Friday, July 9, 2010

Searching for baskets in Syria

I am a devotee of baskets and basket makers. All cultures through time have made baskets, for utilitarian and decorative purposes. While designs and techniques may vary, there are an amazing number of similarities between cultures and geographic regions.

The first basket-sighting in Syria was made by my son at the ticket office at the entry to the Azm Palace in Hama. The man in the ticket booth indicated that these were very old baskets (there was one large, flat basket and one bowl-shaped one) and that there was a shop in Hama where we could find them....unfortunately, it was closed the day we went looking (most museums and other cultural attractions are closed on Tuesdays).

The next place we saw them was in Palmyra/Tadmor at the Traditional Palmyra Restaurant. The restaurant owner offered to take me to his cousin's shop the next day...we went to the ruins instead. Next stop, Damascus, at the government-certified craft market, the Tekke Sulimaniyah. The baskets there were very garish in colour and did not look as well-made as the older ones. At the Azm Palace in Damascus, one of the rooms displaying works by artisans in the Ottoman era, there was the most fabulous collection of baskets!...obviously, not for sale. It almost seemed that every effort I made to acquire a basket was being foiled, as I found none before we had to leave. Not one to be deterred from getting hold of a basket, a solution was found: my son and his girlfriend were going to be heading to Hama. So, they were dispatched with a mission...find mum a basket. They returned to the artists' quarter in the Old City in Hama and very late in the day found the basket shop. They were told the basket seller would be able to get there by 11 pm! So, they sat around, drank tea (a common experience with merchants and artists), and brought home three lovely old baskets for me. I found an interesting reference to Syrian baskets from 1909..check it out, as there are some great old photos.

Here is a photo of a basket maker:

And here are my three baskets:

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