Meditation Station: Discovering The Paris Mosque

For a long time I’d been hearing about a place in Paris with impressive Islamic architecture and an other-wordly oasis somewhere in the city. Naively I assumed it must be tucked deep inside the Arab World Institute on the edge of the Latin Quarter bordering the Seine. I regretfully admit I’m pretty ill-educated in the Muslim culture and the architecture that goes along with it, and it’s awful easy in a place like Paris to focus solely on the endless historical cache of Western History. This is why I had no intention of visiting anything Middle Eastern as I made my way through Le Jardin des Plantes toward the Roman ruins of Les Arènes de Lutece.

I happened to exit the garden at an intersection that lay halfway between my destination of Les Arènes and what was written on my street map as Mosquée de Paris. I didn’t know what to expect but it’d be foolish to be in the neighborhood and not take a peek, so I changed my path and headed to the Paris Mosque wondering if I’d see anything interesting from the outside. The front door was open and the odd tourist seemed to be floating in and out, so I moved into the entryway to see if there was anything worth seeing, and boy was there:

To my surprise it seemed that the oasis I had always heard about was actually here instead. I’d never seen anything like this in Paris, and it was something I definitely needed to get closer to. I tried to suss out the security vibe, wondering if it’s a free public space for all, or if you’d have to prove your Muslim-ness to get further inside. I decided—as is often the best strategy—to hide my camera, hold my head high and act like I had every right to be there. In fact this worked much better than I was aware of at the time: I would learn later that I’d managed to slip by the welcome desk without paying the mandatory 3€ entry fee. After turning a few corners I entered into a large open square with a covered arcade flanking all sides. The first impression was one of quiet and simplicity, but a closer look revealed an extraordinary amount of meticulous detail on almost every surface.

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I sensed and appreciated the lack of other visitors—a rare occurrence in springtime Paris and probably due to most folks being as unaware as I was about where this place was. As I meandered from one impressive view to the next I reveled in the philanthropic idea that this Islamic construction was so similar to those of Christian cloisters: square community gardens with vaulted arcades surrounding all sides for monks to relax and socialize. And the level of detail in tiling and stone work was at the same time vastly different and exactly the same as the quality craftsmanship we’d see on any Gothic church. It was an affirmation that the same awe-inspiring beauty comes out of every worshiper equally throughout the world; it’s final aesthetic is simply a matter of which religious filter you pass it through.

This space led via a short decorated corridor to the coup de grâce, the central garden you can see from the building’s entrance.

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What strikes me the most is the amazing color of the floor tiling, giving the fantastic impression that you’re about to step ankle-deep into a crystal clear wade pool. Every view was an explosion of a thousand bits of shapes and colors vibrating at a low hum, in keeping with the meditative intentions of a place like this. After thinking I’d seen it all, an open door led me to a large empty room with high ceilings and even more variations of intricate pattern and color.

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It was a bit hard to leave the Paris Mosque; it’s a space that’s just begging for appreciative visitors to stop and sink successively one by one into layers of reverence and self-reflection, not to mention its flat-out beautiful. It’s well worth the 3€ (that I never paid but will gladly do next time), and I’d recommend it as an addition to the standard touristic visit, for a quiet moment of repose and an eye-opening reminder of the similarities and differences between two cultures.

21 thoughts on “Meditation Station: Discovering The Paris Mosque

  1. It’s my favorite place!
    Next time, stop by in the afternoon for mint tea and sugary pastries.
    Or even couscous, if you’re up for it.
    And Tuesdays and Sundays splurge at the hammam – these are the days for men. A magnificent and fantastic place inside.

    1. Thanks for the tips David. No surprise you’re all about the culinary angle! That mint tea and pastries sounds right up my alley, I’ll definitely check that out. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I am currently up in Paris and I visited the mosque yesterday….I thought it was a beautiful building an oasis of calm in abusy city…

  3. GREAT post, Corey! Like you, I’ve known about the mosque’s existence for a while, but it had never occurred to me to actually *visit* it. But thanks to your excellent réportage, I’ve just added the mosque to my “must see” list. Thank you!

    1. You’re very welcome Heather. A fellow comment-er above, David Santori, who’s nuts about good food (see his blog), mentioned some mint tea & pastries at the mosque…we may have to investigate further. :)

  4. Just recently in my Religion class, we discussed the architecture the signifies certain religions and which we’d like to be able to enter and see the insides of the structures. Mosques came out on top. Beautiful!

    1. Yes, Dena, and it feels like even more of a treat because the religious architecture of Paris is so thoroughly Western and Christian. The mosque is a real lesson in contrast!

  5. Gorgeous! I have never been there, but thanks to you, will make sure to stop and visit next time I make it to Paris. It is so pristine and has such a flavor to it. I am always thoroughtly impressed by the use of tiles in the middle eastern culture. Thier craftsman ship is something none can rival and it gives a powerful feeling when you are in a room that they have intricately designed in this way.
    Ashley

  6. “It was an affirmation that the same awe-inspiring beauty comes out of every worshiper equally throughout the world; it’s final aesthetic is simply a matter of which religious filter you pass it through.” So right, Corey. The turquoise “pools” we’re truly amazing, too. So, so beautiful…

  7. Glad I came across your website. I am just as fond of France as you are but haven’t found the moment to move there yet though I did stay there for almost four months last year.
    Paris is like a blank canvas where you can actually place the modern and the old worlds together on the same page, like most people we love most things french and all my experiences in France have only been positive and full of wonderful surprises and memories. I enjoyed my visit to La Mosquee and sipping mint tea and having the sweetest of all desserts in the tea room. It is a very special place – very tranquil wandering the sacred space in the courtyard. Thank you for the lovely photos.

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