x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

A professor's 'obsession' with UAE's Al Bidiya mosque

Marco Sosa, an assistant professor of interior design at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, has produced a book about the 300-year-old Al Bidiya mosque.

A photo of the Al Bidiya mosque from Professor Marco Sosa’s book of the same name.
A photo of the Al Bidiya mosque from Professor Marco Sosa’s book of the same name.

DUBAI // An article in The National about Al Bidiya mosque – the UAE’s oldest place of worship still in regular use – has inspired an academic to produce a photographic survey of the building.

Marco Sosa, an assistant professor of interior design at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, was fascinated by the Fujairah mosque after reading a feature by Rym Ghazal in December 2009.

The structure is believed to have been built between 1650 and 1670 and is a popular stopping-off point for tourists staying at hotels in nearby Al Aqah.

The article triggered what Prof Sosa described as an obsessive curiosity to find out more about the mosque.

“When I first came to the UAE from the UK I was interested in studying heritage buildings,” he said. “The impression you have is that the UAE is full of contemporary buildings, so for me it was a great surprise to find this beautiful mosque which is more than 300 years old and still functioning.

“After I saw the photographs in the newspaper, I arranged for a grant from my university. I managed to get some research time and I went to have a look.”

He spoke to the tourism authority staff who look after the mosque and they gave him special permission to go inside – normally non-Muslims are not allowed to enter.

“To see a building made of earth in a country where we are surrounded by glass and shiny metal, and put together just with hands, it was to me of great interest,” he said. “Inside it is quite organic the way it’s been moulded. It’s very sculptural as well.”

Prof Sosa carried out the first formal photographic research study of the mosque and the images will be shown for the first time tomorrow when he addresses delegates at the International Architectural Conservation Conference in Dubai.

The black-and-white photos are also featured in a book by Prof Sosa, Al Bidiya Mosque, which goes on sale tomorrow. The work is the first to be produced by the university’s new publishing arm, ZU Books, and costs Dh70.

In the introduction, Prof Sosa credits The National article as the inspiration for the study and plans to describe its impact on him during tomorrow’s presentation.

The book is in English but there are plans for an Arabic version.

He has decided to donate any profits to a fund set up by the university’s newly formed College of Arts and Creative Enterprises, where he works, to finance student-led projects. One such endeavour is likely to involve his students in a study of a historic building in Al Ain.

One reason he wrote the book was to give western visitors a chance to see what the inside of the building was like.

“I looked at the visitors’ book and a lot of them were European non-Muslims who had travelled there and did not have access,” he added. “That was how the idea for the book started; it’s something they can take away with them.”

Prof Sosa, 44, was born in El Salvador and grew up in London. He is a qualified architect with more than 10 years’ experience.

He said the mosque project had been an eye-opener for his students, all of whom are Emirati.

“About 95 per cent of them hadn’t been there,” he said. “Even the students from Fujairah were coming to me and saying, ‘I never thought this building was important enough for someone to write a book about it’. So they’ve suddenly become very proud of what the mosque means.”

csimpson@thenational.ae