Culture of Syria

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Eggelin Tomb Tower in Palmyra

Syria is a traditional society with a long cultural history.[1] Importance is placed on family, religion, education and self-discipline and respect. The Syrian's taste for the traditional arts is expressed in dances such as the al-Samah, the Dabkeh in all their variations and the sword dance. Marriage ceremonies and the birth of children are occasions for the lively demonstration of folk customs.[2]

The scribes of the city of Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra) created a cuneiform alphabet in the 14th century BC. The alphabet was written in the familiar order we use today.[3]

Archaeologists have discovered extensive writings and evidence of a culture rivaling those of Iraq, and Egypt in and around the ancient city of Ebla (modern Tell Mardikh).[4] Later Syrian scholars and artists contributed to Hellenistic and Roman thought and culture. Cicero was a pupil of Antiochus of Ascalon[5] at Athens; and the writings of Posidonius of Apamea[6] influenced Livy and Plutarch.

Literature[edit]

Syrians have contributed to Arabic literature and have a proud tradition of oral and written poetry. Syrian writers, many of whom immigrated to Egypt, played a crucial role in the nahda or Arab literary and cultural revival of the 19th century. Prominent contemporary Syrian writers include, among others, Adonis, Muhammad Maghout, Haidar Haidar, Ghada al-Samman, Nizar Qabbani and Zakariyya Tamer.

From 1918 to 1926, while Syria was under French rule, French Romantic influences inspired Syrian authors, many of whom turned away from the traditional models of Arabic poetry.

In 1948, the partitioning of neighbouring Palestine and the establishment of Israel brought about a new turning point in Syrian writing. Adab al-Iltizam, the "literature of political commitment", deeply marked by social realism, mostly replaced the romantic trend of the previous decades. Hanna Mina, rejecting art for art's sake and confronting the social and political issues of his time, was arguably the most prominent Syrian novellist of this era. Following the Six-Day War in 1967, Adab al-Naksa, the "literature of defeat", grappled with the causes of the Arab defeat.

Ba'ath Party rule, since the 1966 coup, has brought about renewed censorship. In this context, the genre of the historical novel, spearheaded by Nabil Sulayman, Fawwaz Haddad, Khyri al-Dhahabi and Nihad Siris, is sometimes used as a means of expressing dissent, critiquing the present through a depiction of the past. Syrian folk narrative, as a subgenre of historical fiction, is imbued with magical realism, and is also used as a means of veiled criticism of the present. Salim Barakat, a Syrian émigré living in Sweden, is one of the leading figures of the genre. Contemporary Syrian literature also encompasses science fiction and futuristic utopiae (Nuhad Sharif, Talib Umran), which may also serve as media of dissent.

Music[edit]

Asmahan born in As-Suwayda and emigrated to Egypt. One of few female voices in Arab music to rival that of Umm Kulthum[7]

Syria's capital, Damascus, has long been one of the Arab world's centers for cultural and artistic innovation, especially in the field of classical Arab music. Syria has also produced several pan-Arab stars.

Asmahan, Farid al-Atrash and singer Lena Chamamyan. The city of Aleppo is known for its muwashshah, a form of Andalous sung poetry popularized by Sabri Moudallal, as well as popular stars like Sabah Fakhri.

Also, Syria was one of the earliest centers of Christian hymnody, in a repertory known as Syrian chant, which continues to be the liturgical music of some of the various Syrian Christians.

There was formerly a distinctive tradition of Syrian Jewish religious music, which still flourishes in the Syrian-Jewish community of New York: see The Weekly Maqam, Baqashot and Pizmonim.

Architecture[edit]

Traditional Houses of the Old Cities in Damascus, Aleppo and the other Syrian cities are preserved and traditionally the living quarters are arranged around one or more courtyards, typically with a fountain in the middle supplied by spring water, and decorated with citrus trees, grape vines, and flowers.[2]

Outside of larger city areas such as Damascus, Aleppo or Homs, residential areas are often clustered in smaller villages. The buildings themselves are often quite old (perhaps a few hundred years old), passed down to family members over several generations. Residential construction of rough concrete and blockwork is usually unpainted, and the palette of a Syrian village is therefore simple tones of grays and browns.[8]

Media[edit]

Television in Syria was formed in 1960, when Syria and Egypt (which adopted television that same year) were part of the United Arab Republic. It broadcast in black and white until 1976. The Arab League officially asked the satellite operators Arabsat and Nilesat to stop broadcasting Syrian media in June 2012.[9][10]

There was a private sector presence in the Syrian cinema industry until the end of the 1970s, but private investment has since preferred the more lucrative television serial business. Syrian soap operas, in a variety of styles (all melodramatic, however), have considerable market penetration throughout the eastern Arab world.[11]

The authorities operate several intelligence agencies[12] among them Shu'bat al-Mukhabarat al-'Askariyya, employing a large number of operatives.[13]

Cuisine[edit]

Fattoush, an example of Syrian cuisine

The Syrian cuisine is rich and varied in its ingredients and is linked to the region of Syria where a specific dish has originated. Syrian food mostly consists of Southern Mediterranean, Greek, and Southwest Asian dishes. Some Syrian dishes also evolved from Turkish and French cooking. Dishes like shish kebab, stuffed zucchini, yabra' (stuffed grape leaves, the word yapra' derıves from the Turkish word 'yaprak' meaning leaf).

The main dishes that form Syrian cuisine are kibbeh, hummus, tabbouleh, fattoush, labneh, shawarma, mujaddara, shanklish, pastırma, sujuk and baklava. Baklava is made of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in honey. Syrians often serve selections of appetizers, known as meze, before the main course. za'atar, minced beef, and cheese manakish are popular hors d'œuvres. The Arabic flatbread khubz is always eaten together with meze.

Syrians are also well known for their cheese. The very popular string cheese jibbneh mashallale is made of curd cheese and is pulled and twisted together. Syrians also make cookies to usually accompany their cheese called ka'ak. These are made of farina and other ingredients, rolled out, shaped into rings and baked. Another form of a similar cookie is to fill with crushed dates mixed with butter to accompany their jibbneh mashallale.

Drinks in Syria vary depending on the time of the day and the occasion. Arabic coffee, also known as Turkish coffee is the most well-known hot drink usually prepared in the morning at breakfast or in the evening. It is usually served for guests or after food. Arak, an alcoholic drink, is also a well-known beverage served mostly on special occasions. More examples of Syrian beverages include Ayran, Jallab, White coffee, and a locally manufactured beer called Al Shark.[14]

Sports[edit]

The most popular sports in Syria are football, basketball, swimming, and tennis. Damascus was home to the fifth and seventh Pan Arab Games. Many popular football teams are based in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Latakia, etc.

The Abbasiyyin Stadium in Damascus is home to the Syrian national football team. The team enjoyed some success, having qualified for four Asian Cup competitions. The team's first international was on 20 November 1949, losing to Turkey 7–0. The team was ranked 115th in the world by FIFA as of November 2011.

Fairs and festivals[edit]

Festival/Fair City Month
Spring Festival of Hama Hama April
Flower Festival Latakia April
Assyrian New Year Festival Qamishli April
Nowruz Kurdish New Year Festival Qamishli 21 March
Traditional Festival Palmyra May
International Flower Fair Damascus May
Syrian Song Festival Aleppo July
Marmarita Festival Homs August
Farah bellah Murshdi festival August
Festival of le Crac des Chevaliers and the Valley for Arts&Culture Homs August
Vine Festival As Suwayda September
Cotton Festival Aleppo September
Damascus International Fair Damascus September
Festival of Love and Peace Lattakia 2–12 August
Bosra Festival Bosra September
Film and Theatre Festival Damascus November
Cultural Festival of Jableh Jableh July
Jasmine Festival Damascus April

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hopwood, Derek (1988). Syria 1945–1986: Politics and Society. Routledge. ISBN 0-04-445039-7. 
  2. ^ a b Salamandra, Christa (2004). A New Old Damascus: Authenticity and Distinction in Urban Syria. Indiana University Press. p. 103. ISBN 0-253-21722-9. 
  3. ^ Gordon, Cyrus Herzl (1965). The Ancient Near East. W.W. Norton & Company Press. ISBN 0-393-00275-6. 
  4. ^ An up-to-date account for the layman, written by the head of the archaeological team that uncovered Ebla is Paolo Matthiae, The Royal Archives of Ebla (Skira) 2007.
  5. ^ Plutarch, Cicero, c. 4; Lucullus, c. 4; Cicero, Academica, ii. 19.
  6. ^ "Posidonius". 1911encyclopedia.org. Archived from the original on 30 August 2006. Retrieved 24 January 2012. 
  7. ^ Zuhur 2000, p. 85
  8. ^ Antoun, Richard (1991). Syria: Society, Culture, and Polity. SUNY Press. ISBN 0-7914-0713-6. 
  9. ^ "Blocking of Syrian television is justified". The National. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  10. ^ Syrian president to address parliament in 1st speech since January - 6/3/2012 2:36:55 AM | Newser[dead link]
  11. ^ Salti, Rasha (2006). Insights Into Syrian Cinema: Essays and Conversations with Contemporary Filmmakers. ArteEast. ISBN 1-892494-70-1. 
  12. ^ "more than one dozen intelligence agencies" source: Wright, Robin, Dreams and shadows, the Future of the Middle East, Penguin Press, 2008, p.214
  13. ^ hundreds of thousands of mukhabarat" according to dissident Riad Seif source: Wright, Robin, Dreams and shadows, the Future of the Middle East, Penguin Press, 2008, p.230
  14. ^ "Damascus". RTÉ. 15 October 2009. Retrieved 26 November 2009.