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Abass Hiba Saed. The architecture of Damascus in the late 19th — first half of the 20th century: Occidentalization and local traditions

For millennia, Damascus, a major urban center in the Levant, developed different techniques of architecture. However, during the Ottoman Reforms and the French Mandate, from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, the city underwent major transformations which shook its economic and political, cultural and social structure. So much so that radical changes have affected the process of construction and spatial organization of the city. The disappearance of traditional construction, based on the combination of stone, wood and mud bricks, presents a telling example. However, since the beginning of the XX century, the methodical and legalized destruction of buildings constructed using this technique has not ceased to be an essential part of urban development and reconstruction operations.

During the Ottoman Reforms, the traditional materials were not totally replaced by other building materials given the technical impossibility of this choice. Yet the political will and the internal development of Damascene society were clearly favorable to adopting other types of construction. The frequent fires that ravaged the wooden and mud-brick buildings were a main reason favoring this attitude. This will be accentuated throughout the period of the French Mandate from 1920 to 1946.

This report is based on two main ideas: the first analyzes architecture as a project of society and not only as isolated initiatives; the second admits that society evolves by simultaneously adopting two currents of thought: conservative and liberal. The report discusses the reasons for the decline of the traditional architecture of Damascus in response to a specific historical context, the role of the successive political forces, and the current challenges that threaten the existence of this architecture.

The report’s aims to highlight the historical context, the direct reasons and the consequences of the phenomenon studied. This will be done according to two historical periods: the Ottoman Reforms, from the middle of the 19th century until 1918, the French Mandate, from 1920 to 1946.