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                          



Wood is a soft material that man has used for numerous purposes. Wood, in fact, serves for the construction of houses, manufacture of doors, windows and partitions, decorations of buildings by covering the walls and ceilings and for making furniture. Wood is also seen in the houses, mosques, schools and tombs.

The artist has decorated wood in different manners: in sculpture to display the decorative elements and in carving to produce profound designs. To obtain various effects, the artist used it for softening, interlacing, dovetailing, turning, piercing and chiseling. Sometime he had inlaid it with precious wood of another color, or by incrusting it with ivory and shell...

The Arab artist of Syria has been undoubtedly inspired by the works of his predecessors, but at the same time ,he has not imitated them blindly. He rather chose from the known elements what suited his taste and belief. He began by using the floral motifs and representing them in naturalistic shape. Since the Umayyad period, the artist has used the carving for setting in relief the decorative elements within a large background. After the carving, he adorned the wood with paint and gold. ( See the carved wood and paints of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi which we have already indicated ).

During the First Abbasid Period, the woodwork maintained the traditions of the Umayyad Period, but the artist also benefited by the Sasanid art. An evolution then, took place in the forms of motifs, not directly on the woodwork but on the garniture of the stucco. This is because when the artists wanted to decorate the buildings of Samarra , they found that the old methods (carving in stucco ) takes a longer time, so they tried to cast the stucco motifs in moulds. They made the surfaces of these motifs convex so as to facilitate the extract of these motifs from the moulds. Here they maintained the old shapes of the decorative elements and this was the first style of Samarra.

The second style is distinguished by the stylization of the motifs which were removed from reality and by the reduction of the depth.

The third style consists in exaggeration of motifs and complete absence of background . Here the narrow channels were reduced into sunken single lines separating one motif from another.

It seems that this modern artistic trend satisfied the purpose because it was executed both on stone and wood.

We have some wooden fragments in the Hall of ar-Raqqah which represent the second and the third style of Samarra. The third century A.H. = the 9th century A.D.

The Fatimid artist did not follow the Iraqis, but began to transform the motifs in his own way until they went to the of being unrealistic however, he left the background of the motifs deep, He began also to incline towards softness, precision and diversification of the decorative subjects.

The Syrian artists of the fourth and fifth centuries A.H. = 10th - 11 A.D. assimilated the Iraqi style of Samarra and that of the Fatimid of Egypt We have two examples of this synthesis, the wooden panels displayed in the glass case of this Hall and the wooden partition dated 497 A.H. which we will touch upon in detail soon.

During the 6 - 7 A.H. = 12 - 13 A.D., the Syrian artist devoted himself to transformation of the decorative elements, sharply realized and exaggerated details, softness and filling all the gaps with motifs which he distributed among the zones in the background . He also used the Arabic calligraphy, the thuluth and the involved Kufic script. A case in point is the tomb of Khalid b. al-Walid dated 664 A.H.

In this period the artist continued to use the geometrical motifs and from the involved lines he formed stars and various geometrical shapes. He adorned the interior with beautiful floral motifs thereof. He profited by the progress of carpentry notably the tenoning, dovetailing and hollowing .... then by painting these motifs with colors and gold. An example of this tendency: the tomb of Princess Bakhti Khatun which dates back to 648 A.H.

In the Mamluk Period ( 8 - 9 A.H. = 14 - 15 A.D.) the artist abused the precision and began to use the inlaid work and incrusting of ivory and shell. An example in this connection ( without inlaid work or incrusting ) is the stand of the Koran displayed in the Hall of Manuscripts.

During the Ottoman Period, the Syrian artists maintained the acquired old traditions, but they once more began to draw near to the naturalistic style in the floral motifs, They also exaggerated in using the golden colors and gilding as in the decors of the Damascene Hall and in certain pieces in this very Hall.

Cenotaph of Bakhti Khatun :

Wooden cenotaph decorated with geometrical, Floral and epigraphic motifs. They are painted with colors and gold. The upper frieze bears verses from the Holy Koran written in the thuluth script. The lower frieze hears the name of the Seljuqi Princess Bakhti Khatun, daughter of Sultan Mu’izz ad-Din Qaisar Shah Qilij Ars ( 648 A.H. = 1250 A.D. ). Found in at-Turbah ( mausoleum ) al-Khatuniyyah, Damascus. 

Cenotaph of Kalid ibn al-Walid :

Cenotaph of precious carved wood decorated with Koranic verses written in the thuluth characters and involved Kufic. It has also interlacing floral motifs. It was King az-Zahir Rukn ad-Din Babars as-Salihi who ordered the manufacture of this cenotaph in 664 A.H. = 1265 A.D. in commemoration of the Arab hero Khalid b. al-Walid, on account of the Muslims' victory over the Armenians at Cillicia and their occupation of the city of Sis. ( This information is gathered from the inscriptions found with the cenotaph in the funerary monument of Kalid b. al-Walid at Homs).

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