Syria in the Eighties: Damascus: Palaces

The series of photographs of Damascus was taken in 1986 when Dr. Stefano Bianca was asked by UNESCO to review the situation of the two historic suburbs of Suq Saruja and Midan district, that stood adjacent to the protected Damascus Walled City but were exposed to heavy redevelopment pressures and the imminent destruction of several sites.

Suq Saruja was the first area to be built outside the walls during the 13th century. As the space available inside the Walled City was already very limited, many Mamluk and Ottoman officials wanted to have their new palaces built and they chose to expand in new areas outside the walls close to Salyhieah, the northwest suburb to Damascus within the walls, in the direction of Qasioun mountain. Many large palaces, mosques, and public baths were built in Suq Saruja, giving it the name of “little Istanbul”. In the 1960s, as a response to new Damascus development needs, the governorate built Al-Thawrah street to connect the north part to the south part of the new city, dividing the Suq Saruja area into two parts, allowing the real-estate developers to modify significant parts of Suq Saruja.  

On the other hand, the Midan quarter was established to accommodate the commercial activities of the annual pilgrimage caravan heading south to Mecca and the commercial relations with the Horan. The famous historical mosques and madrasas hosted many of the most important figures of the history of Damascus.   

In 1979 the UNESCO listed the Old City of Damascus as a World heritage. At that time, the local authorities had defined the World Heritage as only the Walled City, excluding and neglecting all the historical areas outside the city wall.

Since then, a significant number of destructions of the historical areas outside the city took place. Many local voices urged the authorities to stop demolitions. Dr. Bianca’s initial mission in 1986 at the request of UNESCO was instrumental in exposing heavy redevelopment pressures and the imminent destruction of several sites in Suq Saruja and Midan quarters. In 2004, the authorities finally included the historical areas outside the Walled City as buffer zones city in an effort of protecting and preserving what could still be saved of the Old Damascene heritage.

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