the interior.

Inside, there are clothes shops, many jewellers, several souvenir shops and, my favourite, an emporium of spices, teas and dried fruit.  I particularly loved the baskets outside - look how beautiful this display is.

I had a real wow-I'm-really-in-the-Middle-East-now moment when I peered at this (greyish, unappealing substance) and realised that it was frankincense.  It smells (forgive me for any inappropriate smell-association) like all the incense burners of all the Catholic masses of my youth.  When I looked into it, I discovered that frankincense is often used for incense in Catholic churches.  So there it was - exotic and faintly nostalgic, all at the same time.

Slightly less exotic, but amusing to see, was the shop next door to the souq:

Apart from these two iconic experiences, I wandered around a little, taking in the newness of it all - both new to me and new in the sense that a great deal of downtown Abu Dhabi is very new.

I thought I'd hit upon an ancient monument when I saw this:

But sadly it was on a hoarding covering the building within and access to the actual fort is currently forbidden owing to building works.

So I called it a day and went back to my hotel to watch camel racing on tv and to marvel at the intricate and stylish ways in which the female tv presenters on the local and on the Saudi Arabian channels arrange their hijabs.  

No comments:

Post a Comment