handmade folk jewelry







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Syria handmade folk jewelry

Gallery 1


Syria handmade folk jewelry Gallery 2



Syrian Folk Jewelry

  Traditionally the most important material for jewellery was silver, but for poorer people copper and bronze were also used. Silver gilt and gold were less common and used only in exceptional cases. Precious stones played no part in folk jewelry, but semi-precious stones occur occasion­ally. Cornelian, agate, turquoise and amber were the first choice, and magical properties were attributed to them? because of their colours. Consequently glass beads of the same colours could be substituted.

choice, and magical properties were attributed to them? because of their colours. Consequently glass beads of the same colours could be substituted.

Jewellery's function as a savings bank and insurance policy is particularly apparent in the frequent use of unal­tered coins as pendants, arranged in rows on headbands, in earrings etc. The economic Importance of jewellery is further demonstrated by the fact that it was produced in large quantities meant to be worn as an ensemble. Here the quantity of jewellery and its weight were more important than the quality of the craftsmanship. Temple pendants, armlets and anklets were usually worn in pairs. The most important indication of quality was the silver content. Since no silver was mined in the region, the raw material was obtained by melting down worn-out old jewellery and coins. Besides Ottoman coins, Maria Theresa dollars were particularly popular because of their high silver content. In the present century they were still being struck in Vienna specially for the oriental market. Both Mershen and Weir, writing of Jordan and Palestine respectively, note that since the 1940s the production silver jewellery has been largely supplanted by gold jewellery in a rather uniform style. This is basically due to the "drastic economic change in the first half of this century. According to Mershen, in the 1960s the production ol silver jewellery in Jordan had largely ceased. According to my sources of information, the substitution of gold for silver jewellery probably took place in Syria at about the same time.

 As mentioned in the previous chapter, there are very few silversmiths still working in Syria, in Damascus and Deir ez-Zor. I observed that the silversmiths of Deir ez-Zor can only produce a very limited amount of work because the lack of their raw material, silver. The silver­smiths still working today therefore basically restrict them­selves to repair work.

It is extremely difficult to draw the line between Syrian folk Jewellery and the jewellery of the neighbouring regions, as traditions of late antiquity and Byzantium are still just as apparent as those of the Near East. Syrian jewellery, however, also shows influences of Egyptian, Palestinian and Yemenite jewellery, as well as of jewellery from present- day Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran and Central Asia. The folk jewellery of the region thus reflects Syria's extensive trading contacts and the very heterogeneous composition of the Syrian population. The armlets and anklets especially show types similar to those found all over the Arabian Peninsula and beyond as far as the Arab-influenced East African coast - but there is no connection with the jewellery of Arab North Africa. Antoine Touma's collection, which he bought in Syria, contains many objects which have been classified by Weir as typical of the Palestinian bedouins and are described by Mershen as char­acteristic of the folk jewellery of Jordan. A large quantity of tightly fitting necklaces consisting of elements chased in matrices are described by Mershen as typical of the Kerak/Madaba region in Jordan. They too are found in

this collection. Clearly they were worn all over Syria. Chains of the type called "Jerusalem chains" also make up a sizeable proportion of necklaces found in Syria. Other individual parts too, such as crescent-shaped pendants on jewellery, are found in the same form all over old Bilad esh-Sham (i.e. modern Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine).

Despite differences in detail, the remarkable uniformity makes it possible to speak of a "Syrian" region in jewellery. This is probably due in part to the fact that this jewellery was only produced at a very few production centres. In Syria these are known to be Damascus, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor, in Jordan they are Kerak and Irbid, while the most important production centre in Palestine was Jerusalem. Another reason may be tlie mobility of the craftsmen. As we saw in tlie previous chapter, the craftsmen were mainly Christians, witli a high percentage of Armenians, who had immigrated from regions outside Syria, and Jews. The Jewish element may explain the evident Yemenite influ­ence in Syrian folk jewellery. Another important reason for the uniformity of the jewellery most probably is the mobility of the population, particularly of the nomads.

Few pieces of jewellery are signed by the craftsmen. Our collection includes some from Damascus and Deir ez-Zor. By now it should have become clear that any classification . of jewellery according to particular tribes or local groups is extremely difficult, if not impossible. It is more feasible to give information about the places of production, but this by no means indicates that the jewellery was necessarily worn there as well. In most cases it is possible to categorize the jewellery according to the larger economic sectors - urban, agricultural or pastoral- although here too the transitions from one sector to another are as fluid as the transitions between the economic groups themselves. A nomad woman, who had become sedentary, would still wear her nomadic jewellery. Even the perusal of old travel accounts do not help us any further in finding classifications. Even otherwise meticulous observers only state that there were many silversmiths in Damascus or Aleppo, and that jewellery was commonly worn, but their descriptions are not sufficient for any categorization. To some extent this may be because not much importance was attached to folk jewellery, but it is certainly also due to the fact that male travellers had no opportunity to see women's jewellery, which was mostly hidden under clothing. Even old photo­graphs are not much help. The few surviving photographs which show jewellery being worn, such as those ofBonfils, are studio shots. We cannot assume therefore that the jewellery shown actually belonged with the costumes.

Apart from enhancing the female beauty and simultane­ously being an important means of investment (frontal jewellery, ear jewellery, temple jewellery, armlets, anklets, earrings and - for bedouin women - nose rings), jewellery   also had another important function: it was used as amulets. Apart from a large number of small amulets, the significance of which in some instances can be traced back to the traditions of the ancient Near East (e.g. holed-disc amulets), there is a large group of typically Islamic amulets, the hidshabs. These are containers for texts from the Koran, magic squares or blessings, which may be cylindrical, trian­gular or rectangular, or - more rarely - round or octagonal in shape. Often they were sewn onto the clothing. More frequently, however, several of them are combined (e.g. triangular and cylindrical shapes) and attached to chains to be worn round the neck or across the shoulder.

The most important type of functional jewellery is the belt. The use of belts is much more widespread in Syria than in most other parts of the Islamic world. The charac­teristic forms of belts are basically derived from the Ottoman tradition. In particular, the very large, almond-or hoteh-s^aped belt clasps are found in Ottoman folk jewellery as far as the European parts of the former Ottoman Empire (Bulgaria, Greece, Albania).

Just as there are difficulties in ascribing particular forms of jewellery to specific regions, it is also difficult to date them. Some individual pieces in the Touma Collection were certainly made in the eighteenth century, but the majority dates from from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The basic forms, however, are much 

older. They can frequently be traced back to the time or the Fatimids, Ay u bids and -Mamluks, that is, to Syrian and Egyptian jewellery from the tenth to the fifteenth century.

Because of these difficulties the most practical way of presenting the jewellery in this catalogue seemed to be by classifying it according to the way it was worn. Any attri­bution to particular ethnic or religious groups, such as the Kurds or the Druzes, is given only when there is firm evidence. Information about specific production sites is based on workshop inscriptions or plausible information obtained on the spot.

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Syrian handmade folk jewelry

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