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The Great Mosque of Guangzhou or Huaisheng Mosque is notable for its integration of the

local Han building tradition with imported Arab styles. Built in 627, during the Tang Dynasty
(618-907), it features six important buildings, the Imam Hall, the Wangyue Attic, the
Covered Corridor, the Storehouse of Islamic Scripture, the Stone Steles Pavilion and the
Light Tower.

The mosque complex covers an area of about 3,000 square meters and stretches along the
north-south axis, in the Chinese fashion. Entered from a red-brick gate with a green awning
on Guangta Road to the south, the mosque complex consists of a U-shaped corridor
enclosing a courtyard with a large Bangke tower to the north, followed by the prayer hall.
The streetscape is marked by the mosque's most famous feature, the old minaret or light
tower, which flanks the main gate behind the street wall.
From the main gate, a narrow courtyard enclosed with high brick walls passes by the old
light tower to its left and leads to an inner gateway. This monumental gateway is styled
after a bangke tower, consisting of a wooden structure encased in brick. Its stacked,
double-eaved meru roof is carried on pronounced dougong brackets. This gateway tower
bears an inscriptive plaque in Chinese that reads: "Religion that holds in great esteem the
teachings brought from the Western Region." The U-shaped corridor begins at either side of
this gateway and wraps around the inner courtyard facing the prayer hall.
The prayer hall was rebuilt in concrete in 1935. A portico wraps around the north, east and
southern sides of the prayer hall, arcaded with columns joined by half dougong joints. When
the structure was rebuilt, its main entrance was moved from the east to the south faade of
the hall so as to open directly into the courtyard to its south. The mihrab is placed in a
shallow semi-circular niche that projects beyond the western wall. Its hipped roof, which is
supported on two internal columns in addition to the walls, is covered with green tiles. A line
of windows separates the two tiers of this stacked roof.
The Light Tower has no precedent in China with its thick cylindrical masonry shaft and
internal stairway. One of the earliest examples of Islamic architecture in China, it mimics
Arabic styles while also attempting to integrate them with the local architectural styles. Its
tapering brick shaft rises to a height of thirty-six meters atop a ten meter stone base. The
minaret balcony, which is used for the call to prayer, is thought once to have had a beacon
to guide boats on the Zhujiang River at night. It is said that when ships sailing along this
segment of the river considered the tower as the sign that they had arrived at the beginning
of the "maritime silk road". Above the balcony, the minaret is capped with a gourd-shaped
dome on a thin turret. The base of the dome is decorated with two tiers
of dougong brackets, adding a Chinese character to the minaret.
Two intertwined staircases, a structural feat not seen in China prior to the Song Dynasty,
give access to the balcony, and are expressed on the exterior with windows that spiral up
the tower. An inscription added to the mosque at the time of its reconstruction in 1350
states the following: "beneath white clouds and where the mountain turns, there stands a
brilliant stone pagoda in the style of the Western Regions. Handed down by Emperor Gaozu
of the Tang dynasty to the present, its style is unknown in the Central Region," suggesting a
completion date between 650 and 700 for the minaret. Until recently, the Light Tower
minaret was the tallest structure in Guangzhou and served as a main landmark in the city.
The complex also includes quarters for the imam, a tablet pavilion for the storage of
scripture, and an ablution area, all composed in the open pagoda style with traditionally
sculpted and tiled roofs complimenting the roofs of the prayer hall and of the secondary

Figure 1: Red brick gate - the entrance of Huaisheng Mosque.

Figure 2: Huaisheng Mosque in December 2007

Figure 3: The minaret of Huaisheng Mosque in Guangzhou is simple and smoothly finished like
traditional buildings of Arabia.

Figure 4: The prayer hall
(Source: Michel Van Hov, 2009)

Figure 5: Huaisheng Mosque courtyard
(Source: Saudi Aramco World)