Over the years Dubai has amazed me with its rapid development, becoming one of the world’s most architecturally innovative cities. Daring to go to great lengths (and heights, literally), Dubai continues its pursuit of intensive urban expansion. In recent years, some of the most iconic – and tallest – buildings in the world have sprung up in Dubai, such as the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab, both well-known structures. But neither of these figure among my favourites. No, I love the traditional architecture of the many mosques (approx. 1,500) found in and around the city.
1. Al Farooq Omar Bin Al Khattab Mosque
Named for a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, it was built in 1986 and subsequently renovated in 2003 and 2011. It’s one of the largest mosques in Dubai with a capacity of 2,000 worshippers. It’s often referred to as the Blue Mosque because its architecture was inspired by Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and is a mix of Ottoman and Andalusian styles. Non-muslims can visit daily except on Friday.
2. Grand Mosque
This is one of Dubai’s oldest mosques and consequently the cultural and religious centre for Dubai’s Muslims. Originally built in 1900 as a madrasah for children, it was rebuilt in 1960 and renovated in 1998, though the original structure of the building has been maintained. Its minaret is the tallest in the city. Non-Muslims aren’t allowed into the mosque but are allowed to go up the minaret which offers stunning views of the mosque and the city.
3. Jumeirah Mosque
One of the most photographed buildings in Dubai – and you can see why – this stunning mosque was built in 1976, in the traditional Fatimid style. It looks particularly spectacular when it is lit up as the sun goes down. The mosque’s interior features gorgeous intricate designs in pastel shades, Islamic calligraphy and golden chandeliers. It too is open to non-Muslims.
4. Imam Hossein Mosque
This is one of the most famous Shia mosques in Dubai and was founded in 1979 by the Iranian community. The exterior of the mosque and its dome are covered in traditional blue tiles. Its interior shares the same striking blue tiles with green and gold accents, with Arabic inscriptions over them. This is another one open to non-Muslims.
5. Al Salaam Mosque
This mosque’s stunning red architecture was influenced by the Turkish buildings of old, resulting in a striking mix of Ottoman and Emirati culture and design. The exterior features gold domes and balconies on the minarets. Opened in 2014 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, it can accommodate 1,500 worshippers.
The second stop on our recent brief trip to Abu Dhabi was the Louvre which was inaugurated in November 2017 by French President Emmanuel Macron and UAE Vice President Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The museum is part of a 30 year licence agreement between the city of Abu Dhabi and the French government.
Designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel, it’s the largest art museum in the Arabian peninsula and cost in excess of US$750 million. In addition, Abu Dhabi paid US$525 million for the licence agreement for the name, plus a further US$750 million for art loans, special exhibitions and management advice. Artworks from around the world are showcased at the museum, with particular focus placed upon bridging the gap between Eastern and Western Art.
The museum is part of a US$27 billion tourist and cultural development which includes the building of three further museums, including the largest Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim, the Norman Foster designed Zayed National Museum, a performing arts centre designed by Zaha Hadid, a maritime museum and a number of art’s pavilions.
The Louvre is a series of concrete buildings pulled together by a metallic ceiling designed to provide shade and reflect light into the museum like a natural palm frond. The tidal pools within the galleries create the illusion of a “museum in the sea” while protecting artwork, artefacts and visitors from the exterior and corrosive marine environment.
We spent over two hours here but it wasn’t long enough to enjoy all the museum had to offer and I would suggest spending an entire day here to fully appreciate everything. The main exhibition showed the intertwining and influence of different civilisations, establishing a dialogue between the four corners of the earth. Plus it showcases works from multiple French museums.
The space is impressive and even though there were plenty of visitors it didn’t feel crowded. We didn’t avail ourselves of the catering facilities as we were too busy enjoying the exhibits though we did use the restrooms. The museum’s forthcoming exhibition Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age will display 95 works by the renowned fijnschilders (fine painters) of the Netherlands.
Our most recent vacation to Dubai started in some style. Friends told us to visit Abu Dhabi to see the Blue Mosque and the Louvre. We followed their advice and I booked a small guided trip to both. The journey from downtown Dubai takes about 90 minutes by coach along a straight road which has largely scrubby desert on either side, including the horse and camel racing tracks and, as we neared our destination, Ferrari and Warner World.
We visited ahead of the Pope who was making his maiden visit to the Middle East. You could say we were the advance party!
The mosque is absolutely spectacular and well worth the trip though I’m sure my photos don’t do it justice. We entered, all suitably clad, by way of an underground, air-conditioned tunnel with plenty of washrooms. The tour company lends the ladies traditional dress while gents have to wear trousers and shirts. Fortunately we get to keep our shoes and consequently our passage through the mosque is limited to certain areas.
Built in homage, The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest one in the UAE and is a key place of worship. During Ramadan it may be visited by more than 40,000 people daily all of whom get royally fed for free at sundown. Designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky, it was constructed between 1996 and 2007 and allegedly cost in excess of US$1 billion.
The complex covers an area of more than 12 hectares, excluding exterior landscaping and vehicle parking. The main axis of the building is rotated about 11° south of true west, aligning it in the direction of Mecca.
The project was launched by the late president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan whose tomb lies adjacent to the Mosque. He wanted to build a structure that would unite the cultural diversity of the Islamic world with the historical and modern values of architecture and art. The project was completed by his son.
The Mosque’s design was modelled on earlier Islamic structures particularly the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore which inspired its dome layout and floorplan. Its archways are quintessentially Moorish while its minarets are classically Arabic.
More than 30,000 workers took part in its construction from largely natural materials including marble, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics. Its courtyard depicts one of the world’s largest mosaics.
The eye-wateringly, colourful wool carpet in the central hall, which we could only admire from afar, was made in Iran and designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliq. Above the carpet are seven German chandeliers which incorporate millions of Swarovski crystals and are suitably bling-bling. The hall’s 96 columns are clad in marble and inlaid with mother of pearl. The pools of water along the external arcades keep the Mosque cool through a heat-exchange system and, when lit up at night, reflect the phases of the moon.
It’s a magnificent piece of architecture and well worth a visit though you have to resist the security guards exhorting you to move along before you can take in everything. Our guide was particularly well-connected and we left by the VIP entrance which saved us a soaking getting back to the coach.
This doorway belongs to the Parrocchia di San Martino Vescovo, an 18th century church built on the remains of a pagan site. It’s in Peschiera del Garda, a place we’ve visited a couple of times in recent years. Peschiera is situated at the south-eastern tip of the lake, on the river Mincio. Its historical city centre is completely surrounded by imposing bulwarks forming a star with five points, surrounded by a navigable moat. The first city walls of Peschiera date back to 101BC. Over the centuries they were destroyed and rebuilt many times until 16th century when they were transformed into an imposing defensive structure.
In my mind the cycling season starts with Paris-Nice. Now, I know the professional peloton has already been racing all over the globe: Australia, Argentina, Colombia, Oman, UAE, Spain, France and Italy. I’ve even watched the last stage of the Tour de la Provence, a sprint won by John Degenkolb into Aix-en-Provence. But, for me, Paris-Nice remains the curtain-raiser!
I’ve watched this race every year since relocating to France, largely of course because it finishes in my back garden. Some years I’ve watched the last three or even four stages but this year, like many, it’ll be the last two stages in and around Nice. I shall be praying for fine weather so that it is a “Race to the Sun” and hoping that I might see one of our local riders win a stage. I was fortunate to see Amael Moinard win the last stage in 2010 and Rudy Molard win the sixth stage to Vence last year.
Like many French races, it has a rich history. It was created in 1933 by Parisian Albert Lejeune, in order to promote his Paris-based newspaper Le Petit Journal and Nice-based paper Le Petit Nice. Hence, the race linked the French capital with the fashionable Mediterranean coast. It was held in March, at the end of winter, one of the earliest French bike races on the calendar, immediately following the end of the track season.
The first Paris–Nice comprised six stages and was promoted as Les Six Jours de la Route. The first stage from Paris to Dijon was a whopping 312 km, and it remains the longest stage in the history of Paris–Nice. Because most mountain roads were still impassable, because of its early calendar date, the race’s route avoided the Alps and primarily followed the lower Rhône valley, its only significant climbs were on the last day on the outskirts of Nice.
The race was a success and other newspapers partnered with Lejeune’s titles to co-sponsor the race. In 1940, the race was cancelled for the duration of WWII. In 1946 Ce Soir again organised the first post-war race, but although the event was a commercial success, the newspaper dropped its sponsorship and the race was discontinued between 1947 and 1950.
In 1951 the race was revived as Paris-Côte d’Azur by Jean Medecin, the allegedly shady mayor of Nice, who wanted to promote tourism to his fast-growing city and the entire Côte d’Azur. The race’s name Paris–Nice was restored in 1954 and it grew in status in the 1950s from an early-season preparation and training race to an event in its own right, spawning such illustrious winners as Louison Bobet and Jacques Anquetil. In 1957 journalist Jean Leulliot, race director since 1951, bought the event with his company Monde Six and became Paris–Nice’s new organiser.
In 1959 the race was run as Paris–Nice–Rome, with a separate classification from Paris to Nice with a second one from Nice to Rome and a third title for the overall. The excessive length of the race – 1,955 kilometres (1,215 miles) in 11 days – was criticised, and the formula has not been repeated. In 1966 Paris–Nice was the scene of a rivalry between French cycling icons Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor, whose legendary battles divided French cycling fans for over a decade.
In 1969, the final stage was moved from the seaside promenade in Nice to the top of Col d’Eze, overlooking the city. Eddy Merckx won the final individual time-trial and his first of three consecutive Paris–Nice races. In 1972 eternal second Poulidor ended the Cannibal’s streak by winning the final time-trial and narrowly finishing ahead of Merckx. The following year, he repeated this feat at the grand old age of 37.
In the 1980s Ireland’s polyvalent Sean Kelly won the race seven consecutive times; the winning record to date. The Race to the Sun produced several well-known winners in the 1990s, notably Spanish Grand Tour specialist Miguel Indurain. French all-rounder Laurent Jalabert won the race three consecutive times, the final time in 1997, and remains the race’s last French winner. In 2000, former Tour winner Laurent Fignon took over the organisation of the race from the Leulliot family but he sold out to ASO in 2002.
The 2003 race was marred by the death of Kazakh rider Andrei Kivilev after a crash on the second stage. Kivilev did not wear a helmet and died that night as a result of brain trauma. The following day the peloton, led by Kivilev’s Cofidis team, neutralised the third stage. Racing resumed the next day and, on the fifth stage to Mont Faron, Kivilev’s friend and compatriot Alexander Vinokourov soloed across the line holding a picture of his late friend. My former cycling club holds a sportive each year in June in Kivilev’s memory.
In 2005 Paris–Nice was included in the inaugural UCI Pro Tour, but was at the centre of a dispute between UCI and ASO just before its 2008 edition. (This was where I made my one-woman stand against the exclusion of Astana from the 2008 Tour de France.) The issue was eventually resolved and since 2011 Paris–Nice has served as the European WorldTour opener.
The 2012 edition was famously won by Bradley Wiggins on his way to becoming the first Brit to win the Tour de France thereby giving me bragging rights down at the cycling club. Subsequently, it’s been won by key support riders for Tour contenders (incl: Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas and Marc Soler). I wonder who’ll win this year’s edition?