Damascene Sabot (2)

history of the profession in Damascus

Damascene sabots have a market carrying its own name “Souk Alkabakib”  (sabots souk); which  goes along the Umayyad Mosque south wall extending from the west to the east of “Alkaofen Souk” next to old jewelers market,  but most of those shops have changed their profession today.

Regarding the history of the Damascene sabot fabrication at Souk Alkabakib,  Abu bashir,  the owner of a shop in the Silk souk says: “the history of this profession is very old. I remember the Silk souk about twenty years ago which had more than thirty shops dedicated to the manufacturing and sale of  sabots,  but today there is only one place Abdullah Siala, one of the oldest manufacturers of sabot, .” as he pointed to a close place. Then he added “there are still some stores to sell them,  but the manufacturers number is getting smaller with shoes industry progress, another  reason is the death of old manufacturers, whose sons are more going toward careers related to high education or modern specializations.  If big shoe making companies are not going to protect this craft it will be threatened by extinction.”

Ms. Jacqueline makhlouf one of the customers in the market said: “I and my brothers are still  using sabots in the house,  but I buy sabots with plastic bottoms because the civilian life imposes itself and we do not want to disturb our neighbors when climbing stairs, as traditional sabots make annoying sounds.  I can assure that the sabot is more comfortable than plastic slipper,  as it is recommended for those with sensitive feet or for diabetes patients, who are eager to put their feet on the cooling sabot since it is cold in summer and warm in winter”.

Mr. Elias shaker the owner of a shoes store explains the reasons behind sabot demise at present time saying: “There is no doubt that the nature of daily life has affected the sabot usage. The nature of housing have changed to small apartment with thin walls instead of Arab houses;  as sabots make noises the matter that prompt people to replace them with elastic bottom shoes that does not make noises to disturb neighbors”. Mr. Elias continues saying: “Today the use of sabot is no longer popular but in only a few popular washrooms and among foreign tourists who love the purchase of traditional souvenirs.  Therefore a new type of sabots have been manufactured as decoration items to hang on walls.  These sabots have carved drawings, with bright colors. There is a belief in Syria that attaching a small sabot to the car bottom back brings blessing and keeps the bad luck away from the car and its owner.”

Today sabots have left our feet and memory, but this beautiful historic market would not be erased from the minds of Damascus sons,  it was and is still forming a small section of souk Alhamedia, which pulls us to the charm of the past. Today when we go through it from the old jewelers market to the beautiful traditional Aleneufarha café,  we look with sadness and sorrow to the outgrowth of this historical market condition. 

Haifaa Mafalani       

The Damascene Sabot (1)

Which clacking sound has vanished from Damascus neighborhoods

Since ancient times, the sabot has appeared as a Damascene handcrafts along with many other occupations,  reviving civilization in the oldest inhabited town in history which did not stop at any time through history but extended to manufacture passed down from father to son  over hundreds of years and have rooted them to their homeland.

The sabot making is only one of many productions that was Damascus branded,  and has a specific market located south of the Umayyad Mosque known as “Souk Alkabakib”  (sabots souk).   From that ancient marketplace, sabots  have been carried to different destinations like Egypt,  Beirut and Istanbul; despite the existence of skilled artisans in these countries but not as talented and skilled as Damascenes.

Usually,  wood from walnut, apricot, raspberry, and willow trees is used in sabot fabrication.  While in Damascus,  they are made of willow or poplar wood because of these trees large numbers in Damascus. Damascene sabot artisans cut the wood into a wedge shape, then carve human foot form on the demanded size.  Next, comes the process of dismantling and eliminating of the external sides, and sawmilling by lapping to remove extra wood from the sabot’s front and rear.  After that the sabot heel is  formed,  before the smoothing process which makes the sabot burnished in preparation for coating. Finally, a band made of leather skin is fixed in the sabot front by special nails, which comes in different colors and sometimes dovetailed by bones, beads or tin chains.

Sabots were put on inside and outside home, used by adults as well as kids, especially in winter days having a skin strip surrounding the feet instep. Whereas sabots made for women have an aesthetic function,  as they increase their height raising their dress away from the floor. Women used to wear sabots in celebrations,  being a principal component of the bridal wardrobe to the extent of having up to 30 pairs each for specific occasion.  While sabots manufactured for children are decorated with appealing shapes and bright colors,  on the other hand men sabots use dark colors such as black or brown.

Damascene sabots come in  many shapes and names, but  only few names had been saved,  one of those names is “Sjk sabot”  with a low and rear foot heel of three centimeters height. Another is called “Shabrawi”  which name came from its high heels, made of wood engraved with seashell,  which strip is embroidered with silver threads wore as a feminine sabot. There is also the  “Jerxa sabot” (immigrants sabot) which was named after Circassian immigrant craftsmen who made these sabots in Damascus.  This sabot is not high and has a cheap price.  Another type called “Akawi” we do not know whether the reason behind this name is Akka people who used to wear this sabot or because it was made in the city of Akka.

A similar version to Circassian sabot is “Alkndrha” which has front and back legs of four centimeters height,  especially made for public washrooms and only wear by their workers and customers.  The “Half Chair” sabot was wore by poor as well as rich to prevent mud in winter. … to be continued

Haifaa Mafalani          

Hanania Hotel: The Talk of The Town

Passing near the building of  Saint Hanania Church, one of the most ancient churches in Damascus, was built in 1815 A.D in al- Quarshi Alley in Al-Midan neighborhood which is very similar to the Damascene houses, one can see that it constitutes an integrated complex which contains a primary school and charity association in addition to the Church. Still preserved is Ananias (Hanania) Chapel, commemorating the conversion in Damascus of Saul of Tarsus, who became St. Paul, the Apostle. It stands near the eastern end of Midhat Pasha Street

Fifty meters away from, you come across a hotel taking the same name Hanania Hotel, welcoming, clean, calming, comfortable and good value. The building was restored using old materials and techniques and became an art gallery. It is now a small, funky, boutique hotel a short stroll from the al-Sharqi Gate (Eastern Gate) in the Christian Quarter and within easy walking of all sights in Old Damascus, following Saint Paul steps.

Each room is different and decorated with art and antiques. Some antiques are displayed in unusual places i.e. the shower. While others are used in inventive ways adding to the character of the room. Each room offers comfortable beds, air conditioning, satellite TV and Wi-Fi. All rooms' walls are a sort of a gallery and museum of art and history filled with original charming canvas related to very famous Syrian artists' real antique furniture. Supplied with shelves contain old items tools and instruments.

The Hanania center courtyard is a cool spot to take a break in the heat of the day. The small but very satisfying buffet breakfast is served in the cellar. If stairs are a problem for you, let them know. Staff goes out of their way to help make your stay memorable and are most helpful with area information and suggestions. A ground floor with an opulent opened unshielded sunny refreshing Courtyard, with exciting walls covered by means of rare old stones arches;  making you enjoy the four seasons weather of orient.

The three levels old building has an underground fancy old bar and lounge, twining to Hanania church, the most original old architectural design of domes in Damascus feel the fever of romance and privacy in a very cold basement.

“We were fortunate to stay at the Hanania hotel in March May and December 2010 while we were training for the Syrian National Council for the Disabled (SNCD). We found the hotel exceptional but the staff were the real stars. They made us feel like family and were there morning noon and night to help. Dr. Ayham owner of the hotel has turned it into an incredible art gallery since each room is filled with original artworks. We would not stay anywhere else in Damascus.” said a SNCD trainer  from Atlanta Georgia.

Another guest called Zoedibb from Brighton United Kingdom recommended “I stayed here for two nights with my friend in April. The staff were very kind and helpful, pointing out places of interest for us to visit on a map and upgrading us to the honeymoon suite! The building has been lovingly restored with great attention to detail and the hotel also serves as an art gallery for modern Syrian painters. The Hanania is located in the old city's other Christian Quarter and it's walking distance to restaurants, the souk, Umayyad Mosque and all the old city's other attractions. I would highly recommend a stay here and would go back whenever I return to Damascus.”        

Whereas Kitty Athome from Paris, France declared “This boutique hotel is perfectly located in the Christian section of the Old City of Damascus. It is four minutes’ walk from the Bab Shaqi (East Gate) of the old city which allows rapid access to taxis. The staff are very helpful. Works by Syrian artists hang in the rooms and around the hotel's inner courtyard.”

Kitty added “As a boutique hotel featuring the owners own art collection this hotel really stands out. It is very clean the staff is very professional and friendly and the rooms are clean and nicely furnished even if they are a bit small. The best thing about the hotel is that there was always hot water when we needed it a western style toilet and shower in suite and complimentary breakfast. I felt so comfortable in the hotel that it was nicer for me to travel to see the sites in Syria as day trips and return in the evening to Damascus and my comfy room! We went to Palmyra Bosra Hama Aleppo and Krak de Chevalliers. Great country great hotel! We felt like we were leaving family when we left the hotel. I highly recommend Hanania hotel”! 


Haifaa Mafalani

The Incense: Accentuate its immortality by its fragrance

The charm of the east is a saying known by every westerner who comes to visit any area in the east and is loved by everyone in the east who was born and grew up there.

This east that we see through its ancient eternal landmarks and you can read it through its writers and philosophers and its messages…

You smell this old fragrance which is as old as its land, regenerating with the renewal of its people.  A fragrance which varies with from country to country, from Damascene jasmine to Golani Rosemary, all those scent will be preserved  in the form of incense, then fumigated  in a special censer.

The incense is made of aromatic wooden skewers that have been used by all eastern hands, and was widely spread in ancient Arab societies to date. Incense is used in the  first place to perfume houses and worship houses, apart from being a manifestation of hospitality and welcoming visitors, as well as a ritual celebration on both religious and social occasion.

The association of Arabic houses and incense turns back to pre-Islamic periods, and continued to the day. It is commonly used through an evaporating operation by means of censers which have multiple forms and colors, in addition to being attractive to decorate the house.  Alongside development and frequent consumption of incense in the Arab world, electrical censers have appeared.

It is well known that incense has origins in the east Asian countries particularly India Indonesia, and Vietnam, as well as the Maghreb.  Incense is made from materials that contains aromatic oils extracted from herbs such as saffron and secretions of some trees.  Nonetheless its attraction lies in its mixtures which each is kept secret. As for the price, it is high because the chance of its presence inside the tree is one of every ten durable trees,  if found will not exceed 1gm. Then treated by conventional condensation devices which is another cause of high price.

Found in  markets at varying rates according to quality,  brands such as Javanese and Malaysian;  in addition to the original and traditional kind, distinctive by its scent and color. Best kinds are that smoking color goes to blue,  as well amber in evaporation,  which is extracted from whales blubber,  in addition to the musk being exclusively extracted from a certain type of deer. Aquilaria malaccensis is the scientific name of a species of plant, found in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia; and is the major source of agar wood, a resinous heartwood, used for perfume and incense, namely “Oud” in Arabic.

Different kinds of incense are used for various purposes inherited by Arab society generation after generation,  the Musk and Oud perfume to be put between clothes to give fragrant smell lasting for days.  It is also used in churches for worship rituals to bring  awe and reverence in the prayers’ hearts.  In Mosques famous kinds are used to fragrant  the place like Sandalwood incense and angelic incense.

As for medicinal uses, incenses are used by Indian doctors, for operating rooms sterilization; also recommended for cuts, sores, and tooth decay. In addition to their inhaling benefits  to heart health and blood circulation. Besides, from wooden skewers is extracted a substance make antibiotics component.  It is also common to use incenses in patient's room to change the room's atmosphere,  without forgetting its usage in mummification. However burning any wood produces smokes, harmful to human health that why incense is recommended to be moderately used.

Incenses are more fumigated in Ramadan,  the month of worship where most people are keen to burn incense in their homes,  as Mosques are perfumed by their scent. Today incense is no longer confined to east or Arab world, but it  has invaded western societies where it competes with perfumes and lotions over there, where one of its kinds Mix Red won the title of the best perfume in the world. Hence east fragrance keeps its magic so if you did not come to it, it will go to you.


Haifaa Mafalani

The Arabesque

The name of Arabesque is an original Arabic word appeared on manuscripts and on miscellaneous pieces of art and named by it and is distinguished by showing drawings and unrealistic innovative inscriptions and are often inspired by the Arab aesthetic.

Word of Arabesque was used to signify the recitative lines in the simulation graphic as used in ballet to signify the movement of one leg to form a harmonious flow of movement and was used in music with this meaning as likening the rhythm of the melody in Arab drawing lines.

Abstraction is an expression of the absolute Abstraction is a legacy of old forming but in Islam has become more in line with the monotheistic creed which warns drawing of living organisms for fear of God to emulate his creation and the Muslim artist moved his view to disclose in the arabesque for the cosmic essence absolute making the drawing physically linked to the instincts and tendencies not the ideals and values and the Arab abstraction seeks to express the absolute.

Indications of Arabesque.

The Arab arabesque linked to sensory perception which is a formula of dealing with the reality Formula that is not material based on the freedom of the artist to read the actuality as intuitive reading and transfer it in an abstract aesthetic form and leaving the right of interpretation means that there are many meanings in Arabic arabesque waiting for interpretation which gives the abstract in the arabesque a non-specific value expression.

The Indications of Arabesque Look clear in two methods the first method is the <<securitization>> and based on the interpretation of the plant to the limits of the symbolic formulas the critics often link this repetition to the <<mystic>> and the second method is <<Floss>>which is based on geometric shapes they are receptacles for the content of symbolic meanings which are not free of the Sacredness or mystical or existential whether the arabesque is engineered or vegetarian it remains to attempt to express the kingdom of God and faith in him and is closer to celibate aesthetic more than the free decoration and distinction between the two is that the system of geometric arabesque overlaps according to the projections of visual cosmic rays while the arabesque plant looks through the symbols of nature to reach the earthly paradise and aesthetic pleasure and it is a drawing transcend the identification and relative comparison it is also not the practice of mathematical science it is a creativity spiritual formation (converting the symbol to something) this is what distinguishes the arabesque which is a particular language carries deeper meanings and it is like a poetry bears all the characteristics of weight rhythm and melody.


Haifaa Mafalani