Syria Arts and Architecture

By | December 17, 2021

The Syria and the neighboring regions, Palestine and Mesopotamia, greatly influenced the formation of Christian art starting from the 4th century. both in the field of architecture and in that of iconography. Despite the architectural models created by Constantine and his successors, spread all over the world, in Syria there is an accentuated difference between the architecture of the great Hellenized cities and that of the countryside, both in the construction of houses and in that of churches. A constant feature of the entire region are the stone constructions, with large perfectly worked ashlars. In the churches there are two rooms on the sides of the apse (pastiphoroi), whose origin is not clear and which could go back to the models of pre-Christian temples. The presence of an exedra opposite the apse in the interior of the churches is also typical. From the last twenty years of the 5th century. there was a true architectural renaissance, the greatest example of which is the basilica of Syria Simeone Stilita in Qal‛at Sim‛ān (470). Also important are the basilicas of Resafa (ar-Ruṣāfa), of Mount Garizim, of Binbirkilisa, of Tomarza. It is perhaps from the 9th century. Kizil Kilise in Sivrihisar. Of the numerous mosaic floors of civil buildings, the oldest date back to the 4th and 5th centuries, while those of the 6th are more frequent. They are usually based on geometric and plant ornaments, with small scenes and animals. Noteworthy is that of Tire (576, Paris, Louvre); the series of finds from Antioch (Damascus and Princeton museums) is very important, documenting its Hellenistic culture. Lost are the mosaics of the churches. The art of the Syria appears of a popular, narrative, realistic character, with Constantinopolitan interventions in the basilicas of the holy places. For Syria 2017, please check mathgeneral.com.

● The Arabs, penetrating into Syria and Palestine, assimilated the local architecture, or transformed the churches into mosques (mosques of Aleppo, 10th century, and ‛Alawiyya, 12th century), but also promoted an of great breadth, competing with Byzantium and sometimes using Byzantine artists. Byzantine mosaicists worked in the great mosques of Damascus (715 AD). Paintings related to Sassanid art were instead in a castle of Qaṣr al-Ḥair, dating back to 728 AD, a palace-fortress that precedes the achievements of the Crusaders and Apulian architects in the thirteenth century (dismantled facade, rebuilt in the Damascus museum; stucco). Byzantine characters have the frescoes of the castle of Quṣair ‛Amra and the fragments from Ḥirbat al-Mafgir (Jerusalem, Rockefeller Museum). In mosques, the main element is the minaret, however different from the Turkish one and deriving from the square tower. Another Arab element is the interwoven geometric ornamentation, translated into stone by fabrics and embroideries (especially 12th-13th century). The manufacture of fabrics and carpets has in fact a not secondary importance in the whole history of Syriac art. Also noteworthy is the production of ceramics (ar-Raqqa and in Damascus, 13th century); the art of glass knew in the 13th century. and in the 14th very high vertices (lamps for mosques with enameled decorations), as well as metallurgy. The miniature of the 12th-13th century. it had great elegance (Automata by al-Giaziri, fables, medical and zoology books, etc.). Military constructions remain: lookout castles, fortifications and citadels (Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, citadels of Damascus and Aleppo etc.). After the Turkish conquest, the Ottoman influence took over with echoes up to the 20th century. forward: this is how the khān (caravanserai) and the sumptuous decorations of the interiors appear. There are also numerous remains of buildings from the time of the Crusades.

● After independence and during the last decades of the 20th century. Syria has implemented a strategy of cultural enhancement, through the creation of a network of local museums and the restoration of historic buildings (Ḥamāh, Apamea, Idlib, Dair az-Zür, Marra, es-Suweidā). From the mid-20th century also the artistic life in Syria is organized through groups and institutions (in Damascus: Arab Society of fine arts, 1943; School of Fine Arts, 1959, later integrated into the university; Union of Fine Arts, 1969), establishing relationships within the Arab artistic world. Artistic research merges traditional elements (in particular, calligraphy) with modern expressions, also in a dialectical comparison with the developments of Western art (A. Isma’il; F. Moudarres; M. Hammad; N. Shoura; N. Naba’a).

Syria Arts and Architecture