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Entrance to social side of the Grande Mosquée de Paris │© Guilhem Vellut/Flickr
Entrance to social side of the Grande Mosquée de Paris │© Guilhem Vellut/Flickr
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The History Of The Grande Mosquée De Paris In 1 Minute

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 16 September 2016
Wander out the rear of the Jardin des Plantes, away from its gargantuan greenhouses and grand monuments to the biological sciences, and you’ll find one of the French capital’s most surprising architectural treasures: the Grande Mosquée de Paris. This one-hectare complex, the most immediately eye-catching feature of which is a 33-meter-high minaret, is the oldest surviving Muslim place of worship in metropolitan France and also one of the largest.

Applications to create a mosque in Paris had been submitted to the French government as early as 1842. The only successful project was the Ottoman embassy’s installation of a dedicated facility for Islamic burials in Père-Lachaise cemetery in 1856. It took the First World War and, specifically, the loss of 100,000 Muslim soldiers who died fighting for France to finally motivate the state. On August 19, 1920, 500,000 francs were granted for the construction of a Muslim Institute, incorporating a 1,000-person capacity mosque, library, madrassa, and conference rooms on the site of an old hospital. At precisely 2:00pm on October 19, 1922, the first stone was laid in the presence of the architect Maurice Tranchant de Lunel and distinguished guests from across France and the Islamic world. Four years later, on July 15, 1926, Ahmad al-Alawi led the first communal prayer to inaugurate the mosque in the presence of President Gaston Doumergue.

The mosque was conceived following the mudéjar, or Moorish, style. Inspiration was taken from the El-Qaraouiyyîn Mosque in Fez, one of the largest in Morocco and among the oldest in the world, and, for its minaret, the Zitouna mosque in Tunisia. The manufacture of all its decorative elements, especially the zellij, or tilework, was carried out by expert craftsmen from North Africa using traditional materials. The principal entranceway is decorated with stylized floral motifs, and the gardens themselves are filled with pools, fountains, and flowers.

During World War II, the mosque provided shelter to North African and European Jews, even issuing fake Muslim birth certificates to help them escape Nazi persecution. The exact figure of those saved is unknown, but estimates range from 500 to 1,600.

Today, people are also drawn to the mosque for reasons besides its religious and architectural importance. The fragrances emanating from its North African restaurant are easily more enticing than the nearby herbaceous borders, and the dappled sunlight and twittering birdlife of its terrace make for one of the most agreeable tearooms in the city. A hammam and a souk complete the social side of the mosque.

📅 The mosque is open Saturday to Thursday, 9:00am to 12:00pm and 2:00pm to 7:00pm (6:00pm in winter). The restaurant and souk are open every day from noon to midnight. The tearoom is open every day from 9:00am to midnight (last service at 10:30pm). The hammam is open every day except Tuesday from 9:00am to 9:00pm.