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Mosque Name: Great Mosque

Country: Yemen

City: Ṣanʿā

Year of construction (AH): 86 AH

Year of construction (AD): 705 AD

GPS: 15°21’11.28”N 44°12’54.80”E


Gibson Classification: Petra

Rebuilt facing Mecca: never


The Great Mosque of Ṣanʿā is in the capital city of Yemen. According to early sources, the Prophet Muhammad commanded the construction of this mosque, including its location and dimensions, sometime around 630 AD. While the validity of this claim lacks certainty, the mosque remains one of the early architectural projects in Islam. Sometime between 705 and 715 AD, the Umayyad Caliph al-Walid I rebuilt and enlarged the mosque. Like the previous examples, this mosque faces towards Petra, but since the Mecca qibla is close it could be argued that it also points in the general direction of Mecca. In 1972 and 2010, caches of early versions of the Qur’an were discovered in this mosque that impact the study of the origin of the Qur’an.

Below are comments made by Fabrizio Anticoli, in his article Some remarks on the appearance of the mosque: the introduction of the niche-miḥrāband the change of the qibla. (IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) Volume 25, Issue 6, Series 11 (June. 2020) 01-07 e-ISSN: 2279-0837, p-ISSN: 2279-0845 It is interesting that in the 10th century there were lots of explinations given for how this mosque must have been oriented 4 centuries earlier.

According to al-Rāzī‟s (d. c. 1068) Tārīkh Madīnat-Sanʿā the laying of the foundation of the Great Mosque of Ṣanʿāʾ was a controversial affair. Among the various orientation proposed for this first mosque, is cited the ideal line linking the al-Mulamlama rock ‒ whose spot was marked still today by a marker stone placed in the nearby court of ablution, next to the west wall of the mosque ‒ with the Jabal Dhīn. The latter is a hill 30 km north of the city, which forms along with the mosque an axis oriented about 325° N, ten degrees less than the current orientation. Astronomical elements are not mentioned, but it is noteworthy that the direction towards the Jabal Dhīn (to the north) almost matches that of the shrine of Qudam b. Qādim located on the same Jabal Dhīn, suggesting that the builders could have relied on the same criteria.

The Great Mosque of Ṣanʿāʾ was rebuilt by governor Ayyūb b. Yaḥya al-Thaqafī during the caliphate of al-Walīd I. The governor sought to change the qibla of the mosque (fig. 5), establishing the present-day one, and meanwhile introduced the niche–miḥrāb. Some of the features uncovered during the restoration works carried out in the 1970s and part of the decoration and some elements of the architectural decoration of the mosque suggest that the present-day mosque has preserved the orientation received with the Umayyad rebuilding. Thus, this new qibla, oriented 335° N, differs from the early one of 315° N, i.e. towards the Jabal Dhīn.

While the conclusions of the above mentioned article may be debated, it does note that the qibla of many mosques were changed during the reign of al-Walid I and the mihrab was introduced at that time, which is similar to the findings expressed on this website.

Note: Dan Gibson lived in San’a from 1983 - 1985 and had opportunity to examine this mosque along with a number of others in what was known at that time as North Yemen.

Illustration from the article mentioned above by Fabrizio Anticoli

Illustration from the article mentioned above by Fabrizio Anticoli

San'a mosque from a satellite photo

San'a mosque from a satellite photo

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