Hegira 1163 / AD 1749–50
Asad Pasha al-Azm (r. AH 1156–71 / AD 1743–57).
Qasr al-Azm, the largest and oldest completely preserved private residence in Damascus, covers a space of about 5,500 sq m. It is a typical example of Damascene domestic architecture, with its simple outer appearance and its splendid interior furnishings. The division of the apartments according to official space and private space is also typical of Muslim domestic architecture in general, a feature not seen in their Christian or Jewish counterparts.
From the entrance with a guard's room to its left, a long, winding cross-vaulted corridor leads into the madafa (“chamber of the coffee-server”), before entering the official apartments (salamlik). The Salamlik is arranged around a small courtyard with an iwan on the south wall, flanked by two reception rooms. There are also guest rooms and a small kitchen for catering. From this area there is access to the most splendid area of the building, the haramlik, where the family functioned and the women and children stayed. The rooms in this area are arranged around a spacious courtyard measuring 56 m x 24 m, with two fountains and a garden at the centre. The chambers on the north side of the courtyard served as living rooms in the winter. They are provided with a portico (riwaq) supported by antique-basalt columns brought in from Dar'a and Bosra. Opposite the riwaq there is the magnificent tripartite reception hall (qa'a) with splendid stone-paste decoration, and small gardens to the north and east sides. At the southeast side the iwan faces the large rectangular fountain. The bathhouse or hamam, an unusual feature in private houses, is adjoined. There is also a kitchen section, similarly arranged around a courtyard, and remises for the vehicles and horses.
The use of high-quality materials for the palace interior can be seen by the basalt from Hauran, limestone from Mezze, Zabadani and Aleppo, and marble that was probably imported from Italy. Elaborately painted wooden panels decorated the walls and ceilings of the reception rooms. In 1830 the building was renovated and furnished with trompe l'oeil paintings according to the fashion of the time.
The construction of As'ad Pasha al-Azm's residence required two years and over 800 workmen for completion. The 18th-century chronicler, al-Budairi, reports the consequent scarcity of workmen and construction materials at the time, and that the city's water supply was interrupted in order to be divert it to the palace.
Excavations in the 1920s revealed the probability that the palace was built on a site of former importance, such as the residence of the Mamluk Governor Tankiz (AH 712–29 / AD 1312–27). The spiritual and socio-political prestige of the location comes from its proximity to the Umayyad Mosque. With new Ottoman caravanserais constructed to the south, the political and commercial power of the Azm family is further attested as As'ad Pasha built the largest and most splendid caravanserai in the city in AH 1171 / AD 1757, still known as Khan As'ad Pasha.
This is the largest completely preserved private house in Damascus. It occupies more than 5,500 sq m. In typical Damascene domestic architectural style, the outer appearance is simple but the interior is splendid. It includes an official or formal 'male' space and a private or familial 'female' space, each provided with a courtyard of flower gardens, fountains and reception rooms decorated with ablaq masonry, stone paste patterns and painted wooden panels. This palace, prestigiously located in the religious and commercial heart of the city, was the residence of the Damascene Governor Asad Pasha al-Azm.
The 18th-century Damascene chronicler, Ahmad Budairi al-Hallaq reports for the year 1163 (1750) that construction work on the palace commences.
Budairi al-Hallaq, A., Hawadith Dimashq al-yawmiyya [The Daily Events in Damascus], (Ahmad Izzat Abd al-Karim, ed), Cairo, 1959.
Ecochard, M., “Le Palais Azem de Damas”, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, April, 1935.
Sack, D., Damaskus, Entwicklung und Struktur einer orientalisch-islamischen Stadt, Mainz, 1989.
Sauvaget, J., Les monuments historiques de Damas, Beyrouth, 1932.
Sinjab, K., Das Arabische Wohnhaus des 17. bis 19. Jahrhunderts in Syrien, Aachen, 1965.
Verena Daiber "Qasr al-Azm" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;sy;Mon01;21;en
Prepared by: Verena DaiberVerena Daiber
Verena Daiber is an historian of Islamic art an archaeology. She studied Near Eastern Archaeology and Arabic Literature at the Free University of Berlin. After her employment as research associate at the German Archaeological Institute in Damascus she obtained her PhD at the University of Bamberg in 1991 on the public architecture of Damascus in the 18th century. Since 2017 she is the curator of the Bumiller Collection / Bamberg University Museum of Islamic Art that holds Islamic metalwork from the Persian world. After publishing on ceramics, architecture and imagery of the central Arabic lands, she works on the development and publishing of the Bumiller Collection.
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 25
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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