THE ARABIAN PALACE
A palatial eastern residence from the outside is usually subtle, with the show of wealth and distinctive architecture subdued within the high walls of its interior. Once inside, the house is a rich compendium of decorative exotic arts. Ablaq walls of alternate sequential runs of light and dark-coloured stone, marble floors with geometric patterns, wooden ceilings painted and gilded, muqarnas, cornices, embellished polychrome wood and stucco panels, and hanging translucent glass and metal lanterns which shed a filigree of light across the space, complete the lavishness of the interior space. Depending on the region, ceramic tiled fireplaces and prayer niches in golden mosaics are usually painted with calligraphy of spiritual or poetic verses. In addition, medallions, arabesques, stalactites, rosettes, carved stone or marble columns, arches and fountains can also be featured. In some instances, a garden enclave called a liwan is constructed on the southern edge of the courtyard. This feature was introduced by Islamic architecture and became a prominent feature of the traditional house, particularly in Damascus. As a vaulted portico in the courtyard, it forms a medium between the indoors and outdoors. The main use of the liwan is as a shaded retreat - the fundamental focus of social life - where the man of the house receives his guests. Mats and carpets are spread on the floor, with low sofas and cushions aligned against the full length of the walls to create the divan seating space.
In architectural terms, the liwan has the same effect as a ventilation shaft which cools warm air before it continues its journey into the internal living spaces. In this view, the design of a grand palace may include more than one courtyard. There is therefore, the street facing court, an inner family retreat, and a kitchen yard for household assistants. In most cases, windows open onto the courtyards and are fitted with stained glass, grills and shutters. Upstairs and downstairs, the rooms of the whole house are lavished with intricately patterned, richly textured, elaborately detailed wooden furniture, embezzled with laminated gold leaves. This rich tapestry of refined timelessness required the joint effort of several different craftsmen. Each is a specialist in the delicate engraving of wood, metal, glass, marble, stone and the mixing of paints. This kind of lavishness also needed a refined understanding of spatial design and an experience in the balance of placing its complimentary elements together. Damascene artisans were famous for mastering the art of craft in the decorative business. But despite its extravagance, the eastern house is always designed to express highly respected traditional cultural values. It is a humanist architecture centred on the importance of social interaction, the flow of movement, communication between those occupying the space, and the appreciation of the natural environment.
[Painting (1): Carl Haag, Bavarian | Painting (2): John Frederick Lewis, English | Painting (3): Gustave Clarence Rodolphe Boulanger, French | Painting (4): Dağhan Aslanger, Turkish] ...