Conservationists at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque have completed a delicate restoration of 9.5 million pieces of mosaic across its sahan, or courtyard.
The 14-month process involved removing every single piece to assess its condition and then relaying them across the 17,000 square metre courtyard.
The mosque’s courtyard is a unique artwork that carries elements from all across the globe. It was created using high-end technology and many unique elements, making it an architectural masterwork.
It is the first time the restoration has been carried out since the mosque opened in 2007 and now the mosaics are back to their full glory.
“This was the first major maintenance to take place,” said Abu Baker Al Baiti, head of the mosque’s maintenance and service section. “But we were always conducting simpler forms of maintenance on a monthly basis."
At least 2,385 white and 1,440 coloured mosaic panels were restored, while 90 white and 50 coloured mosaic panels were replaced.
“Keeping a massive structure in good condition and in position, is a very hard task that requires special maintenance to preserve its unique characteristics," said Mr Al Baiti. "The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre annually carries out courtyard maintenance, ranging from simple tasks to more heavy maintenance work carried out every ten years.”
The workforce involved in the massive project included 140 artisans, skilled workers, field engineers, draftsmen and a number of technicians specialised in the use of marble cutting machines who were managed by an Emirati team from the centre.
“We worked during Covid-19 and maintained strict safety measures and social distancing,” he said.
Ameena Al Hammadi, head of the cultural guidance section, said it was the dream of the Founding President, Sheikh Zayed, to build a mosque that united the world and was a beacon for tolerance.
“During the mosque’s design phase, the engineers and designers paid particular attention to incorporate this into the design and structure," she said. "These botanic patterns also reflect Sheikh Zayed's love of nature.”
The courtyard is one of the most significant architectural elements of the mosque. The floral designs were created by acclaimed British artist Kevin Dean. Dean chose flowers that would be recognisable for people all over the world but also would grow in the Arabian Peninsula, such as iris, tulip, jasmine, roses and passiflora.
The designs were first done on paper and then transferred to computer. Dean was able to select from about 37 different colours of natural marble, where the white marble is from Italy and Greece and the coloured from China and India. The marble was then cut by water jet into small and large coloured pieces – pieces of a jigsaw that were put together back at the mosque site in Abu Dhabi.
The design spreads around the edges of the courtyard and then extends into the centre.
“The dream of the late UAE’s Founding Father has become a place of worship, an architectural masterpiece, a global tourist attraction and cultural centre that extends bridges of cross cultural communication worldwide,” said Ms Al Hammadi.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque can accommodate more than 50,000 worshippers during Ramadan, while it is also one of the UAE’s most popular tourist attractions attracting millions of visitors a year.