Study Tour 5
Syrian Journeys: Aleppo and Damascus
Professor Sussan Babaie
Friday 17 – Sunday 19 September 2021
This is a journey to places beyond our reach. It is to Aleppo’s seventeenth-century houses where Armenian merchant families bedecked their houses with architectural and decorative features that announced to their business partners their mercantile networks reaching to Istanbul, Isfahan and Surat and to Marseille and Venice.
We navigate from the Judaida neighbourhood where what is now our boutique hotel used to be the home of a wealthy Christian, to the medieval citadel of Aleppo, amongst the oldest of such citadels in the Islamic world. We move on to the superbly fragrant and colourful souk, and then end up in the fascinating shops and street stands where famously bizarre Syrian lingerie can be bought for a pittance.
In Damascus, we imagine ourselves standing in the middle of the amazing Umayyad Mosque, amongst the earliest in Islamic history where two holy relics are kept: the head of St. John the Baptist and the Head of Imam Hossein. We explore the Shi’a shrine of Siyyida Roqayya to which cheap pilgrimage tours are taken by agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Jewish quarter at the end of the Roman Road where artists have now settled their studios, and where chic boutiques and little converted house-hotels like Beit Rose offer us respite.
So much of Aleppo is now gone and Damascus is empty of its cosmopolitan spirit. The journey will be tinged with nostalgia but it is also exhilarating for its abundant memories of sensory experiences.
Professor Sussan Babaie lectures on Islamic and Iranian Arts at The Courtauld. Her research on the early modern period includes topics on architecture, urbanism, and urbanity (Isfahan and its Palaces, 2008, paperback 2018; and Persian Kingship and Architecture, 2015); on transcultural conditions of artistic production (The Mercantile Effect: On Art and Exchange in the Islamicate World, 2017; and ‘Nader Shah, the Delhi Loot and the Exotics of Empire’, 2018); and most recently on the transmission of sensory experiences between the visual and the gustatory (‘Cookery and urbanity in early modern Isfahan’, 2018).