Damascus, Dimashq, Syria
May 3, 2005
Entrance to the Jami Masjid is free, and you must remove your shoes at the doorway, where for a few rupees, they will be kept safe for you. Legs must be covered and you will be denied entry if wearing shorts or short skirts. In the huge archway above the door there were some enormous bee nests hanging precariously from the roof. We then noticed that we were all covered in little yellow dots, which I would like to think was pollen, although I've never given much thought to the toilet habits of bees! Once through the gate and having run the gamut of touts and guides hovering in the doorway, we were in an enormous courtyard flanked on all sides by cool shaded and pillared walkways. At regular intervals along the top of the walls are beautiful domed towers that cast their shadows over the even-paved floor of the courtyard. The Mihrab is situated in the covered walkway midway up the lefthand side. Aligned with Mecca, the siting of the Mihrab determined the orientation of the mosque, which faces west instead of following the more obvious topographical alignment of the ridge.
The tomb of Sheik Salim Chishti is at the far side of the courtyard and, in contrast to the numerous other tombs in this area, is covered in intricately carved striking white marble. Sheik Salim prophesised the birth of Akbars son, emporer Jahangir and the city was built in honour of the Sheik. The marble screen around the tomb is adorned with pieces of string left by women who come to pray for the birth of a son. Behind this building can be found the less prepossessing tombs of nobles and 'Royal Ladies'. All constructed out of many-hued sandstone, some are set into the flagstones of the courtyard in the shaded by trees while others are under the covered walkway. A number of those under the walkway are surrounded by beautifully carved lattice-work screens and have carved inscriptions along the base.
The Jami Masjid is the principal centre of worship for the predominantly Muslim villagers, and when we visited, a colourful procession accompanied by drummers entered the courtyard. It turned out to be a newly married couple with their respective families who had come to be blessed in the mosque. It is also possible to enter the mosque from an entrance on the east side of the building, but frankly, the views from the top of the steps at the main gate are so inspiring that you find yourself automatically ignoring the touts.
From journal Fatehpur Sikri