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Courtyard Homes: A Fabulous History


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Zeynab
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« on: May 07, 2018, 12:18:05 am »



Did you know that the culture of Courtyard Homes began in Syria?

The "courtyard"  ( صحن )   in modern terms does not have a noteworthy significance.   It's just another word for the compound of a house.   But in medieval  Islamic culture it had an altogether different overtone.  It was an  essential  element of every middle-class and wealthy residence with a distinctive, indigenous aura of its own.

The concept of courtyard houses is one of the most  amazing and professionally planned architectures of our Muslim Heritage  that originated in Syria, spreading across the Arab and Muslim world.  Courtyard homes weren't necessarily  characterized by their opulence.   In fact, most courtyard homes were  simple yet their subtle nuances were striking displays of enduring  architectural layouts  decorated with  intricately woven geometric patterns and shapes.

Courtyard housing dates back to hundreds of years in Syrian history that began from the buildings of Bilad al-Shaam and those close to the rivers of Tigris and Euphrates.

 

The idea of a courtyard descended from ancient Arab travelers who pitched their tents on convenient spots of the desert to ensure shelter  and safety for themselves and their horses, cattle and camels.  As the  concept of Arab-Islamic architecture developed, the courtyard became  more specific.   The courtyard can be perceived as  something originating from the influence of the Arab nomadic lifestyle;  an open living area within the premises of one's own home having the  desired privacy, particularly for women of the household.

Some of the most awesome courtyard houses were built in Damascus, the  best ones in Aleppo Province, which lasted for centuries from the era of  the Rashadun, Ommayads and Abbasids.  Unfortunately, it's highly likely  that many of these priceless edifices have been destroyed during  the Syrian war beginning early 2011.



 

The traditional courtyard house in Syria had a floor at basement level;  a  ground floor for family gathering (called ‘salamek’ implying the  Islamic greeting "salam");  and a first floor of private rooms for family  members (known as ‘harmlek’).  These  houses were usually accessed through a modest space leading into a  spacious and beautifully landscaped courtyard. It was very difficult,  therefore, to judge the level of wealth or modesty of the houses from  their external appearance.  Most Syrian courtyards had a humble  exterior.  Their size and interior beauty depended on the wealth of the  occupying families.



The building materials locally available influenced the appearance of Syria's courtyard homes. Abundance of stone in the area made it the main building material.  Walls were frequently formed with layers of white and black stones called Al-Ablaq, a distinctive characteristic of the courtyard houses of Syria. 

Landscaping with decorative planting were synonymous with Syrian  courtyard housing. Climbing jasmine and rose bushes, citrus trees of  oranges and lemon, added color and fragrance to the courtyard  atmosphere.  Small architectural fountains with the sound of spouting  water in the center of many courtyards created a dramatically striking  effect. Plants and water within the courtyard also helped maximize  shading and cooling the surroundings in warm summer months.



Social, cultural and religious factors have played an important role in the shaping of  courtyard homes in Syria.   The need for privacy was of greatest importance.

Entertaining guests and relatives was (and still is) important in the lives of Syrian families. Courtyards were generally the venue of entertainment instead of the interiors of homes. ‘Thursday weekly courtyard parties’ were a common feature.  Guests were invited for dinner and entertained in the courtyard with folk music.  Female gatherings were the most significant part of the culture on a weekly basis, strengthening both family and neighborly ties.





Quoting below a comprehensive excerpt from 'Met Museum, Art of the Islamic World'   which includes every aspect of the wide culture of courtyard houses in Damascus, 1700s.

"Within the city walls, 18th century Damascus was densely built.  Palatial residences stood alongside more humble dwellings, bathhouses,  mausoleums, schools, and places of worship, all within a grid of  bustling market streets, narrow alleys, and cul-de-sacs. Courtyard  houses traditionally  accommodated an extended family, often consisting of three or more  generations, as well as domestic servants. Narrow winding entryways to  these domestic residences - preceded by plain exterior doors - obscured  views of the interior from pedestrians on the busy streets outside. The  entrance created a dramatic effect as guests traveled from the simple  exterior through a dark and narrow passage, which opened onto an airy,  lushly planted courtyard surrounded by living spaces. Windows and  balconies often lined the interior walls of the home, rather than the  street, enabling its residents to take full advantage of the calm and  quiet courtyard within."



Unfortunately the Arab home with its internal courtyard has disappeared in contemporary architecture in a rapidly changing world with a variety of ups and downs -  imperialist wars, occupations, collaborators, conspirators, economic woes, the senseless craze of immigration etc.  Families have been torn apart and the significance of togetherness, tradition and culture have changed exceedingly.
 


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Ruhi_Rose
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« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2018, 01:28:13 am »



Adorable !!    As I read this I almost floated away down the memory lane.  What lovely and cozy lives they lived back then.  These courtyard homes were heavenly.  I don't mean the splendor.  Many were very simple as you rightly stated.  I'm alluding to the atmosphere of cohesive bond in down-to-earth, well planned dwellings. 

Many thanks for this lovely read, my dear sis.   The images are mesmerizing.  May Allah The Almighty grant us a similar close-knit community of the righteous in Jannat, InshAllah, ameen.


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