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Bayt Farhi and the Sephardic Palaces of Ottoman Damascus in the Late 18th and 19th Centuries

By Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis

Bayt Farhi and the Sephardic Palaces of Ottoman Damascus in the Late 18th and 19th Centuries
Hardback, 352 pages £74.00
Published: 2018
ISBN: 9780897571005
Format: 279mm x 215mm
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Subjects: American Schools of Oriental Research, Arabic and Islamic Studies, Architecture, Art & Art History
Series: Annual of ASOR, Manar al-Athar Monographs

One of the largest and most important palatial houses of late 18th- and early 19th-century Damascus, Bayt Farhi belonged to the Farhi family, who served as financial administrators to successive Ottoman governors in Damascus and Acre.

Lavishly illustrated with extensive colour photographs, plans, and reconstruction drawings the book brings to life the home environment of the lost elite Sephardic community of Ottoman Damascus. It will be an essential resource for those studying the architecture, history, and culture of Syria and the Ottoman Empire.

Bayt Farhi's outstanding architecture and decoration is documented and presented in this first comprehensive analysis of it and Damascus's other prominent Sephardic mansions Matkab 'Anbar, Bayt Dahdah, Bayt Stambouli, and Bayt Lisbona. The Hebrew poetic inscriptions in these residences reveal how the Farhis and other leading Sephardic families perceived themselves and how they presented themselves to their own community and other Damascenes. A history of the Farhis and the Jews of Damascus provides the context for these houses, along with the architectural development of the monumental Damascene courtyard house.

Co-published with Manar al-Athar, University of Oxford.


Part I: Historical and Architectural Background
The Fahri Family and the Jewish Community of Damascus in the 18th and 19th Centuries
Monumental Courtyard Houses in Ottoman Damascus and Syria

Part II: Bayt Fahria and other Damascene Houses
Overview of the Architecture of Bayt Fahri
The Bayt Fahri Inscriptions
Other 19th-Century High-Status Jewish Houses

Part III: Architectural Survey of Bayt Fahri
The Barrani Courtyard
The Juwwani, Middle and Service Courtyards

Appendix: Damascence Houses mentioned in the text
Index of Hebrew and Aramaic Texts

Damascus is a treasure trove of Ottoman domestic architecture. The old city preserves no greater example than the grand three-courtyard house of the prominent Jewish banker, Farhi al-Muallam. Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis has done much more than accurately document and describe this marvel, recently restored to shine again in its original splendour. She provides us with a picture of the house in its context, even tracing back to the citys Roman phase. Her narrative explores how life for a Jewish family in late eighteenth century Damascus existed in an environment far removed from todays dysfunctional confessional divisions and where a Jewish family could grace the house with equally prominent references to its Jewish and Arab associations. The book is meticulously illustrated with plans and photographs bringing out every detail of the restoration process. It shows the house as it exists today, with its stunning palette of colours which previously only the English painter, Frederic Leighton, could adequately convey.

Professor Ross Burns (Macquarie University, Sydney), author of Damascus A History, Monuments of Syria, Aleppo A History 


Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis is Assistant Professor at The City University of New York. She is interested in the gardens and architecture of the Middle East and North Africa in the Classical and Islamic periods, as well as in their reception. She has published on a wide range of topics, from the topography of Roman Damascus to the reception of Classical and Egyptian architecture in New York City. Her books include Housing the New Romans: Architectural Reception and Classical Style in the Modern World (2017). She is the deputy director of the open-access photo-archive www.manar-al-athar.ox.ac.uk, and co-director of the Upper Egypt Mosque Project.

Publication Details:

 Hardback , 352 pages
 279mm x 215mm
255 col & 47 b/w illus.

BIC Code:
  ARC005000, ART015060, HIS026000
 American Schools of Oriental Research


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