CULTURE: ARCHEOLOGY AND ART
According to Softwareleverage, ancient Syria was the meeting point of all the historical-artistic processes of the vast region between the Nile and the Euphrates. Its most ancient artistic manifestations, represented by the constructions of Ugarit and by the cave drawings of Demir Kapu, date back to the fifth millennium BC. The rich ceramic production of Tell Halaf and then of el-Obeyd belongs to the fourth millennium, spread over a vast area ranging from northern Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean. The flourishing of the great Sumerian civilization had a great influence on the production of the Syrian steles of Ǧebelet el-Beyda, alongside the beautiful pre-Argonic production of Mari, which echoes Western influences, and a significant local production, such as the idols and big-eyed heads of Tell Brāk, the sculptures of Hama and Tell Nebī Mend. The lively political activity of the second millennium, which saw the formation of the kingdom of Mitanni and the autonomous cities of Ugarit, Aleppo, Karkemiš, corresponded to the period of maximum artistic flowering of ancient Syria, in which the Mesopotamian influences were integrated with Egyptian suggestions (paintings of Mari) and Mycenaeans, as well as from vigorous local contributions (plans of the palaces of Mari and Alalakh, temples of Ugarit), which gave above all to statuary, glyptics, ivories, toreutics, a very lively and original look. After a period of strong oriental influences due to the Assyrian conquest, the penetration of Hellenism (which inspired the grandiose urban systems of Dûra Europos, of Antioch, today in Turkey, of Palmyra, of Damascus) and then of the Greco-Roman culture began., attested by the colossal architecture of Palmyra, Apamea etc. Other documents of the Greek and Roman influence are given by the mosaic floors (from Antioch, Palmyra, etc.), by the decorative sculpture, by the statuary and by the murals of the tombs. Christian art found an early affirmation in Syria and its monumental expression, already attested by the painted decorations of the sanctuaries of Dûra Europos (3rd century), had an extraordinary development especially in the architecture of northern Syria (Qalb-lōze, el-Bāra), at least until the period in which, with the Arab domination, Syria became the center of the Islamic Empire and became part of a different and larger cultural complex. The proximity of Arabia and the fruitful contacts established between the invading Muslims and the local populations, civilized from very ancient times, made Syria the cradle of the power of the Omayyadi.
In fact, the capital of the caliphate was established in Damascus and the first important congregational mosque was erected in the same city, on the remains of a previous classical temple and a Christian church. The splendid Dome of the Rock was erected in Jerusalem, which reveals influences of previous Christian architecture, while more typically oriental characters (Iranian-Mesopotamian) are found in the remains of the Umayyad castles and palaces of the desert (both in modern Syria and in Palestine), the whose decoration (stucco, fresco, mosaic) shows the confluence of the two Hellenistic-Byzantine and Iranian-Mesopotamian currents, from which the most ancient Syrian Islamic art was born. In the sec. XII-XIII, various castles-fortresses were built by the Crusader orders (of el-Mudin near Laodicea, Bianco and Rosso near Tartūs, Crac des Chevaliers in Qal’at el-Ḥoṣn), often built on earlier Arab fortresses. Syria’s richest Islamic heritage dates back to the periods of the Mamluks and the Seljuks, when it sprang up in large numbers madrasas, bathrooms, mosques, palaces in a composite Islamic style that saw the triumph of decorative art (ceramics, toreutics, glass art, with magnificent gilded and enamelled glass products, coming from the workshops of Aleppo, Damascus and Antioch). The manifestations of the Ottoman era in which traditional architectural and decorative models were continued, weakly, or those of Constantinople and Anatolia were imitated. In the twentieth century Syrian art, on the one hand historically “hindered” by the Koranic precepts on iconography, collected and reworked the broad tradition that developed here, and was able to combine it with the solicitations of European art, which also reached thanks to artists from the old continent active in the country.
Syria was one of the forges of Christian liturgical chant, which developed, together with its textual forms, between the third and seventh centuries. Influenced by elements of Hellenic and above all Jewish origin, his main form was the madrasha, an ode composed of long stanzas sung by a soloist with a single choral intervention; the sogitha, a hymn performed antiphonically by two choirs; the kala, a short composition in Aramaic developed by the Monophysites in Mesopotamia; la anjana, antiphonic choruswhose stanzas were alternated with verses of psalms. The practice of antiphonal chant and the hymn (which had its initiator in Ephrem) were the two elements that most directly influenced Western Christian chant; moreover, the Syrian liturgical repertoire played a large part in the elaboration of the doctrine of oktoekos (the system of the eight Byzantine liturgical modes). Starting from the seventh century. Syria was strongly affected by the influence of Arab, Iranian and Turkish music.