Lagos Central Mosque
Lagos, Nigeria

In the middle of one of the most visited commercial centers in West Africa is the site of one of the iconic mosques on Lagos Island; an unlikely building typology that simultaneously stands out and blends into its environment. In a city such as Lagos with a vast collection of religious buildings- churches and mosques alike, this mosque commands its viewers' attention from its sheer grandiosity and overall symbolism. The view of its minarets and golden plated dome rising up to the sky can be seen from as far as the Third Mainland Bridge, one of the major access points to the island.

The present-day Lagos Central Mosque holds an interesting architectural history. Its current site on the former Victoria Street (now Nnamdi Azikiwe Street) has witnessed multiple rebuilding and expansion projects since it was first built in 1864. The first structure was constructed of mud and bamboo - the common building materials of the time. It was rebuilt a decade later with burnt brick and corrugated iron sheets for roofing.

The need for a bigger mosque to house the growing Muslim population in Lagos gave rise to the proposal for a third version of the mosque in 1905. The Baroque style building designed by Joao Baptist da Costa was said to be an outstanding architectural feat for its day. It took more than 10 years to complete and was finally opened in 1913. However, more than half a century later, the demand for a new structure emerged.

The present-day Lagos Central Mosque officially opened on May 28, 1988. The 15-year extension project of da Costa's design was to serve as a bigger space for the rapidly urbanizing and growing Muslim population of Lagos. This structure along the Nnamdi Azikiwe Street encompasses an area of about 1 acre. Its exterior features include four ottoman-style minarets arranged symmetrically- two above the entrance area and two recessed to the east and west sides of the building. As one enters the premises, an array of steps meets the eyes. This welcoming feature creates a new experience as you leave the noise and banter on the street into a higher and spiritual realm. The entry into the mosque is through large doorways that are ornamented with recessed stepped frames. The three doorways lead into the riwaq (arcade), the space just before the prayer area, and the transition between the outdoor and indoor. It is a closed space covered by roof trusses and a see-through roofing membrane which allows a flood of sunlight during the day.

The double volume prayer area just after the riwaq is demarcated by iron screen walls with geometric decorations. This geometric rhythm is continued on the horseshoe-shaped openings on all sides of the space. It also houses the beautiful art of calligraphy on the walls and the dome above. The dome is the highlighting feature of the mosque. The 15-meter diameter wide architectural element is at the center of 16 smaller domes arranged in a grid of fives. The main dome is perforated with thirty-six openings that are shaped as a combination of horseshoe arches and rectangles. These openings are accentuated by blue tiles and calligraphy below. As light penetrates through these openings, it brings the interior to life, giving depth to this space with profound spiritual attributes. Emerging from the dome are the pendentives that extend as tapering capitals for the columns that reach for the ground.

The whole structure is supported by an array of columns. The columns, aligned on a grid that originates from the pendentives, are decorated with mosaic tiles. Their arrangements form horseshoe arches as they travel away from the eyes. The arches are most prominently seen in the hallway that overlooks the courtyards flanking the prayer area on both sides. This hallway leads to the madrasa and office blocks at the rear of the building. The blend of colored arches and mosaic-tiled columns exhibit the beauty of repetition in an architectural style that has lasted for many centuries.

The ceiling on the first floor covers the praying area that overlooks the dome. The recessed stepped decorative element on the doorway openings is also evident on the ceiling which is arranged into modules as a result of the column composition.

A striking feature that cannot be overlooked as one circulates this building is the detailing of geometric shapes. The octagonal star is significant in the mosque and is represented on almost all surfaces from the metal ornamentation of the openings, the tiles on the base of the dome, the balusters overlooking the void of the prayer area, the floor finishes, and even on the doors.

Finally, the minarets provide access to an awe-striking view of Lagos from the building. This view lies on the rooftop of the mosque. The only access to this space is the narrow spiral staircase enclosed in the minaret. The gleaming gold plated dome can be seen up close and the once distant noise of the market below reaches the foreground and you are greeted with a view of the immediate horizon. It is at this spot that I truly appreciate the significance of this iconic landmark.

Adefolatomoiwa Toye, 11/09/2020

Edited by Jola Idowu

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[2] Raifu, Isiaka Okunola. “Intrigues and Twist in the Imamate Crisis of Lagos Central Mosque (Jama’atul Muslimeen Council), 1841 to 1947.” International Journal of Arts and Humanities, vol. 5, no. 4, 2016, pp. 36–48.

[3] Balogun, Muhsin Adekunle. Syncretic Beliefs and Practices amongst Muslims in Lagos State Nigeria; with Special Reference to the Yoruba Speaking People of Epe. 2011. University of Birmingham, PhD dissertation.

[4] Lagos Central Mosque. “Our History.” Lagos Central Mosque Jamaatul Muslimeen Council, Accessed 6 May 2020.

[5] Behrens-Abouseif, D., and Vernoit, S., editors. Islamic Art in the 19th Century: Tradition, Innovation and Eclecticism. Brills, 2006.

[6] Petersen, A. Dictionary of Islamic Architecture. Psychology Press, 1996.

[7] Obu, Chukwuka Tolulope “Lagos Central Mosque (Lagos Island) view into the sky, worship center/building for Muslims” Wikimedia Commons, 2016, Accessed 5 August 2020.

[8]Ayeni, Olajide. Instagram, 2017. Accessed 6 May 2020.

[9]Sanusi, Tolulope. “Central Mosque Grand Atrium.” Rubyspolaroid, 2017, Accessed 9 November 2020.

[10] Toye, Adefolatomiwa T. “Lagos Central Mosque: Window Bars.”2018. JPG File.

[11] Sanusi, Tolulope. “Lagos Central Mosque Rooftop.” Rubyspolaroid, 2017, Accessed 9 November 2020.

Lagos, Nigeria
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Central Mosque of Lagos
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