IN DEFENSE OF DAMASCUS: THE GENRE OF PROSE CITYSCAPES (12TH AND 16TH CENTURIES)
When the great 12th-century scholar Ibn Asakir wrote his canonical description Damascus, he launched a new way of walking, seeing, and writing about the city. His prose cityscape inaugurated a continuous intertextual tradition of descriptions of Damascus. However, it was in the long 16th century that the genre proliferated to treat different aspects and views: Damascus’ hinterland, al-Ghuta; its famous suburb, al-Salihiyya; and its celebrated pleasure parks. This essay will visit several of these renditions to expose the various strategies of invention, appropriation, and discursive fortification which Damascenes wielded to whitewash their city of a bloody history, to guard it against imperial consolidation, and to implant in it new communities. Regardless of the variety of their immediate motives, they all wrote to protect Damascus and make it their own.
Dana Sajdi (Ph.D., Columbia University 2002) is Associate Professor of History at Boston College. She is the author of The Barber of Damascus: Nouveau Literacy in the Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Levant (2013, forthcoming in Turkish and Arabic); editor of Ottoman Tulips, Ottoman Coffee: Leisure and Lifestyle in the Eighteenth Century (2008, in Turkish 2014) and coeditor of Transforming Loss into Beauty: Essays in Arabic Literature and Culture in Memory of Madga Al-Nowaihi (2008). She is the recipient of several fellowships including from Wissenschfatskolleg zu Berlin (EUME); Research Center for Anatolian Civilization; and MIT-Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.