Medieval Arts of Syria and Lebanon Part II

By | December 17, 2021

These ruined cities, described by travelers of the secc. 18th and 19th centuries, remained abandoned until recently; in the last fifty years wells have been built and nomadic tribes dedicated to agriculture have settled there. Like the churches of Lebanon, the first churches of the Syria were decorated with wall and floor mosaics. In addition to the monumental ruins of urban centers, monasteries and churches, recent excavations have brought to light a large number of floor mosaics, many of them in situ, as in Apamea (v.) And Halawe, others now preserved in Damascus ( Mus. Nat.). Some of these specimens come from Christian villas or belong to successive layers of church floors: a mosaic floor of this type was recently discovered at Raqqa, the ancient Nicephorium, on the Euphrates. For this period no wall mosaic has been preserved, but in Ruṣāfa the presence of mosaic tiles scattered on the floor of the church of Ss. Sergius and Bacchus, some gilded with semiprecious stones, indicates the use of a quality decoration that can stand up to comparison with the best Byzantine mosaics of the century. 6 °, attested by the examples of Cyprus, Ravenna and the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. The magnificence of the Syrian wall mosaics can also be reconstructed thanks to the accurate description made by Coricius of Gaza (Laudatio Marciani, I, 17-76) of the mosaic decoration of the church of St. Sergius in Gaza (Palestine), made in era of Justinian (527-565) and which had to constitute a model followed throughout the region of Syria (Mango, 1972, pp. 60-68). In Ḥāma the cathedral has disappeared, but the floors of the early Christian complex that surrounded the church are preserved in situ; this cathedral was also built inside a Roman complex and was later transformed into a mosque, now totally destroyed. For Syria 2015, please check dentistrymyth.com.

An important mosaic floor, that of the church of St. George in Dayr al-῾Adas, on the Golan Heights – now preserved in the citadel of Bosra -, dated to 721-722, testifies to the continuity of the Christian mosaic in the 8th century where the mosaics were excessively expensive the buildings were decorated with murals: fragments of frescoes of the century. 7 ° are found in the cell of the temple of Bel in Palmyra and in parts of the cathedral of Saints Sergius and Bacchus in Ruṣāfa, even if these paintings, exposed to the elements, are rapidly deteriorating. Remains of frescoes in red and white are preserved in the cathedral of Bosra, while fragments of brightly colored paintings remain in the cathedral of Ezra῾. From these first churches there are also objects in gold, silver, bronze, ivory and glass, belonging to ecclesiastical treasures, mainly made in Syria. Silver chalices, crosses, censers, patens, lamps, candlesticks and fragments of ciborium coatings, all relating to Syrian churches, are scattered throughout the European and American collections. Covered with gilt silver codices and manuscripts such as the Gospel of Rabbula (see, Florence, Laur., Plut. 1. 56) constitute evidence of the wealth of Syrian churches and monasteries in the 6th century. Splendid jewels have been found in the tombs.The conquest of the Syrian region by the Arabs was very rapid: Damascus was occupied in September 635 and soon afterwards Baalbek, Ḥimṣ, Aleppo and Ḥāma fell, followed by Tire, Sidon, Beirut, Byblos and Tripoli Mu῾āwiya (661-680), founder of the Umayyad dynasty, was proclaimed caliph of Jerusalem, but established his capital in Damascus, from where he could more easily control the main trade currents from the East. mosques of unparalleled splendor, often using parts of Byzantine ecclesiastical buildings, or simply adapting the orientation of Christian churches to suit the needs of the new cult, as happened in Damascus, Aleppo, Ma῾arrat al-Nu῾mān, Baalbek and Ḥāma. It seems that the Bosra Friday mosque was built on an older building and certainly used capitals and columns from nearby temples, as did the Dera῾a mosque. Western art was the construction of the grandiose residential structures in the desert outside Damascus.

These palaces were built along the ancient caravan routes that led from the East to the Mediterranean, through regions of the Syria and Jordan that had become prosperous. The palaces of Qaṣr al-Ḥayr al-Gharbī, Qaṣr al-Ḥayr al-Sharqī, Qasr al-Bayıa and ῾Anjar were all within two or three days of travel from Damascus. They were erected over the remains of buildings from the imperial age, mostly military outposts, whose water supply was guaranteed by the Roman aqueducts (Poidebard, 1934). The palaces of Jabal Says, Raqqa and Ruṣāfa were built along the trade routes that followed the Euphrates to the sea. These palaces could more properly be defined as checkpoints in areas vital to trade, which, in exchange for taxes and tolls, offered protection to trade threatened by local tribes and controlled the exchange and transfer of goods to local markets. They also constituted splendid residences for the local governor and were equipped with baths and caravanserais for the use of the caravans. Hundreds of shopping centers, which consisted of palaces, baths and caravanserais, some larger and others small, they arose to encourage further trade across the desert. Qaṣr al-Ḥayr al-Gharbī, Qaṣr al-Ḥayr al-Sharqī and the Ruṣāfa palace were built by the caliph Hishām (724-743), with unparalleled splendor. ῾Anjar, located in a nerve center, at the intersection of the roads that crossed the Biqā῾ valley and those that went from Damascus to Beirut, was the result of an elaborate project that included infrastructures such as water tanks, sewers, markets, baths, a basilica and a large caravanserai, as well as two princely residences. Over the years, the Arabs developed a style and iconography capable of representing their own vision of the world, but this transformation was not immediate. The first impressive Umayyad structures were beautifully decorated in a style that cannot be immediately distinguished from that of the early Christian churches. The Great Umayyad mosque of Damascus was covered with mosaics reminiscent of those of the Byzantine churches: the intent must have been to rival the mosaics of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The Arabs took up the same motifs used by Christians to indicate paradise: trees, flowers, fruits, rivers and palaces. Light, water, candles, crowns, pearls and jewels, which had a precise symbolic meaning in the Christian sphere, were equally highlighted in Islam and have been preserved in that repertoire to this day.

Medieval Arts of Syria and Lebanon Part II