On the Damascus–Homs road, Syria
Hegira 577 / AD 1181–2
Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin, r. AH 564–89 / AD 1169–93).
On the main route between Damascus and Homs, there is an attractive historical building known as Khan al-'Arus that was commissioned by Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin). As a building type, khans loosely translated as “inns”, served as resting points for travellers, caravans, pilgrims and post-messengers, offering provision and shelter for the voyagers, their animals, and their goods. Consequently, khans were also important trading centres.
Khan al-'Arus is a square-shaped building, each side measuring 40 m. The entrance gate, which is framed by two pointed arches, is on the south side. The entrance leads into a corridor, the left side of which includes a door and staircase leading up to the roof where there is a single room. Continuing through the corridor leads into an open courtyard (29.55 m x 24.75 m) surrounded by vaulted porticoes and nourished by a central water-basin. The courtyard entrance faces the building's main iwan.
The khan'ssecond-level room built above the entrance appears to have played a defensive role. It is rectangular in shape (6.40 m x 3.85 m), with a vaulted ceiling. The room has two entrances in order to facilitate access to either side of the roof, and it has two windows: one overlooking the courtyard and the other overlooking the entrance, thus offering a strategic view of the road. The roof appears to have been originally surrounded by merlons with arrow loops facing all directions, but these are no longer extant.
The use of such defensive architecture for a civil, non-military construction was typical of the Ayyubid style in Syria, as noted by Ibn Jubayr (d. AH 614 / D 1217), a contemporary traveller coming from al-Andalus West. In his memoirs, he recognises the Syrian proclivity towards fortification, noting also the great beauty and impregnability of this particular khan, which he calls “Khan al-Sultan” in attribution to the Ayyubid Sultan Salah al-Din (Saladin). He also observes that it was protected by an iron gate and its courtyard was provided with running water and a circular water cistern.
The layout of Khan al-Arus is similar to other neighbouring and contemporary khans, such as the Khan al-Qusayr. Nevertheless, meticulous attention has been paid to ensure the impressive appearance of this khan, as noted by the top-quality masonry, no doubt because its sponsor was Salah al-Din (Saladin) himself.
The building was restored in the latter part of the 1980s.
This Ayyubid caravanserai was commissioned by Salah al-Din (Saladin). It bears features typical of the militarisation of artistic taste during this period, needed to ensure the security of travelling merchants, pilgrims and soldiers. The Andalusian traveller Ibn Jubayr stopped here during his travels and praised the khan's powerful metal gate and abundant water supply. He remarked that buildings in the Mashriq, or eastern Mediterranean, are quite different from those of the Maghreb, or western Mediterranean, because of their sobriety and pronounced military features.
The monument is dated by an inscription that is no longer present on the building but was originally carved in five lines of thuluth script on one stone block just above the pointed arch of the entrance, as recorded by Sauvaget's study and photography (1939). The inscription carried a date of 577 (1181–2) and is attributed to Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin). The khan's architectural features confirm an Ayyubid dating of the 6th / 12th century.
Sauvaget, J., “Caravansèrais Syriens du Moyen-Āge”, in Ars Islamica, 6, 1939, pp.49–55; fig. 19.
Ibn Jubayr (d. 614/1217), Rihlat Ibn Jubayr [The Travels of Ibn Jubayr], Beirut, 1999, p.233.
Dina Bakkour "Khan al-'Arus" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2023. 2023. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;sy;Mon01;36;en
Prepared by: Dina BakkourDina Bakkour
Dina Bakkour is an archaeologist. She studied archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology and Museums in Damascus and General History at the University of Damascus. She received her Master's (DEA) in Islamic archaeology from the ParisI Sorbonne University, where she is currently preparing her Ph.D. thesis. She holds a Master's in Museology from the Ecole Du Louvre in Paris. Dina followed many stages in conservation and restoration in Rome, Murcia and Amsterdam. Nowadays, she works in the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Damascus. She participated in many national and European excavations and restoration in Syria and taught at the Institute of Archaeology and Museum in Damascus. She was a contributor to The Restorations of Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi. Nabek-Syria (Damascus: Syrian Ministry of Culture; Rome: Central Institute for Restoration).
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation 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 39
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Atabegs and Ayyubids | Travelling and Trading
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