Photograph: Muhammad al-RoumiPhotograph: Muhammad al-RoumiPhotograph: Muhammad al-Roumi

Name of Monument:

Kharab Sayyar


75 km northeast of Raqqa, Raqqa region, Syria

Date of Monument:

Hegira 2nd–4th century / AD second half 8th–mid-11th century

Period / Dynasty:



Abu Sa‘id al-‘Abbas ibn Amr al-Ghanawi (d. 305 / 917).


Kharab Sayyar is a site fortified by a quadratic wall measuring about 650 m x 650 m and containing several features of an urban centre. In addition to a number of large official and private buildings, it includes an elevated citadel-type structure in the eastern part of the enclosure, two large cisterns in the northeastern corner; a so-called 'palace' to the southwest, and a mosque in the northwestern part. Recent excavations have uncovered a bathhouse (hammam) with delicate polychrome mural paintings located next to a cluster of houses to the north of the citadel. Of these houses, Nos 1 and 8 each contain a richly decorated room; they are separated from each other by a lane running in an east to west direction. The southern house (No 1) comprises three courtyards each surrounded by a single row of rooms. The walls have stone foundations that support mud-brick and stamped mud walls covered with several layers of gypsum plaster on the inside. The walls of the decorated room include a 1.50 m-high carved stucco strip. A 1.50 m-wide strip located along the decorated walls is not plastered, suggesting a furnishing arrangement that included cushions for sitting on along the walls. The stucco panels show an abundant range of decorative themes divided amongst independent panels, which include repetitive leaves and palmettes, as well as fish-scale and net patterns. Unlike the AH early-9th / AD 3rd-century decorative programmes found in Raqqa, which are limited to the doorways and inspired by classical prototypes, the composition of the Kharab Sayyar panels points to pre-Islamic Iranian models.
Kharab Sayyar is situated halfway between Raqqa, the capital of the medieval province of Diyar Mudar, and Ra's al-Ayn on the Khabur River. It probably served as a stopover on the medieval road from Raqqa to Mosul, via Ra's al-Ayn and Nusaybin. Although already settled in Umayyad times, Kharab Sayyar probably gained its importance as part of a string of fortifications along the border with the Byzantine Empire between Adana and Malatya in Anatolia. The exquisitely furnished houses mentioned above may be attributed to ‘Abbas al-Ghanawi, a local army commander from Rafiqa (Raqqa). He was appointed by the Caliph al-Mutadid (r. AH 279–89 / AD 892–902) to hold back the hostile nomadic tribes that were devastating the region of Anbar in the Middle Euphrates. The decorative patterns and techniques used at the residence were probably brought to Syria from Baghdad or Samarra by someone who knew the caliph's palaces, appreciated their style, and wished to transfer the same courtly features to his own home. Since al-Ghanawi was closely involved with the caliph's court as an army commander, and was fully able to acquire the means for architectural patronage, he may have had a major hand in the building activity at the site.

View Short Description

Kharab Sayyar is an urban centre that gained importance as a fortification along the Byzantine border in the AH late 3rd / AD late 9th–early 10th century. It is surrounded by a quadrangular city wall and it includes a mosque, a hammam and private houses. The houses are sumptuously decorated with carved stucco wall panels showing an abundant range of decorative themes. The patterns display very close ties to the famous stuccoes from Samarra and testify to the influence of the Abbasid heartland in this region.

How Monument was dated:

The stucco decorations represent a hybrid of what is known as Styles A and B at Samarra, founded in 221 / 836 by al-Mutasim, thus Kharab Sayyar stuccos are somewhat later than those found at Samarra. This dating is supported by the close resemblance to the stuccos of Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo, built after 256 / 870.

Many ceramics found on site are similar to Abbasid-period Raqqa finds, and some even include earlier pottery dating to the late Umayyad period. The discovery of two Umayyad coins in the walls of house No. 1 (probably minted by Caliph Marwan II (r. 126–32/744–50), suggests that the settlement may have been founded as early as the second half of the 2nd / 8th century.

Selected bibliography:

Meyer, J.-W., et al, “Die dritte Grabungskampagne in Kharab Sayyar 2000”, Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient Gesellschaft, 133, 2001, pp.199–224.
Meyer, J.-W., “Die Ausgrabungen im islamischen Kharab Sayyar (1–3 Kampagen 1997–2000)”, Zeitschrift für Geschichte der arabisch-islamischen Wissenschaften, 14, 2001, pp.189–215.
Moortgat-Correns, U., Charab Sejar, eine frühabbasidischen Ruinenstättte in Nordmesopotamien, Berlin, 1992.
Meyer, J.-W., “Kharab Sayyar: Archaeological and Historical Notes on an Abbasid Site in Northern Syria”, Welt Des Orients, (forthcoming).

Citation of this web page:

Verena Daiber "Kharab Sayyar" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. 2020.;ISL;sy;Mon01;31;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 GomezMandi Gomez

Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.

True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.

MWNF Working Number: SY 38


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