Hegira 981 / AD 1573–4
Darwish Pasha, Governor of Damascus (AH 979–81 / AD 1571–3).
Khan al-Harir was constructed in AH 981 / AD 1573–4 by order of Darwish Pasha, the Governor of Damascus at the time. He founded it as a waqf to benefit the Darwishiyya Mosque. First called Qaysariyyat Darwish Basha, it was later renamed according to its function into Khan al-Harir, the silk caravanserai.
The building is nearly square in plan, occupying around 2,500 sq m, and including 27 roofed shops embedded within its exterior walls. The central entrance on the northern wall gives access to an open courtyard of about 300 sq m, which is surrounded by two rows of chambers that originally accommodated the silk workshops and merchants. The courtyard is paved with black rectangular stones with a rectangular fountain in the centre. In line with the style of damascene khan in general, it has two floors. Stairs on each side behind the entrance portal lead up to an upper floor. There, the former accommodation rooms are laid out along both sides of a corridor, while on the east side there are rooms along the inner courtyard side only. All the chambers are either cross- or barrel-vaulted. Above the entrance there are three barrel-vaulted rooms; the one facing outwards was the chamber of the guard, while the chamber facing the courtyard was the room of the khanji, the khan supervisor. The building is roofed with a row of 44 cupolas above the corridor. Three sides of the khan face on to alleyways, characterised by alternating courses of polychrome masonry (ablaq), a typical feature of the Mamluk-Ottoman architecture in Damascus.
The layout of Khan al-Harir, with its open central courtyard and water fountain, is exemplary of caravanserais throughout the Arab-Islamic world. It follows the traditional Ottoman principles of construction, including a large courtyard and galleries, topped with the typical small cupolas. It should, however, be taken into consideration that no Mamluk khans have survived in Damascus to determine the Mamluk influence on these Ottoman commercial structures.
In contrast to the khans on the trade routes that initially served as resting and lodging places, the city caravanserais were wholesale centres. Khan al-Harir had several functions, combining accommodation, workshops and a trading post, a venue for the sale of goods produced at the khan, and the sale of raw materials used in the manufacturing processes practised there.
Inspired by the high level of building activity of the Sultans, local notables, particularly the governors, expounded an active building programme before the end of the AH 10th / AD 16th century concentrated on two areas: mosques with affiliating structures were built to the west of the city, while the market was extended by the construction of a number of khans to the southwest of the Great Umayyad Mosque. The Khan al-Harir was the first great caravanserai inside the city walls. Its construction was the beginning of a shift in mercantile activity to the area southwest of the Umayyad Mosque.
This caravanserai was built as a waqf (endowment) by one of the early Ottoman governors of Damascus, Darwish Pasha, to benefit his mosque. Since it specialised in silk-trading it was later called the Khan al-Harir (Silk Caravanserai). It is a huge structure in the heart of the trading area south of the Umayyad Mosque, occupying around 2,500 sq m, including 27 roofed shops around a square courtyard. The chambers are cross-vaulted and domed by little cupolas in typical Ottoman style.
The inscription above the entrance mentions both the patron and the year of construction.
Gaube, H., Arabische Inschriften aus Syrien, Beirut, 1978.
Pascual, J.-P., Damas à la fin du XVIième siècle, Damascus, 1983.
Sack, D., Damaskus, Entwicklung und Struktur einer orientalisch-islamischen Stadt, Mainz, 1989, cat. no. 4.34.
Weber, S., “The Creation of Ottoman Damascus: Architecture and Urban Development of Damascus in the 16th and 17th Centuries”, Aram, 9–10, 1997–8, pp.431–70.
Yahya, F., “Jard athari li-khanat Dimashq [A Stocktaking of the Caravanserais in Damascus]”, Annales Archéologiques Arabes Syriennes, 31, 1981, pp.67–106.
Verena Daiber "Khan al-Harir" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;sy;Mon01;20;en
Prepared by: Verena DaiberVerena Daiber
Verena Daiber has been a researcher at the German Archaeological Institute in Damascus since 2002, where she is preparing her Ph.D.thesis on 'Architectural and cultural history of Damascus in the 18th century'. She graduated from the Free University of Berlin where she studied Near Eastern archaeology and Arabic literature. In 1990 she obtained her MA degree with a study of medieval pottery from the citadel of Aleppo. She participated in numerous excavations in Sheich Hamad and Aleppo in Syria and Baalbek, Lebanon. She edited the third volume of the 'Raqqa' series, a compilation of studies conducted by several scholars on the site. Her latest publication is a study of the fine medieval pottery from Baalbek. In addition to her research she works as a translator for German and Arabic.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: SY 24
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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