The Syria of today offers tourists as much a cultural experience as a sightseeing one, where ancient history provides a fascinating backdrop to everyday life on the streets                          



Manuscripts are one of the most important archaeological documents that reach us from the past. At the dawn of Islam, the Arabs used to write on al-Likhaf ( fragments of flat stone or of plaster ), shoulder-blades parchment or the papyri which they imported from Egypt. The Arabs, did not delay in manufacturing paper which they gradually perfected until the technique was taken from Syria to Europe daring the Crusades.

The Arabs have proved themselves masters of calligraphy. They used at first the cursive hand-writing. It was simple script combining flexibility and stiffness. Then, the writing began to give way to geometrical rules and was then transformed into the Khufi ( Kufic), which owes its name to the town of al Kufah.

The different kinds of handwritings were associated with the thickness of the pen. Therefore, the pen of the Tumar (piece of parchment ) was invented, its thickness was 24 hair of a horse. This was followed by a style rather cursive and the pen of thuluth began to mean the new form of writing. Its thickness was 8 hair. Ibn-Muqlah, the Visor of al-Muqtadir and al-Qahir, in the 4th century A.H. = 10th A.D., practiced this style. This type of writing was suitable for copying and quick writing. The Kufic, however, remained in use in the official matters: coins, title of books, texts of houses, cenotaphs and tombs... etc. Elaborate designs of flowers, scrolls were added to the Kufic and it began to be known as the flowery Kufic, the leafy Kufic and the Kufic with branches.

the Thuluth writing flourished in the 6 A.H. = 12 A.D. and replaced the Kufic on the buildings, but the Kufic remained in use for the very important epigraphs and they made it more involved in the 7 A.H. = 13 A.D. The Thuluth was perfect and predominant in the Mamluk period. It reached a high degree of perfection in the Ottoman Period. Particular rules and principles were laid down for this writing .

Of the other types of writings that appeared in the Ottoman Period are: the "Dewani" and its variants, the Persian writing and the Ruq’ah ( a kind of cursive writing).

In addition to the shape of writing, it is useful to point out that the calligraphists also used punctuations and other marks which were used to indicate a slight pause of break between the verses of the Koran. These marks were in color and in gold. The calligraphists also took much pain in drawing lines on the pages before writing and they made elegant golden frame for each page. The illumination of the first two pages, the titles of the books or the Koranic chapters were usually exquisite.

The calligraphists also used to compete among themselves in perfecting and improving the writing to the extent that the Arabic manuscripts turned out to be of great value not only or the subject matter, but also for the preciousness of paper. the beauty of handwriting and the perfection of binding. A number of crafts and craftsmen relating to the publishing of manuscripts came to existence. These craftsmen are : the book-binder, the calligrapher, the illuminater and the painter.

After the advent of Islam, the Arabs not only studied the rules and laws of religion, but also they got themselves acquainted with the culture of the other nations and adapted them to their own peculiar needs and ways of thinking. They learnt most of the foreign languages to know the original works. Since the time of al-Ma’mun, the Moslem Arabs have been able to occupy a high status. They created an original culture by which they maintained the heritage of the ancients, and in turn, transmitted this culture to the other nations. In actual fact, the credit for the European Renaissance goes back to the Arabs. History knows no other nation that contributed so much to human knowledge in quantity, quality, preciseness and depth as the Moslem-Arabs, despite the fact that most of the Arabic manuscripts have been lost.

The National Museum of Damascus houses an appreciable quantity of manuscripts that go back to all periods from the first year of al-Hijrah down to the Ottoman Period. These manuscripts deal with various topics :The Holly Koran, invocations, theology, philosophy, literature, linguistics, medicine, anatomy, pharmacy, botany, geography and astronomy.


The Koran

Book of Al-Sowar (pictures) by Abdul Rahman Al-Soufi


Heading of a Koranic Chapter from the Mamluk Koran

Astronomical Instruments :

Arabic astrolabe for measuring the inclination of the polestar from the horizon in order to specify the degree of width of the place.

 Globe with a number of stars on it .

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