May 11th, 2012
11:02 AM GMT
Abu Dhabi (CNN) - An Abu Dhabi mosque is being adorned with beautiful new mosaics - thanks to some traditional Italian craftsmanship.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is first and foremost a place of worship, but in less than five years it has become synonymous with the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
Enrico Fantini is a fourth-generation Italian mosaic artisan who was recruited to work on the vast exterior ground and key parts of the grand interior. “We are very proud to have an Italian tradition - the mosaic started in the Byzantine world, the Roman world,” Fantini told CNN’s John Defterios.
That tradition is on vivid display in the flowers and fauna of the courtyard, made with marble of all shades, sourced from up to 15 countries, including Turkey, Italy and India. Each month, more than 300,000 visitors from around the world come here to take in what Fantini himself says is something unique.
“It is not a traditional mosque, it is modern, it is open - a completely different idea,” said Fantini.
His company was started by his great grandfather in 1904. “Fantini Mosaici” made its name discretely, working behind the scenes for royal families of the Middle East, including for the Emir of Qatar, the King of Morocco and members of the Saudi Royal family. A son of the late founder of the United Arab Emirates, for whom the Grand Mosque is named, urged Fantini to ply his trade on a much grander scale.
Fantini Mosaici has built a reputation in the Middle East and has trained craftsmen from South Asia to bring to its workshop in Abu Dhabi. Under a United Nations development program, the company trained Pakistani nationals from Lahore and then brought them to the Emirate. Today, they sit side by side with other South-Asian craftsmen after word spread of expansion.
It is labor-intensive, painstaking, detailed employment - cutting marble, designing panels and working the inlay. Fantini employs 90 people in the Emirate, nearly double the team back home in Italy. Some of their work will stay in the region, while some is exported back to Europe.
Another huge project for the company, the Palazzo Versace complex, is underway in neighboring Dubai. It’s another grand opera requiring the “Made-in-Italy” brand keeping alive a trade that stretches back four generations, and a craft that stretches back for millennia.
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