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Video transcript

there's this fabulous sound of water on this low fountain in this lush beautiful room and that's one of the sounds that would have welcomed anyone into a demoscene house the sound of the fountain it would escort you in to one of the reception rooms so we're standing in a car which is one of the winter reception rooms from a house from Damascus from the early 18th century that is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art it is filled with cut stone wooden panels which are decoratively carved and complex patterns there are cushions and the rooms shelves are filled with ceramics and books it feels as if we're in a very prosperous environment we are in a very prosperous environment actually this was a house that probably burned to somebody who's affluent this is where a merchant or a local political figure would be meeting and greeting his guests so I love this because so often when we think about history when we think about religious spaces historical spaces but this is allowing us into the private life of a person in Damascus in their early 1700s well and that's what makes it so extraordinary we get to sense of how people lived so you have to imagine that you are coming to call on the great man of this house so you come in hopefully you're important enough that as you are ushered in from the courtyard and you come into this call you enter the space around the fountain called the atabaque like a threshold and if you're important you take off your shoes and you are escorted to sit on the deewan in the other part of the room that is called the toes are this is this kind of raised platform if you're not so important you get stuck in the a tebah which while it's beautiful it has inlaid stone it's a big insult to be left there you're with people's shoes oh alright we don't want to stay down here so we ascend up this step and we sit on the cushions and perhaps the servants come in they might serve us some fruit they might serve us some refreshing drinks they might serve us coffee one of the Arab saints called coffee a gift from God um they are you could also be given a water pipe an Argyle who goes there often called so you could smoke Apple tobacco if they were in season pomegranate juice is something you get in September in Damascus so you'd be seated depending on how important you were towards the central part of the rear wall and from there you'd be able to really admire the glory of this room which is decorated in the ajami style Ajami means foreign or Persian and Arabic we don't know where this type of technique comes from but it was around in Egypt and other parts of Central Arab lands before it came to Damascus but what it means and what it is this is gorgeous technique that we see on the walls it was a treatment for wood panel so what you do is you take your bit of wood you would put a gypsum mixture down on it so that's kind of like plaster yeah you create a raised and textured surface that you would then stencil giving yourself a pattern on top of that you would put down a type of metal leaf you could put down gold leaf you could put down silver leaf we even get examples of tin leaf where the Tim seems to be from England and was important on top of that it would then be painted so originally this room was not as dim as it is now but pretty vibrant incredibly vibrant you have to think in full Technicolor now many of the different houses in Damascus that are still extant today we have pink we have light green we have vibrant blues fuchsias purples we have every gorgeous vibrant color you can think of but a lot of these rooms have been revarnished and that varnish then cannot always be removed there's really an attempt to create a sense of liveliness for the I just like the fountain creates liveliness for the ear I think that's exactly right and you really can also see that one of the most dominant features in the room the mossad the niche this is not a prayer niche it's just a decorative niche and I notice that it's aligned on the axis of the entry so that this would have been the first thing you would have seen exactly and while you have to imagine out the Turkish tiles that are there in the centre it really would have been a spectacular structure so you can see at the top you see the hood and the Makar nose now those are the little fragments of a dome that create this geometric multiplication beautifully complex they are a fundamental element of Islamic art we see them not only in decorative capacities but they also are great ways to get from a square base to a dome so we see them in a lot of mosques whenever you see a mu cornice you know you somewhere where Islam has been within those shelves within that niche I see some precious objects in fact I see that throughout the room and so this was really a way of showing off you would show fantastic Ewers carved metalwork bowls ceramics so people could see your affluence it was a place in which you could show off your knowledge your wealth and we can see the learning and the knowledge in your culture also on the walls when we look at the inscriptions that calligraphy is the other thing that dominates in this room we can see that the cornice both of the ceiling and of the top of the wainscoting of this wooden whole piece has got car to shoes with calligraphy and then we can see them over most of the niches on the walls there are three poems here poetry is a dominant art form so there really is thus aesthetic quality that exists not only in an auditory sense I only visually but also linguistically here you are meant to be able to look and understand and engage on different levels all of your senses are being stimulated I'm interested in the fact that the room doesn't have any fixed furniture and that it was also seasonal this would have been off the north side of the courtyard so that it could have taken advantage of the sun's direct rays during the winter we were in the world before air-conditioning and you need to move to where it's either warmest or coolest depending on the weather so the call might be your winter reception room because it gets the most Sun it's in the interior but in the summer you would go to the e1 which was usually located on the south side so it was north facing which would be much more pleasant in the summer originally on the rear wall here this small niche wasn't there it was a larger niche and in there would have been betting rolls carpets things that you would use for sleeping and you'd bring them down and put them in sleep in here so you wouldn't have had a dedicated bedroom like we have now this would have been a space that would have had multiple purposes depending on the season then depending on the time of day if I could I would certainly take up residence in this house or any of the different houses in Damascus because there is something so ethereal and gorgeous about them and it's one of the things that has attracted travelers to Damascus people who come to these houses whether it's Isabel Burton or Frederic Leighton they are so touched by them that they cannot say how meaningful they are other than that they always longed to return