A few weeks ago, my friend and I had a thé a la menthe at the café just on the corner of the Grand Mosquée de Paris. And now, I’ve finally returned to take a look in and around the mosque properly. It is incredible! Both its decoration and architecture are a fantastic representation of Muslim art and culture, and I’m beyond glad I visited.
The mosque was founded in the years following the First World War, to act as a token of gratitude to the Muslim community that had fought for France; and finally inaugurated by President Doumergue in 1926. It is one of the largest mosques in France, and behind the unassuming front, you’ll find an intricate and fascinating interior.
In the inner courtyard, the lower half of the walls are covered in patterned mosaics in a great variety of colours. As I was walking around, I researched more about the mosque. During the Second World War, when France was occupied by the Nazis, the mosque served as a secret refuge for Jews who were fleeing to evade capture.
The rector at the mosque at the time, Si Kaddour Benghabrit, sheltered many Jews at the mosque, and provided them with forged Muslim birth certificates so they were able to flee France. I am absolutely amazed by this, given how much was at stake were they to be caught.
After walking through and around the courtyard, you move through into what has become one of my favourite places in Paris: the gardens.
I felt like I’d been transported out of Paris (well, actually, out of France) and to a land far, far away. Vibrant greens and bright blues stood out brilliantly against the white walls, and the entire floor was mosaicked. The minaret, the tower traditionally used for the call to prayer, can be seen from the gardens, towering above the walls at 33m high.
The fountain in the centre of the gardens brings the whole environment to focus, and was a great spot to recommence my Googling. I wanted to find out more about this man who secretly opened the mosque’s doors to the Jews.
For his efforts in aiding the Jews, he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Légion d’Honneur. The Légion d’Honneur is the highest civil and military medal that can be awarded in France, in varying orders. The Grand Cross is the second highest order, of which there are only 67 recipients since the Légion d’Honneur was first awarded in 1803.
So really, he was a pretty extraordinary guy. I am still amazed by this place and its history, and I don’t think these photos do it justice. So, if you’re ever at a loss for things to see in the 5th arrondissement, get over there and see for yourself!
It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg either. For an entry price of €3 (€2 reduced fare) you are able to access the central courtyard of the mosque and the attached gardens. Donations are also very welcome. If you’d like to find out more about the mosque, you can take a look at their website here.