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Courtyards in Syria

The history of courtyards dates back to the third millennium when this form of structure appeared in the building Bilad al-Sham. “This concept of courtyards was commonly used by nomads during their travels and stay in the desert” (Bosch, 2011). This was by setting up their tents in such a way that they were well secured together with their cattle. According to Mahgoub, this is believed to be the source of idea behind courtyard structure (1999). With the development of Arab-Islamic architecture, the courtyards became one of the most significant structures implying that the previous nomadic culture of the Arabs was one of the key influences behind their current permanent housing models. This research analysis aims at describing the typology of the Syrian courtyard house as well as giving an example of a few courtyard structures.

Early courtyards. A house which also includes a courtyard as a feature is one of the types of Islamic architecture. Arab nomads were the first people who created the tradition of courtyards. They wanted a sense of security in order to protect their families from outside viewers. A courtyard enabled their wives and children to play and relax without being viewed by strangers. Consequently, courtyards became an integral part of the design of their homes, it became as a part of life style. Courtyards are considered as features of Islamic architecture because they tend to have various elements associated with the buildings throughout the Arab world. These features include water fountains which give a calming effect and a prayer room known as a Masjid. Prayer is an important part of Islamic life. They often also included a Majlis. This feature was a space for visitors to be entertained in. Arches and columns are also often features of a typical Syrian Courtyard. These features can also be seen in many of the other Islamic buildings throughout the Muslim world. The most visible feature of a Syrian Courtyard is often a water fountain.

 Water Fountain.  Water is an inevitable basis of life. This picture shows the courtyard in Al-Azem Palace in Hama and it is mainly about the purpose and use of water, which is used sometimes to represent a symbol of beauty and occasionally for ablution (Wudhu). Water fountains can be seen mostly in Arabic countries especially in Syria. Every house includes it as the main feature built in the middle of the courtyard. As we can see, first, the water is natural, clean and it reflects the trees’ image. Besides, there is an Arabic traditional setting (Majlis), where Arab nomads used to sit and gather around. It is a place where people could have discussions about different topics and share experiences. Additionally, majlises were often used for gatherings and discussions among men.

The picture above demonstrates arches and columns constructed in Al Azem palace in Syria. It represents a combination of orange and dark grey colored winding arches, while columns are painted with grey color. Columns and arches are also modules of courtyards.

Rooms and Floors. This picture is an example of the traditional courtyard house in Al Azem palace in Hama, Syria. It is divided into 3 components containing a basement floor, a ground floor comprising the main living areas called Al Salamlek, and a first floor comprising the private areas called Al Haramlek. It shows a wide-spread courtyard that leads to a basement floor passing by stairs. Primarily, the basement floor usually has balanced warmth which considered as the major living room. Moreover, it is used as a food storage place in the case of battle occurrence. The ceramic is a prominent element in a courtyard. Each ceramic has a mixture of brown, white and beige colors. In addition, there are several doors where there are different rooms. (Islamic-arts.org., 2011)

The courtyard in Umayyad mosque. This is the Umayyad mosque in Syria which is the first monumental building in the golden age of Islam. Sometimes, it is called the great mosque of Damascus. “This building is considered the most sacred and the widest mosque in the world”. (Sacreddestinations.com). It has a main courtyard, a minaret, arches as well as columns and an ablution fountain. It also has a glorious marble surface. It was built between 706 and 715 by Caliph Al Walid. Additionally, it contains a large open courtyard surrounded by arches that supported by slender columns. The “Liwan” is a hall of worship which is divided into three long aisles. Windows are covered with marble that show the geometric principle in Islamic architecture. Moreover, the mosque can welcome millions of people, both men and women. Most of the times, Muslims from different races attend this mosque which gives it a well reputation (‘Great mosque of Damascus’, 2011).

The architectural elements of the Syrian courtyard house. A Courtyard consists of a small open living space, rooms and high walls. “The purpose of building courtyards was to provide a sense of openness, freedom, integration and security. According to Keister, courtyards were also built to protect dwellers from harsh weather as well as dangerous animals and enemies (2005, p. 3).

Conclusion

Overall, Islamic art and architecture have changed and enhanced significantly. The structures have expressed the beauty of the buildings. Therefore, for many Westerners; this was unknown and new to them. It may be suggested that this was the reason of non-Muslims to be attracted to Islam and its culture. In general, courtyards are the most striking element of Islamic architecture. However, although courtyard housing was very famous in the past, today, it remains antique in most of the Islamic buildings.

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