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Preserving the Old City of Damascus

by Faedah M. Totah

Publication Year: 2014

In Preserving the Old City of Damascus, Totah examines the recent gentrification of the historic urban core of the Syrian capital and the ways in which urban space becomes the site for negotiating new economic and social realities. The book illustrates how long-term inhabitants of the historic quarter, developers, and government officials offer at times competing interpretations of urban space and its use as they vie for control over the representation of the historic neighborhoods. Based on over two years of ethnographic and archival research, this book expands our understanding of neoliberal urbanism in non-western cities.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Cover, Front Flap

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Frontispiece, Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Preface: “With You Begins and Ends Creation”

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pp. xi-xxxii

This book is an ethnographic account of the recent gentrification of the intramural Old City of al-Sham (Damascus).1 In 1992, a restaurant opened in a renovated bayt ‘arabi (vernacular courtyard dwelling), and by 2008, there were more than one hundred, followed by dozens of boutique hotels, several art galleries, ...

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pp. xxxiii-xxxvi

First, I express my deepest and sincerest gratitude to the many Syrians who made this work possible. Although I would have loved to name them individually, I have decided because of the civil war in Syria to thank them anonymously. ...

A Note on Transliteration

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pp. xxxvii-xxxviii

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Introduction: Gentrification, a “Civilizing” Process

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pp. 1-32

In early 2004, while I was walking in the alleys of the Old City, I stumbled upon a construction site where yet another bayt ‘arabi was being converted into a restaurant. There was no sign, but through the open door, I saw several men working on the finishing touches for a courtyard designed for an opulent restaurant. ...

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1. Unlocking the Secret of the Old City

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pp. 33-74

Shortly aft er I arrived in Damascus in October 2003, Ramadan started and I was able to indulge my passion for Syrian TV serials, which dominate the airways the entire month. One series that especially caught my attention was Dhikryat Al-Zamn Al-Qadm (Memories for the Time to Come) (hereafter Dhikryat) directed by Haitham Hakki and filmed in part in the Old City. ...

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2. “Villagers Do Not Become Shuwam”

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pp. 75-103

I return to the series Dhikryat for a specific scene that illustrates the impact of the Old City on new rural immigrants, and that will set the theme for the discussion to follow on the Shami–rural binary that has long defined social hierarchies in the city. In this scene, a young female migrant narrates her introduction to Damascus. ...

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3. “I Am King in My Home”

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pp. 104-144

I was invited to a party at an art gallery in a refurbished bayt ‘arabi where the owner had done little to modify the layout of the house. The main elements including the ’iwan or liwan (three-walled room) was flanked by two rooms modestly decorated with stone inlay provided an elegant backdrop for the artist’s work on display. ...

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4. “People Living in Houses Ruin Them”

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pp. 145-180

During the course of my fieldwork in 2004, I was introduced to a Syrian couple who had purchased a house in the Old City. The Turkis were part of a growing number of people buying courtyard houses in the Old City to restore to their “original” condition. ...

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5. “Khay! Now We Pay to Enter a Bayt ‘Arabi”

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pp. 181-214

“Did you hear the latest joke?” Majid asked as we sat in his shop on Straight Street in the Old City. “In the Old Sham between a restaurant and a restaurant is a restaurant.” But Majid was not laughing. He was thinking of yet another restaurant opening near his bayt ‘arabi. ...

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6. “Who Has No Old Has No New”

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pp. 215-243

We met Salim, the architect and investor, several times in the preceding pages. On this occasion, I was walking through a dilapidated bayt ‘arabi, which, according to Salim, once served as the Austrian Embassy in Damascus during the early twentieth century. ...

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Epilogue: Whither Syria?

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pp. 244-250

Until early 2011, gentrification of the Old City continued at a rapid pace with more courtyard houses converted into restaurants, hotels, art galleries, cafés, and upscale boutiques. Neighborhood stores and workshops were also purchased by investors for the same purpose. ...


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pp. 251-254


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pp. 255-272


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pp. 273-284

Back Flap, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780815652625
E-ISBN-10: 0815652623
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815633495
Print-ISBN-10: 0815633491

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 16 black and white illustrations
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Gentrification -- Syria -- Damascus.
  • Urban renewal -- Social aspects -- Syria -- Damascus.
  • Neighborhoods -- Syria -- Damascus -- Sociological aspects.
  • Sociology, Urban -- Syria -- Damascus.
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