Where to go Guide
Al Omari Mosque
Al Omari Mosque or ‘The Great Mosque’ is located at the center of the old town in Al Darraj District in Gaza City. It is one of the largest, with an area of 4100 meters, and one of the most important archaeological Mosques in Gaza. Now, the Mosque holds the name of the Caliph Omar Bin Al Khattab, known as the liberator of Palestine, but the site has undergone many transformations and was originally built upon 3000 years ago, at a time when the people of Gaza still worshipped idols.
There are multiple stories about the earliest history of the sight. One local tradition states that the site was originally a temple to the god Dagon, and it as here that Samson pulled down the temple on top of the Philistines and himself. Some claim that the Samson is still buried under the site of the Mosque. Another belief is that it was originally a temple of the god Marnas, known as Jupiter during Roman times. At the time, the people of Gaza believed in the multiplicity of gods and regarded Marnas as the head of the gods of the city.
By 407AD, most of the people of Gaza had converted to Christianity, and the temple was converted into a Byzantine church called the Church of Alfdokisia, referring to the wife of emperor Orkadyos. The Church was constructed by the architect Rufinos, under order of the Empress Ovdhaxia. To do the job, she brought forty-two Karsteian columns (from the Greek city of Karystos). This number of columns is only found at the site of the Al Omari Mosque.
After the Islamic conquest of the area, Palestine was liberated by the Muslim leader Umar ibn al-Aas, and most of its people converted to Islam, including the majority of people in Gaza. It was then the Al-Omari Mosque was built on the ruins of the Byzantine church, and named after Caliph Omar Bin Al Khattab. After this period the site underwent many conversions. During the Crusader period Mosque was replaced with the Norman-style cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The church was later incorporated in the Ayyubid and Mamluk mosque that would next occupy the site. This mosque was later destroyed by the Mongols in 1260AD, but was rebuilt, only to fall again after an earthquake in the late 13th century. After the earthquake, the Mosque was again repaired, but didn’t undergo restoration to its present-day form until the Ottomans took control in the 16th century.
The current architecture of the Al Omari Mosque preserves parts of its turbulent history and its many incarnations. Each restoration of the site has preserved some parts of its previous forms. This can be seen in the façade, which features typical Crusader style arches. Two of the three main aisles of the Mosque are also believed to retain some parts of the previous Crusader cathedral. The impressive minaret of the Mosque is made in the traditional Mamluk style, with an octagonal tower sat on a square base. Inside the Mosque, the floors are made of glazed tiles and the doorways and domes of marble.
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