Arab Housing

Another quote from charles Glass’s ‘Tribes with Flags’. He visted Sehem Turjuman who was campaigning to preserve traditional housing in Damascus.

“The Arab house has been built in an intellectual way. In wintertime, you can have the sun inside your rooms to feel warm. and in summertime, you are against the sun. At the same time, you have this nice air coming to you.”

For women, especially , the old houses represented a secure life. “Every house I used ot see when I was a child,” Sehem said, “had a small river passing through. The River Baruda was channelled inside every house, rich adn poor. The ladies could speak from kitchen to kitchen, because of teh river. and they could pass to each other. It meant safety. It meant beauty. It meant inside freedom. the lady in the Arab cities – the Arab lady, Christian, Muslim or Jewish – lived in this house to protect her from eyes outside, to have freedom to move, to have her little chidldren play inside this big house, safe from the traffic. You can see in old Damascus the houses are very closse to the souqs, but the noise of the souq is very far from the house. so we feel we live in peace, no noise except the sounds of the birds on teh trrees and the water in the fountains. We protect the woman, not to be shown to the outisde3. .. Now the new hoses are open to the street, so if you go to the bedroom, everyone can see you. It means you are not free. even the narrow streets have been made narrow, because when wars came to Damascus, like in the Tamerlane or Hulagu period, the invaders went inside for the women. So tey protect their families with narrow streets and big gates and doors. I remember each hay, each small quarter, had a gate; No one coudl enter at night, no horse, no soldier.”

When the French made the first clearance of the old city in the 1920s, they said they wanted streets wide enough to fire cannon down. the wide modern boulevards were fine for cannon and car, but they provided no shade in summer, and they lost heat in winter. ”

This is interesting stuff. I always thought the houses were completely sealed off from each other, but in another account Glass talks of how families would go up onto the roofs at night would visit their neighbours, have entertainments such as storytelling and singing.

I am also intrigued by this notion of a shared river running through all the houses, which ensured they all took care of it. If one neighbour polluted the river, there would clearly be a neighbourhood reaction. It also makes me wonder what was goiong on in some English towns that had rivers running through them. Did some also have their own branch of the river?

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