Centenary World Cruise Day 29: Abu Dhabi

We spent today in Abu Dhabi. I did know that Abu Dhabi was part of the United Arab Emirates, but I wasn’t sure what that meant. What it means is that there are seven independent states ruled by hereditary Sheiks that have banded together into a single bloc. Internally, they are entirely separate and have nothing to do with one another’s politics, but they join up (like Voltron) when dealing politically with other countries.

I talked in my post on Egypt about how Karnak Temple was a monument to “Ramses II is so amazing and everyone loves him.” Abu Dhabi goes that one better – it’s an entire country dedicated to “King Zayed is so amazing and everyone loves him.” Zayed Port, Zayed Museum, Zayed Mosque – everything has his name on it, and his picture is everywhere. He welcomes you to the mall, he waves at you on the freeway, he greets you from the harbor. What’s hilarious is that his face is either the face of every romantic lead in 1930s desert films, or the villain in every 1980s action movie.

We visited a “heritage village,” which is about what you’d expect – the same as every historical model village in the world. “Here are the local handicrafts. Here are the local agricultural products. Here is the local infrastructure.”

Here are the local reconstructed ruins.

Next up, a museum that was mostly closed so that all we could see were the parts dedicated to “check out how King Zayed influenced oil drilling,” “check out King Zayed’s amazing postal service,” and “check out King Zayed’s crack police force.”

This is the inspiration for many Great British Baking Show cakes.

Last, we went to the mosque. This part was saved for last because this is the most amazing place I’ve never heard of (then again, as has been mentioned elsewhere, what I don’t know about the world can and does fill an entire set of encyclopedias). This mosque is on a scale with Karnak Temple – several world records were made in its construction, including a record for the largest carpet, the largest chandelier, and the highest mosque dome.

Just to get to the mosque, you have to start at a dome across the street.

Even the entry dome is beautifully filigreed.

You take the escalator down one floor and go through an entire mall, complete with the most important coffee shops of the English-speaking world: Starbucks, Costa, and Tim Horton’s. Then you go through security where they not only make sure you’re not hiding a knife, gun, or bomb, but they also make sure you are correctly dressed. For men, it’s only long trousers. For women, it’s trousers or a dress that goes down to the ankle, sleeves that cover the entire arm to the wrist, no transparent fabrics, nothing tight or form-fitting, and a head covering. We were told not to wear white and found out that it’s not because white is forbidden, but because white is often transparent. Our tour guide had us put on our scarves on the bus and went down the rows making sure we were all correctly covered.

Once inside the grounds of the mosque, the tour is like a cattle drive. There is a delineated path tourists must walk that takes them through the outer courtyard, then into the room with the enormous carpet and chandelier, then back out and to the visitor’s center. It used to be true that if women weren’t correctly attired, they could borrow a head scarf or caftan, but since COVID, they’ve stopped that practice. They also stopped making people take off their shoes, instead putting down a plastic walkway to ensure that the carpet and amazing marble floor is not damaged.

This is the inner entryway – the outer entryway is even larger.

Again, it’s almost impossible to describe the scope of this mosque. And it’s all marble, gold, semiprecious stones, and crystal. The sheer wealth expended in just this building is more than my mind can easily take in.

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