x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Time Frame: The Grand Mosque rises from the desert

Genoveva Kriechbaum, the daughter of the Austrian ambassador to the UAE, took this photo in 2003 during the construction ofAbu Dhabi's Grand Mosque.

Courtesy Genoveva Kriechbaum
Courtesy Genoveva Kriechbaum

By 2003, construction of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque had advanced enough to show it to visiting dignitaries.

One of those was the Austrian ambassador to the UAE, Dr Gerald Kriechbaum, and his daughter Genoveva, who had just acquired an early digital camera.

The scale and beauty of the mosque made an immediate impact on the young student, and over the next four years she made visit after visit to the construction site, recording its completion in more than 4,000 images.

"It was literally desert then," she recalls. "There was no Shangri-La, no Fairmont, not even really any trees."

While her trips were strictly speaking unauthorised, no one really seemed to mind. "Somehow I always seemed to find my way in," Kriechbaum says.

This photograph shows the concrete interior of the main prayer hall before the marble cladding was put up. She disputes that the colour is grey. "Sometimes it was pink or yellow or blue. It depended on the light."

The only time she paused her shutter was when workers gathered for the first Ramadan prayers in 2007: "I put my camera away. It didn't feel right."

Weeks later, the mosque was officially opened and, as a steady stream of visitors made it the most photographed attraction in Abu Dhabi, it was time to put her camera away for good.

A selection of the images she took can now be seen in a new exhibition at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, which faces the mosque from the other side of The Grand Mosque - Spirit in the Making is open every day and continues until March 12. Admission is free.

Time Frame is a series that opens a window into the nation's past. Readers are invited to make contributions to yourpics@thenational.ae