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HANDICRAFTS

There are a variety of items to buy in Syria, and many of them follow traditions that go back centuries. Traditional fabrics and baskets, as well as items made of wood, metal, and ceramic can be found. Yet most of these items are not scattered in shops about town, but are available in one place. Most towns have a market, called a suq in Arabic. Damascus and Aleppo have very large markets. Here everything can be purchased, from food and spices through common household wares and traditional items. The markets are divided into sections where things of a similar nature can be found. Thus one may refer to the "spice suq" or the "gold suq" in Damascus, although these markets are in fact near each other in the central suq. During most times there are a crush of people both buying and selling at the entrance of the market. Narrow streets and small shops greet the visitor at the very beginning of the suq.

Do not be fooled. Many of the shops are narrow and go back quite a ways. Sellers and their agents will try to sell you something as fast as they can. Do not be in a hurry. Take a good look around. The suq is not nearly as much a bustle as it would at first appear. When one is past the entrance of the suq - in all but the busiest of times - it can be quiet, if not tranquil. This is the place where much more than selling takes place, and many older people can be found here. This is a major social centre and the ‘‘heart’’ of the market. It invariably has comfortable places where one can enjoyably pass the time. There is much too see.


Many traditional handicrafts are made by the nomads of the desert, known as the Beduin. They make some items in their homes and have an agent sell them in the suq.

Before the introduction of inexpensive plastic containers, baskets provided a thorough and durable way of storing foods. Ethnographic Museum, Palmyra.


Baskets are not easy to find in modern Syria, but there are a few dealers still left.  Damascus has a number.  Many brightly coloured examples are quite inexpensive.

This art basket from Damascus is finely woven with complex designs, and is not cheap.  Handicraft Suq, Damascus.


Before machine made textiles transformed the world, clothing and bedding were made by hand.  The Beduin still make brightly coloured fabrics for their own use, though few items seem to suit western tastes.  Ethnographic Museum, Palmyra.

Amoung the most popular traditional textiles are silk scarves, which are made in Aleppo. This scene from the Suq is typical. Shopkeepers will be happy to point out the differences in quality.


Silk scarves are brightly coloured, stylishly fashionable and light enough for even the most over-packed traveller to accommodate.  It is a good idea to learn the difference between pure silk and silk blends.

Most shops are family run businesses, such as this one in the Aleppo Suq.


Traditional objects made of wood are popular amongst locals and tourists alike.  Cake moulds are still made in a number of forms. Damascus.

Mosaic boxes are famous in Damascus.  They are made by placing pieces of wood in patterns and then cutting thin sheets from the bundle to glue on the surface of a box.  There are a number of different levels of quality that are not always reflected in the price. It is a good idea to take a careful look before buying.


The bird-form that decorates the bottom of the web pages is a rendering of the name of the author by this artist.  This picture is from Zarzor’s shop in Damascus.

Perhaps the most traditional Arab art form is calligraphy. There are several artists who have an international reputation.  This is a picture of Kibbani from Damascus.

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