The Mosaic Mueseum of Ma'arret Al-Nu'man

The Mosaic Museum of Ma’arret alNu’man is housed in a khan built by the Ottoman Murat Pasha, Custodian of the Sultanate Treasury in 1595 AD.

The khan was built as a hostel and a takieh (shelter for feeding the poor). The building is considered one of the best khans built at that time in terms of beauty and solidness, located in the eastern part of Ma’arret alNu’man, in the middle of AbulA’laa St. not far from Khan Asa’ad Pacha alA’zem, with a small garden in between and a statue of the renowned poet AbulA’laa alMa’arri, with official buildings surrounding it on the other sides.

 The building is made of local white lime stone. It has four perpendicular wings and towers on the roofs and elegant arched porticos of high arches and arched ceilings. The façade is 70m long while the depth of the building is 80m.

Each wing is 15m wide with a corridor separating between each two wings and leading to the utilities. Porticoes surround an open air spacious courtyard with a pond in the center. South of the building stands the mosque with a hemispherical dome. In the west there is a Turkish bath house with its traditional sections, in the north there is the bakery of the takieh and depots of grains, as well as the water reservoir which brings water through clay pipes into the khan and the mosque. All in all the area of the khan is 7000 sm.


The Museum:

Khan Murat Pasha functioned properly as it was built for until the early 20th century, when the endowments of the khan retracted and its revenues shrank to nearly zero point so it was annexed to the mosque according to the will of its builder which is still preserved in the museum.

Rooms of the khan were leased for various professions which harmed its internal structure until the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums (DAM) could, in 1982, obtain a presidential decree No. 144 to change the khan into a museum. In 1983 workshops started in restoring the building and in April 1987 the building was inaugurated as a museum of mosaic boards as well as of relics collected from nearby areas. The museum was divided into four wings as following:

The first wing:

This wing has two boards from Ferkia, an ancient village in Jabal alZawiah. The first one is a about the legend of Romulus and Remus and the wolf which fed them, which is a well known Latin legend dating back to the 9th Century BC., about the story of building Rome and the struggle between Romulus, Remus and Numitor and Amulius about the throne. The board belongs to 910AD and has a caption saying: “This room was tiled during the time of Paul 510AD”, which means that the board was found on the floor of a room in Ferkia.

In the center of the board there is a depiction of a large jar with a vine tree springing up from it branching into circular auxiliary plateaus of local animals, chasing scenes and some ornaments.

The second wing:

It has two boards too: the first is from Umm Hartein and was made of two parts: A ground floor with two symmetric bulls separated by a pillar (in reference to the pillar of St Simeon, the Pillarist) topped with a jar with Aramaic inscriptions, where as the second one has two symmetric bulls separated by a vine tree. It has also animals, birds and two peacocks, symbols of eternity to Christians.

The second board is named “The Amateurs”. It is a wonderful board dating back to 567 AD and depicts St. Sergio with scenes of resurrection and Day of Judgment and an eagle in the center spreading his wings in reference to the saint. A similar board of the same concept is displayed in Istanbul museum.

There is also the phoenix, a bird from the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula whose head refers to the sun, which was known in Chinese and Indian documents and then it moved to Greece and later became the slogan of the Aramaics, then of Palmyra, and later the Roman Empire.

It is the Syrian legendary bird which makes a trip every 500 years to lay an egg from whose ashes hatches a new phoenix and returns to the Empty Quarter.

In the board there are animals which disappeared from the region but, sure, the artist saw them in the region and did not imagine them like elephants, ostriches, leopards and hippopotamus which were well known in Syria. Historical references say that Thutmosis III came to Afamea and killed an elephant in it. In the same wing there is another board which represents a bleeding bull attacked by a leopard in a tragic scene.

The third wing:

This wing has several mosaic boards brought from Kafr Tab, 3km west of Khan Sheikhoun. The place, and Sheizar and Afamea, were destroyed by an earthquake in 1157 and mud houses of the village are still buried under the rubbles. In 1999 a mosaic board was discovered and moved to the museum. It is a beautiful board representing a leopard chasing a reindeer with ramified horns.

The frames of the board are adorned with artichoke plants. An 850sm board was discovered in Tela’aw and 200sm of them were brought to the museum. The board has Greek writings and it dates back to 438AD.

The fourth wing:

This wing has a board representing Heracles from the 2nd century AD, i.e. from the Roman period. It is distinguished for its small and well arranged cubicles of bright colors.

It tells the story of the establishment of the Greek Empire and how Zeus, god of gods, impregnated the wife of Amphitryon, a simple Theban citizen, and brought him two children. The board tells the story of the birth of Heracles and his heroic achievements and legendary stories in seven scenes.

He installed two huge columns on the western entrance of the Mediterranean and became hero of the region and founder of the Greek State. of church ground floors, and also There is also the board from alTamanqa which is an ideal board the board of Um Jalal which was displayed in the Exhibition of Syrian Antiquities in Ravina -Italy, and a board from Ma’arshurin executed along the 3D perspective.

Renovation of the museum:

The second and last stage of renovation of the building has already finished with a cost of S.L.7 Millions and covered all parts of the museum including renewing lighting systems with a concentration on electronic sensors, a new approach followed for the first time by the DAM. All the wall boards were framed with wooden frames, ceilings were painted, and new wooden display cases were adorned with decorations matching the style of the building.

New identification boards and captions were installed on the boards, wooden chairs were distributed in the garden, and stone relics were displayed in the open air.

By so the Museum of Ma’arret alNu’man is brought to the level of first class museums in the world as a mosaic specialized in mosaics. The area of displayed boards is now more than 2000sm.


Haifaa Mafalani