Gardens of Semiramis

Tal Sheikh Hamad or Dor Katlimo as it was called in cuneiform tablets found 32 years ago by an archeological expedition, is an ancient Assyrian city dating back to the 4th millennium BC. During prospecting operations which began in 1978 in cooperation between the German mission working in the Khabour headed by Prof. Hartmut Kuna and the directorate of the antiquities of Deir al-Zour headed by Mr. Asad Mahmood; two architectural facilities were discovered.  The first one was named (F) and the second (G).  (F) facility is composed of three sections in one of its facades there is a paved area leading to the chambers. In the eastern side there are a number of rooms which are centered around a middle room, taking the function of an inner courtyard for a residential wing.  in the same wing there is a room which can be accessed through another room, it is certain that it had a formal function because of important findings confirming their distinctiveness such as murals consisting of lotus flowers and a group of trees in the form of a forest.  In addition to drawings of cuneiform writing and geometric patterns dating back to an oldest stage as the archaeological researcher Dr. Tagreed Hashemi refers to in her book, "human manifestation of the times the history and civilization of Mesopotamia the Syrian island".  It can be inferred from the architectural function through the murals engravings "Rolij"(garden house),  the only thing reminding us of Semiramis hanging gardens. Yet, this building is a hundred years older than Semiramis therefore it is likely that this architectural building was used as a summer house for the Assyrian ruler of Dor Katlimo.  Since, the construction scheme can be compared with Assyrian architecture as it has so many characteristics and is known to the Assyrians as (Great house).

Concerning the other building G,  which has a large room in the center with a length of 30m surrounded by a number of smaller rooms that had been used from the eighth century BC until the end of the Assyrians period in the sixth century BC. The main room in the center, by a 6.20 Sqm is one of the public buildings,  but is surrounded by rooms belonging to private buildings.  In the southeast corner of the building, were discovered a corridor or a defensive tower. The rooms ruins prompts to mind Assyrians palaces.

During excavation work more than 600 inscription were found, dating back to the mid-thirteenth century BC. The majority of these inscriptions are commercial contracts,  administrative texts and letters sent to the king, some informations about Assyrians expeditions were also found.

The tablets found at the site bear seals which are traditionally used by senior officials. The seals themselves are works of arts, bearing images of winged bulls and winged gods. Eighteen panels with an Aramaic writing were found, which are rare documents since only 44 were found in all parts of the world. Between the site findings, were a small goblin statue made of bronze, with a 17 cm length,  taking the form of a winged man with a head of mythological monsters.

Haifaa Mafalani            

Archaeological museum of Rakka:

A witness on Euphrates valley successive civilizations since the 5th millennium BC

Rakka Archaeological museum sits on the Euphrates river valley with exhibitions and archaeological masterpiece dating back to different eras since the fifth millennium BC. The museum was built in the second half of the nineteenth century,  with a total area of 450 square meters divided into 4 halls with thousands of archaeological discoveries, that have been found by foreign and national archaeological missions through successive excavations since the early seventies and until the present time. It is divided into two floors the ground floor include the relics detected outside the city, whereas the second floor contains the relics within the city walls. Ja’bar castle museum warehouse and repositories of the archaeological city of Rusafa administratively follow Rakka museum.

The archeology directorate of Rakka,  opened an exhibition of the national archaeological mission in Tel Almmbagp discoveries, in April 2013 which date back to the Bronze Age.

The museum’s garden amounts to an area of 800 square meters, comprising exhibits of large archaeological finds in the open outdoor, like basalt statues, crown columns, and 4 plates of mosaic which were found in Al-Heloo village dating back to 470 AD. The largest painting displayed on the west wall at the museum main entrance depicts a bull in the way of movement as this code was common in the mosaic imagery of that period, whereas the rest of the paintings have pictures of the holy trees and the famous Ephrates hyena.  In addition to exhibits belonging to different periods in the first millennium BC and the roman era.

Rusafa Cupboard represent Rusafa treasure with a green glazed coffin which represents a relief’s face for a man who has two short horns which is believed to be Alexander of Macedonia, with a Latin engraving at the bottom saying this graft by one of the Baalbek merchants is presented to Jupiter temple.

The second hall contains the discoveries of Tel Sheikh Hassan on the Euphrates and it is a set of handmade dishes from the Uruk era which dates back to 3500 BC. In addition to a giant spoon of pottery, pieces of the sacred stone and archaeological findings dating back to Hellenistic times and the late Romanian.  The second room contains discoveries of Tel Khweirah which are pottery jars and some ancient amulets from the second and third millennia BC. In addition a group of animal puppets representing dogs, hyenas and wolves and some mammals pets,  besides various forms of glass beads and models of vehicles made of pottery.

The third hall contains the discoveries of Al Mmbagp and Al-Heloo Hills on the Euphrates,  alongside Turkmen and White Boy Hills on the Balikh river. The contents of these cabinets are precious jewelry, stone and mud cylinder seals, a wide range of beads, amulets, and clay figurine. They also contain a number of cuneiform writing discovered at the Almmbagp site, describing the daily life of this kingdom which was named Okalta, as well as information on trade relations in the daily market bazaar. The fourth hall contains the finding of the White Boy’s hill and Turkmen bath, like decorated pottery jars from 5800 up to 4500 BC, in addition to collection of archaeological objects and the most important one is a great elephant knee.

The second floor of the museum contains findings of Totol city and the Arab-Islamic discoveries within the walls of the Islamic city. These findings are displayed in a range of cabinets, distributed onto 6 rooms which contain glass pieces of the Byzantine and Arab eras, at the time Rakka was famous in ceramics and glass production, as well as ornate plaster frames that decorated Harun al-Rashid palace facades in Rakka.

Most of the archaeological discoveries in the museum carried many implications of the nature of life that was experienced by people in that region. However there is an important signal in one of the discoveries from the Balikh valley basin showning that elephants were living before they become extinct in all areas of northern Syria in 1700 BC.


Haifaa Mafalani              

Syrians have universal heritage (2)

Ktafan says UNESCO is providing technical assistance to these sites, including experts studies to address risk causes or to take action to save these sites; as well as to train local professionals in techniques of conservation, restoration, and provision of equipment to protect the site or restored it.

Financial funding also supports the national efforts to put guidelines of the cultural heritage, and on the other hand the nomination of cultural heritage sites on the world heritage list for the maintenance and conservation of these sites. The matter that continuously enhance public awareness of their value and originality and the importance of conservation which is considered as a national responsibility.

The architect Lina explained that to be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. These criteria are explained in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention which, besides the text of the Convention, is the main working tool on World Heritage. The criteria are regularly revised by the Committee to reflect the evolution of the World Heritage concept itself.

Selection criteria:

(i)   to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;

(ii)  to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;

(iii) to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;

(iv) to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;

(v)  to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;

(vi)  to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);

(vii) to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;

(viii) to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;

(ix) to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;

(x) to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

“The role of the governorate in ameliorating archaeological sites listed on World Heritage List” as Tarek Nahass, administrator of Old Damascus in Damascus governorate said “is to work on minding infrastructure in cooperation with the protection commission, which has specialists from the ministry of tourism, Antiquities directorate, and the Engineers Association. We are as well currently studying a project to beautify Bab Touma facades by making them homogeneous as the Medhat Basha souk facades.” Nahass added that “There is also in Damascus governorate, a commission for the protection of antiquarian houses.  however our main aim in the governorate is to prevent violations against these houses such as the use of non-conventional materials in these houses for restoration works. We are also working to identify the necessary licenses to restaurants, as we are keen to keep the city clean all the time.”


Haifaa Mafalani       

Syrians' Universal Heritage (1)

Few of the Syrians know of the existence of archaeological sites in Syria, included in UNESCO world heritage list. And a few of these few can name or number them, or even recognize their importance or know if there are other Syrian archaeological sites on the waiting list.

Archaeology experts confirm that in Syria alone there are five thousand archaeological sites, but only six locations have been so far added to the world heritage list and to the global map in the UNESCO six languages. Furthermore, these sites are forming a pillar to Syria’s history, however making them international and more well-known is another issue. Yet if we know how to promote our cultural industry and our civilizational heritage that will be a more easy task.

The first site is Damascus old city, which was included in 1979 list and at which the UNESCO looks in respect and appreciation; as it is the first populated city in the world. According to the UNESCO web site, the city was founded in the third millennium BC making it one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. In the medieval period, Damascus was a center of a flourishing craft industry (swords and cloth). As well as the great Umayyad Mosque, built in the eighth century AD is considered the most splendid edifice between 125 edifices dating back to different stages of history.

The second site is the ancient Bosra city, included in 1980. UNESCO says that the city was the capital of the Arab Romanian province, being an important station on the caravan route to Mecca that has maintained within its thick walls on a wonderful Romanian theater, not to mention the relics of early Christianity and a number of Mosques.

The third site is the site of Palmyra which was as well included in 1980. An oasis in the Syrian desert northeast of Damascus embracing huge relics to a large city, according to UNESCO that formed one of the most important cultural centers in the ancient world due to its location at the crossroads of many civilizations. Consequently Palmyra had arose in its art, engineered machineries of Greek Romanian traditions in addition to the effects of Persia.

The fourth location is the old city of Aleppo which was included on the list in 1986, extending over an area of 355 hectares and having more than 150 significant relics representing different human civilizations of successive eras. Besides the historical patterns of local architectural, and mosaic which has a unique universal value, historical and technical.

The fifth and sixth sites are Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din, which represent the most wonderful models, less damaged and well preserved fortresses. They both illustrate the cultural influence and the military engineering development in the region. They have been included on the list of world heritage in 2006.

The architect Lina Ktafan director of Syrian archaeological registered sites on the list of world heritage says: “The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,  plays an active role in the launch of international initiatives to protect World heritage noting that protection of world cultural and natural heritage convention, which was adopted since 1972 and signed by Syria. Based on the idea that some sites enjoy exceptional and universal value, and from this perspective should be part of the common humankind heritage of countries parties of the convention.  As well recognizing that the responsibility of protecting world heritage lies on the shoulders of the entire international community, without prejudice to the national sovereignty and property rights provided by national legislation”.

… to be continued.

Haifaa Mafalani               

Syrian Dried Fruits in the Global Markets

“Syria was specialist in making Dried Fruits in the world since 1892”

The famous reputation for the damascene Dried Fruits has spread worldwide.

Mohammad basher Sliq confirms to Syria Times that the father of his grandfather Naseeb Sliq was the first dried fruit-maker and specialist in making it in the world since 1892.

He adds that his family began this work in the dried fruit industry in their workshop in al bzourieh and then Jawdat sliq transferred the work in 1918 to their workshop in salhiya in addition to Bzourieh in this place he took a photo with the poet Nizar qabbani whose father was according to the source one of the dried fruit makers.

Sliq said they make these fruits now from bitter orange or citron, apricots, apples, pears, strawberries, plums, peaches, eggplant, cherry and they put them within different packages for exporting them to Arab and foreign countries. Sliq pointed out that his family and several families of Damascus and Syria make this type of dried fruit such as families of the " ghrawi and zenbarakjy allham" and other and these dried fruit are sold by about ten dollars per kg outside Syria.

Sliq added that some people seek to manufacture large quantities of these dried fruit, packaging them and then exporting  them to stores in several world capitals.

According to Ahmed Ibrahim the owner of a factory for the manufacture of sweets, dried fruit and chocolate, he makes about 50 tons per year of these dried fruit and sell 80 percent of his production to Iraq, Russia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, France, Germany, Australia and the United States.

The researcher Adriana Kalliora from the University of hardekober in Athens says that she has conducted research that showed that the dried fruit inhibit some types of cancer and dried fruits contain high levels of Alboninfitol substance and that researchers began to understand its impact of preventive health.

With no knowledge of the mechanisms of work for dried fruit to curb certain types of cancer it appears that the extracts of dried fruit work to stop the spread of cancer cells especially in the breast and kill them and prevent inflammation.

The doctor essam Shaaban says that the dried fruits are rich in fiber up to 4-5 times than the fresh fruits to help digestion and do not upset the Intestine. They  also provide the body with energy and help fight cancer and heart disease and work to strengthen the bones because they are rich in two elements boron and potassium.

And dried fruits are made in several stages in the first stage  they sort the fruits and select the best of them and then they puncture the kernels from their side, in the second stage they put them for evaporation to get disinfected before putting  them in the boiling water and  then adding  sugar and citric acid. Later on the dried fruits would be exposed to sun light for a week and then stored for the fifth stage where it is dried at this stage by putting the refineries to remove quantities of the sugar for a full-day on the second day they add gelatin and in the final stage the fruit placed in the white leaves of butter and wrapped and packed in containers for final consumption.

Haifaa Mafalani