Main Mosques in Brunei through the Ages
One of the biggest mosques we had was during the reign of the third Sultan, Sultan Sharif Ali. In 1578, Alonso Beltran, a Spanish traveller described it as one of five storeyed tall on the water but that maybe a slightly wrong description as the technology to build 5 storeyed buildings in the 15th century on water was not yet available in Brunei. Most likely it had five roofs to represent the five pillars of Islam (see artist's impression - figure 1). This mosque was unfortunately destroyed by the Spanish in June that same year.
Subsequent mosques on the water tended to have higher and bigger roofs to indicate the mosques' importance in the society. The tallest structure in the old photographs are the mosques. The first of these illustration was in the mid 19th century and influenced by Chinese architecture. It has also a tower probably for the 'bedok' (the drum). The second one is built next to the Istana of Sultan Hashim around 1880s. The Istana is in the middle and the mosque with the double roofs at the extreme right of the photograph. The third is a huge cone roof mosque built during the era of Sultan Abdul Momin around 1850s.
During the era of Sultan Mohammad Jamalul Alam II, the mosque was built on dry land. According to sources, the mosque was on the same site as the current Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque now. This mosque called the Masjid Marbut (Pak) Tunggal was built around 1924 and used the double roof structure. The tower looked like a rocket and divided into three. Most likely the bottom third was also used as an office. Concrete was also used as the pillars and the mosque was raised about a metre from the ground.
Another temporary mosque was the Masjid Kajang built in 1946, after the end of the second world war. This was built during the era of Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin and being of temprary nature, it looked more like a balai or a hall and can accommodate some 500 people. The site of this old mosque is where TAIB is currently located.
It was in 1954 when work first started for the Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin. The architect was an Italian, Cavalieri R Nolli and completed on 26th September 1954. This mosque is influenced by the Moghul's architecture in India. The interior was designed by His Majesty himself assisted by Awang Besar Sagap, then the Chief Draughtsman at the Public Works Department. Awang Besar also wrote the national anthem. The mosque built at a cost of $9 million can accommodate about 3,000 people. But during its heyday when there were not many other mosques around, many thousands of people prayed there especially during Hari Raya.