Many people may already be familiar with the carpet housed in Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It's the largest hand-knotted one in the world, boasting an intricate Islamic medallion design created by third-generation carpet-maker and artist Ali Khaliqi. It took about 1,200 artisans to put together the part-woollen, part-cotton carpet, which measures 5,700 square metres.
But the Abu Dhabi landmark also boasts many other unique attractions, including seven striking chandeliers, which were the focus of a recent overhaul by a special task force of skilled Emirati engineers put together by the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre (SZGMC).
The maintenance project took a team of 45 people – including a project manager, site supervisor, engineers, technicians, and health and safety experts – 12 hours a day for 45 days, except Fridays, to complete.
The hanging lights vary in size and colour, and each has its own story to tell.
The largest chandelier, which is located in the main prayer hall, spans 10 metres in diameter, is 15.5 metres tall and weighs nearly 12 tonnes. It incorporates 15,500 LED lights and is designed to resemble an upturned palm tree, with the cylindrical section representing the trunk, the bowl-shaped interlocking area depicting the fronds, and nearly 40 million units of red, yellow and green-hued crystal balls symbolising the dates.
It pays homage to the legacy of Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, after whom the mosque is named.
The piece was manufactured at German crystal chandelier maker Faustig – the company that was also behind the chandeliers in Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Oman, Al Shohada Mosque in Yemen's Sanaa, and several projects in Saudi Arabia – and uses stainless steel covered with 24-carat gold plates, with Swarovski crystals adorning its panels.
Dr Thomas Faustig, owner and chief executive, told The National in 2017 that it was "made for eternity. All we have to do from time to time is exchange the LEDs, or electronic components, but the chandeliers should last for the next 500 years."
At the time they made it, the principal chandelier was the world's largest.
“They are fantastic, extremely stunning and unique," adds Dr Faustig. "We have never again done such a type of chandelier. The crystals were specifically made for this chandelier – it was special, special, special. And it was a new world record. I’m extremely happy with the outcome, and it is extremely beautiful.”
As for the other light fixtures, two smaller chandeliers in the main hall weigh eight tonnes each, measure 12.5 metres tall and seven metres wide, incorporating a whopping 9,500 light bulbs.
There are two more light fixtures that are 4.5 metres in diameter and six metres tall, weighing two tonnes and boasting 1,200 lamps. Elsewhere, the two smallest chandeliers are 3.5 metres in diameter and five metres tall, weighing in at 1.4 tonnes and with 1,000 bulbs.
"The maintenance of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque's chandeliers is carried out as part of a strategic plan adopted by SZGMC to ensure future generations can continue to appreciate the mosque's rich architecture," said Salem Alsuwaidi, director of support services at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre, of the recent project.
“The chandeliers receive our special attention given their significance in enhancing the overall design of the mosque.
“Such efforts are crucial in maintaining the iconic status of this landmark that has in a short period of time become a key religious and cultural destination.”
As part of the maintenance work, an integrated system was installed that increases the operational lifespan of the lighting units, reduces energy consumption and lowers thermal emissions, according to a statement.
The bulbs were also upgraded with custom-designed LED lighting from the Czech Republic.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which took 11 years to construct, is one of Abu Dhabi’s most popular attractions and in 2019, claimed third place in a top 10 list of landmarks in the world, according to TripAdvisor. That year, more than 6.6 million people visited the striking mosque.
In 2020, it closed for nearly seven months because of the coronavirus pandemic, reopening to the public in October.