What’s Louvre got to do with it?
AS SOMEONE who believes in the horizon-broadening powers of travel I’m now embarrassed to admit that I never had any interest in going to Abu Dhabi.
It just didn’t appeal to me, and if it hadn’t been for the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi I’d still be one of those people who have only ever seen the inside of the airport.
But it’s a funny thing; after getting lost in the incredible architecture and art of the new Louvre, I discovered the highlights of the trip were far from over when we left the museum’s island.
A better-known attraction, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, has beauty and power that can be felt from a distance, but once you go inside, it reveals just how extraordinary it is.
As I stood on the surprisingly cool marble in the hot sun, I was torn between taking in the awesome sight of the domes and massive floral mosaics on the 18,000sq m main courtyard, and staring at the delicate floral shapes made from semi-precious stones on the marble columns beside me.
The best way to visit is to join one of the mosque’s free cultural tours (szgmc.gov.ae/en/culturaltours), which not only provide interesting cultural insights and facts about the building, they also allow you to enter parts of the mosque that are off limits to other visitors.
Following our guide allowed us to walk across the world’s largest carpet, a mind-boggling feat involving about 2.2 billion individual, hand-tied knots to cover 5625sq m.
Knowing we could feel what seemed to be carpet joins beneath our bare feet, our guide explained that they were instead lines that had been shaved into the carpet to help guide worshippers into rows during prayer. And I spared a thought for the people given that responsibility when this 12-tonne carpet was complete.
In the main prayer hall we were also able to stand directly under one of the world’s biggest chandeliers. Covered in Swarovski crystals and Murano glass, this 12-tonne chandelier is 10m across, 15m high, and has a small staircase inside that cleaners use to get into those hard-to-reach places.
For more excellent chandelier spotting, Emirates Palace Hotel has more than 1000 Swarovski crystal chandeliers, the largest weighing 2.5 tonnes.
POWER AND BEAUTY: The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the third largest mosque in the world. Photo: iStock