Published on March 14, 2014
Heritage Capsules By Maya Naasani
Syria is a culturally rich country steeped in history with cities dating back to the 10th millenium BC. It is named the cradle of civilization with many cultures basing themselves within its borders, diversifying its already significant laws, creating its unique architecture and demonstrating its unparalleled art. These civilizations include the Holy Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic empires. Syria has been the birthplace of numerous thinkers, engineers, poets and artists since time immemorial and continues to do so even through its current conflict. If I had the ability of encapsulating everything I would but the following heritage icons resonate the greatest with me.
This immortal building was erected as a temple in the Iron Age to the god Haddad-Ramman. The Romans appreciated it so greatly that they assimilated Haddad with their own god of Thunder, Jupiter. After several expansions, it became the largest temple in Roman Syria and was renowned for its size and beauty. In 391 CE, it was converted into the Cathedral of Saint John, who was buried there. After that, in 705, the cathedral was converted once again to the beautiful Omayyad Mosque that we all know in Damascus. Omayyad Mosque of Damascus
In my country, the first alphabet, written by the Phoenicians, and the first musical clay tablet was found in Ugarit north of Latakia. I’m exceptionally proud of these tablets and such important history must be preserved without exception. First Alphabet & Musical Clay Tablets
The Damascene Jasmine is a beloved symbol of beauty and adoration, which is well known to all city lovers and dwellers of Damascus. It hugs almost every building and perfumes the whole city with its romantic and gentle scent. Damascene Jasmine
Nizar Qabbani, the quintessential Syrian poet of modern times, diplomat, and author, was a great admirer of Damascus. As a progressive intellectual and advocate of feminist reform he also described in Arabic the charm of my beloved city. Nizar Qabbani Poems
Damascus … Jasmine & Water Festival I can’t write about Damascus without getting jasmine creeping up my fingers… nor can I utter its name without getting the juice of apricot, pomegranate, berries and quince cramming into my mouth… Recalling it always lets thousands of doves alight on the walls of memory while other thousands fly… Damascus , Is not a picture of paradise It is paradise Nor is it a copy of poem , It is the poem Nor an Umayyad sword on the wall of Arabness , It is Arabness
Ablution with Adoration and Jasmine Water I enter the courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque and greet everything in it, tile to tile, and dove to dove… I wander in the gardens of Kufi script and I pluck beautiful flowers from the discourse of God… I hear with my eyes the voice of the mosaics and the music of agate prayer beads… A state of revelation and bliss overtakes me, so I climb the steps of the first minaret I encounter and call out: “Come to the jasmine … Come to the jasmine.”* *Come to Prayer, Come to Prayer” is part of the adhan, or the Islamic call to prayer, announced five times a day from mosque minarets.
Devastatingly, the loss that Syria continues to bear is priceless; everyday lives are lost, heritage destroyed and tomorrow's hope dwindles. The following examples showcase the destruction of great historical, artistic, and architecturally significant icons and monuments that I truly wish I could contain in a time capsule at their most unsullied.
Omayyad Mosque of Aleppo As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest and most influential mosques in the world. It individually impacted Islamic architecture by erecting the first minaret in Islam that all mosques exhibit today. Sadly the minaret crumbled during a battle that took place inside this magnificent building.
Krak des Chevaliers Another of Syria`s UNESCO Heritage Sites and one of the most important, and well preserved, medieval castles. It is considered the largest military castle in the world. First inhabited in the 11th century by Kurds it was renovated by the Hospitallers in 1140 and witnessed ages of glories and eras of culture. Sadly, it was bombed in October 2013.
Palmyra, known as Tadmor in the native Arabic language, and also The Bride of the Desert, is one of UNESCO’s Heritage Sites and was founded in the 2nd millennium BC as part of the Holy Roman Empire. These spectacular stone temple ruins, and columns, have been brutally bombed during this horrible conflict but, thankfully, still survive in tact to some degree. The City of Palmyra
The Old Souk of Aleppo (Souk Al-Madina) It was constructed during the 12th to 16th century, and it is counted as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was one of the most charming souks (markets) in the Middle East and Turkey and the largest covered old souk in the world. A place where you could find oriental spices, hand made copper trinkets, and silk fabrics. This charming place was ruined by fire and bombing in September 2012.
Al-Omari Mosque (Bosra) It was one of the oldest surviving mosques in Islamic history and represented archetypal Islamic architecture with its minaret, courtyard, and arcade. Bombing and total destruction were the unfortunate destiny of this minaret in 2013.
Khalid Ibn Alwalid Mosque A beautiful Ottoman style mosque, known for its captivating domes and charming Mamluk Ablaq-style stonework in the courtyard. It was built around Khalid Ibn Alwalid’s mausoleum, an Islamic general and hero, during the reign of the Mamluks, and restored several times thereafter, the last during Ottoman rule. The Mosque was targeted by shells several times during the current civil war, a travesty for the region’s history and culture.
With all the cultural icons and monuments that exist in Syria it is very difficult to pick a select few for this time capsule. I believe that covering all eras is equally difficult but it is my long-lasting hope that what is preserved stays so while what has been lost is set as an example to human folly.
References: • http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/26/syria-heritage-in-ruins-before-and-after-pictures • http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/840893.shtml#.UyBMNfmSzH0 • http://www.worldheritagesite.org/countries/syria.html • http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/story.asp?NewsID=45734&Cr=syria&Cr1#.UyBMdPmSzH0 • http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2012/oct/05/aleppo-souk-syria-destroyed-war • Flood, Finbarr Barry (2001). The Great Mosque of Damascus: studies on the makings of an Umayyad visual culture • George Mitchell, ed. (1978). Architecture of the Islamic World. Thames and Hudson. • http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1229 • http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/23 • http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/21 • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khalid_ibn_al-Walid_Mosque • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Omari_Mosque_(Bosra) • Qabbani, Nizar 1995 Dimashq Nizar Qabbani. Damascus: Al-Ahali lil Nashr. • http://www.aljadid.com/content/come-jasmine
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