The Umayyad Mosque of Damascus is the earliest Islamic monument still extant after the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. As with the Dome of the Rock, the Mosque boasts a large volume of mosaic decoration of the highest quality that is believed to have been carried out by Byzantine artisans given the similarities of the technique and motifs with high-quality Byzantine commissions of the same era. The most notable difference is that there is a complete absence of figural imagery in the Islamic monuments. In the case of the Umayyad Mosque the decoration is particularly intriguing as it depicts a range of landscapes both urban and pastoral, all entirely without living creatures. This has led many commentators to argue that it represents a vision of paradise, with others arguing instead for an idealised representation of Damascus. Whether or not these interpretations are correct, the mosaicists appear familiar with Roman architecture, with porticoed late Roman villas appearing prominently in the decoration, meaning that the mosaics demonstrate a continuity with earlier artistic forms rather than a definitive break with the past. In many ways the decorative scheme is far more conservative than that of the Dome of the Rock, which predates is by over twenty years.
This limestone sarcophagus is unfinished as the wreath is roughly blocked out in the lower part of the tomb, but the eagle on the lid looks relatively well finished.
General view of the garden of Damascus National Museum with Classical and Late Antique sculpture on display
This image shows how sculpture is displayed in an outdoor context at the National Museum of Damascus as the collection is so extensive that only the exceptional works are displayed inside the museum.
This limestone carving is a funerary effigy for an unknown man.
This limestone sarcophagus is decorated with mythological figures and stylised foliate swags.
This limestone carving is a funerary effigy for an unknown woman.
This carved basalt slab contains cruciform imagery but is extremely unlikely to have come from a church, as such motifs were widespread in the Roman and Late Antique periods and often were intended as abstract designs rather than having an underlying meaning.
These basalt doors are found across Syria, but generally most frequently originate from the Syrian Limestone Massif around Aleppo and Idlib provinces. They are found throughout the Late Antique period and were a particular feature of tower-houses occupied by multiple families. In some cases these doors have remained in situ, thus enabling us to see how they would have been far easier to operate than the modern viewer would expect.
This Roman sarcophagus in the gardens of the National Museum illustrates the working methods of Roman artisans as the decoration is roughly blocked out but crucially left unfinished so that the purchaser could dictate exactly how they wanted the object to be completed.
The church of Bennawi, south of Aleppo, was reported destroyed by the 1950s when Georges Tchalenko undertook his monumental three volume study of the Syrian Limestone Massif. The basalt "bema throne" or pulpit was preserved and is now in the garden of the National Museum in Damascus.