The largest mosque in France and the third largest in Europe, the Great Mosque of Paris (Grande Mosquee De Paris) is located in the Fifth Arrondissement, right in the heart of Paris. In fact, it is just a little more than a mile from Notre Dame. The Great Mosque of Paris was the very first mosque to be built in France, and it was initially constructed in honor of the French Arab community that fought in the World War I - especially those who perished at the Battle of Verdun in 1916. With its pure white walls and the green-blue roofs and tiles on portions of the building like the minaret, the Great Mosque of Paris is a lovely sight to behold.
The Great Mosque of Paris is located at Place du Puits de l'Ermite, 5e, (5th arrondissement of Paris is one of the 20 administrative districts) in the Latin Quarter near Jardin des Plantes and the Institut de Monde Arabe.
Guided tours are offered throughout the day without a prior reservation; however, the tours are in French. So, while they are quite informative, unless you speak French, you won't get the full benefit of the guided tour. Saturdays tend to be the busiest so you might wish to avoid that day. If you go throughout the week, try and arrive exactly when the doors open, which is usually 9:30 a.m.
President Gaston Doumergue inaugurated the Mosque on July 15, 1926. Ahmad al-Alawi (1869-1934), an Algerian and founder of the modern Sufi order Darqawiyya Alawiyya, led the first communal prayer as part of the inauguration ceremonies. During World War II, the Mosque became a secret hiding place for those persecuted by the Axis powers. Historic accounts show that the Mosque provided shelter, safe passage and even fake Muslim birth certificates for Jewish children.
Today, this Mosque plays an important social role for Muslims in Europe. According to the Institute of the Arab World's registry of Mosques, there are only about 121 mosques throughout France, which is a very small number when you consider there are more than 4 million Muslims living in France. Many so-called mosques in France are no more than parking lots and empty buildings being used for prayer, so this grand Mosque in Paris with its rich history means quite a lot to Muslims in France and throughout Europe.
Originally constructed in the 1920s, the Mosque underwent an extensive renovation in 1992. It is made of reinforced concrete and enhanced with marvelous mosaics, wonderful wood carvings and ravishing wrought iron from Morocco. While all of those intricacies are aesthetically pleasing, the main attraction during the winter months is the marble Turkish baths. Men can take advantage of the baths on Tuesdays and Sundays, while the rest of the week is reserved for women. No matter which day you choose to visit the Mosque, you're sure to enjoy the unique architecture and learn more about Islam and its rich history in France.