Syria is a country with rich traditions, diverse culture and orally-transmitted knowledge threatened by the war and its consequences. Not only material heritage is at risk, also cultural expressions and other intangible aspects of heritage are at stake to be forgotten.
The Interactive Heritage Map of Syria seeks to collect memories and stories about Syrian culture. Focusing on intangible aspects of heritage, it aims to document cultural expressions, traditional knowledge and people´s memories.
How do people in Syria live? How do they shape their culture?
What traditions and fests do people celebrate? Which region has the best cuisine?
What is Syrian traditional music?
What jokes or common folktales are orally transmitted?
Your stories matter and we want to make sure they are not forgotten. Syrian or not, we would also love to hear what you have to say.
Here you can read some of the memories our Syrian friends have shared.
If you would like to participate, we gladly invite you to share your thoughts online by using the Hashtag #TellaStorySyria and follow our Facebook page Narratives of Syrian Heritage.
THE FOUNTAIN OF LIFE
Memory: Mohammad Sobeih
My life has always revolved around two themes: my family and my profession in stone mosaic restoration. Ma’arat al-Nu’man, my hometown, is situated on the outskirts of the Dead Cities. There are around 700 sites in this area dating back to early Byzantine times, and many of their buildings were covered with stone mosaics.
Shortly before the war in Syria, this craft flourished again in the region. I have noticed how many of the patterns and symbols were passed down from one generation to the next, and were constantly used for other materials like straw plates or textile weaving. There was one special motif I saw a lot in mosaics. It was of two peacocks standing opposite each other over a vase, which is called the fountain of life. I was amazed to see it again in a friend’s house in Berlin, embroidered with beautiful colors by women from the Euphrates valley. It is an outstanding example of the survival of traditions over generations and geographical spaces.
A SHRUB CALLED PROBLEM SOLVER
Memory: Issam Hajjar
Everyone thinks this picture is photoshopped, but it is not. I took it while hiking in Halboun, not far from Damascus. The area is called the Cliff of Sumac, and this mountainous area is full of Sumac shrubs that turn fiery red in early autumn. In old times, the red leaves were pressed and used to dye leather and textiles, while the fruit is used till today to produce Sumac spices that we – in Syria- sprinkle on Falafel. Local farmers love planting Sumac bushes, they call them ‘Problem Solver’, as it is harvested and sold in winter times, after revenue from other crops would be long spent. Sumac shrub is a problem solver because it generates some needed income during the long winter months.
FULFILLMENT OF MY MOTHER’S VOW
Memory: Alaa haddad
I first visited the great mosque in Aleppo when I was 6. At that time I knew it under the name of Sayyidna Zakaria (Prophet Zechariah) mosque. My mother had made a vow in dedication to Sayyidna Zakaria for me, and I went with my aunt to fulfill the vow. The courtyard was full of people, and the famous blind Sheikhs would shout when they heard someone approaching: „Who here needs to fulfill a vow?” My aunt took her time to choose the best one, and when she did, she gave him 25 Syrian Pounds to start. The ritual meant he would put his hand on my head and start reciting verses of the Quran loudly.
Every few minutes my aunt would stop him to ask him if he was reciting it from the depth of his heart, as she wanted to make sure the fulfilment of the vow is accepted. With every interruption he would confirm this and start again. She interrupted him so often till he finally got angry and said “Hajje, take back your money, and may God be with you”.
SECRETS OF THE TRADE
Memory: Rami al-Afandi
In Syria the adjective, “ajami”, has been used to describe something foreign and of Eastern origin – usually fine goods such as tea or carpets. With these specifications in mind, “ajami” has match the exquisite craft of decorative painting on wooden panels, of particular importance during Ottoman Era. I have followed my passion for ajami. I documented the ajami interiors of some significant Aleppine traditional houses. In 2009, I volunteered in the restoration project of Ghazala House, in preparation to open as the Aleppo Memory Museum.
As I worked in the Ghazaleh House I noticed how skilled the craftsmen were; they drew excellently and quickly. While I observed how well they drew specific patterns, I found that the craftsmen had no idea about the type and origin of these motifs.
Later I discovered that the knowledge of ajami craft had been lost due to trade secrecy in ajami workshops and fierce market competition. These workshops were owned by families known to be experts in this filed. These families passed on their trade secrets, such as how to mix colors and materials, often only to their sons and rarely to other workers. Their greatest secret was the composition of the paste for raised motifs, “Nabati” or “Ajami”, which eventually became the name of the craft itself.
While some Europeans have now become experts in restoring ajami, Syrian craftsmen continue to refine their drawing skills producing ajami.
THE SMELL OF THE ISLAND
Memory: Tony al-Arqan
When I was a child, my family and I would visit Arwad island every summer. This Mediterranean island was once part of a Phoenician kingdom and the name Arvad is originally Phoenician. Its inhabitants have always been working as fishermen and boat constructors. Till this very day the majority of them is involved in these professions. What I enjoyed most was watching the fishermen building their wooden boats. And one thing I will never forget is the smell of fish all over the island.
A QUIET ESCAPE
Memory: Rasha Kanjarawi
Unless there was a special event, the main gate of the abandoned khan –travelers’ lodge- was usually closed, but sometimes the little door of the gate would be open, and I always took the chance to go inside. The beautiful courtyard gave me a feeling of solitude, the shadows with the striped stone tiles looking like an old photograph. The courtyard space always smelled like a strange mix of spices coming from the bazaar outside and of the cold damp stone.
Outside its gate the busy city life was going on with the buzzing market sounds and the shouting street vendours, while inside I always felt like I could hide away from the world.
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