21. Damascus: Azem Palace Still StandingFor the past three-and-a-half years, Syria has been ripped apart by the centrifugal forces of war. Two hundred thousand people have been killed; cities like Aleppo and Homs have been reduced to rubble; and with at least four heavily armed factions fighting for control of parts of the country, there's no telling what Syria will look like at the end of the war - or even if a single country called Syria will emerge intact. Hopes grow dimmer and slimmer by the day.
In the midst of all this, the Azem Palace, built for the Ottoman governor of Damascus (Assad Pacha al-Azem) in 1750, as well as much of the rest of the old city centre, stand relatively unscathed. In historical terms, the Palace is still a youngster. Damascus has been continuously inhabited since about 6000 BC. The monumental wall surrounding the Grand Mosque was built during the Roman occupation, and the mosque itself was started within 75 years of the Prophet Mohammed's death:
|Damascus' Grand (Ummayad) Mosque|
|The Main Building of the Azem Palace|
Instead, it's main feature is a series of rectangular black and white striped buildings, the black being basalt and the white, limestone. The buildings are placed around a courtyard dotted with fountains and orange trees.
The compound is divided into Haremlek (private family areas) and Selamlek (visitor quarters). The WOWchitecture begins inside the opulent rooms with their gorgeously painted wooden ceilings and every manner of chandelier descending from them:
The rooms house numerous cabinets with valuable antiques:
With the Ottoman Empire being one of the casualties of the First World War, the Palace was converted into the Museum of Arts and Popular Tradition. There are many dioramas throughout the rooms showing what everyday life in the Palace was like. Since Heather was quite taken by them, we have far more photos than I'm going to show here:
We wouldn't have minded arranging similar accommodations for ourselves, but not being royalty, that wasn't going to happen. Still, I have to say that considering the Ottoman mansion/hotel we did stay in, we didn't do too badly:
And, after a while, I did start to develop a certain feel for the place.