Field Trips in Syria

The field trips of the Sapienza scholars in Syria began in 1978. While re-examining the existing scholarly literature (often dating back to the early twentieth century) on a number of monuments, their goal was manifold: to analyze the regional building techniques and decoration of the Byzantine period; to check the state of preservation of the buildings; to carry out full-color photographic documentation, in particular, of floor mosaics and opus sectile, following the photographic campaign they had already begun previously in Palestine. Led by Fernanda de’ Maffei, Claudia Barsanti, Alessandra Guiglia, and Gianclaudio Macchiarella took part in the first expedition, while Italo Furlan (University of Padua), Antonio Iacobini (University of Urbino), Andrea Paribeni, Mauro della Valle, and Enrico Zanini were involved in the following trips, which took place in 1987, 1990, and 1992.

On these occasions, they visited vast areas of Syria: from southern Hauran, with its Nabataean, late-Roman and Byzantine vestiges, to the strategic settlements of Justinian’s border toward the east; from the so-called dead cities in the north of the country, to the villages of the limestone massif; and finally, beyond Syria’s modern frontiers, to Turkey’s Antioch region and Jordan’s Jerash. While the visits to some well-known archaeological complexes such as Qalb Loze and Qalat Sim’an were essentially aimed at gathering up-to-date photographic documentation, with a teaching-oriented approach, in situ research also allowed the identification of unpublished monuments, such as the church of Sawara el Kebiret, in the Hauran, and clusters of materials which needed to be studied for the first time, such as the Byzantine sculpture (4th-7th centuries) preserved in the museums of Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, and Sueida.

The field trips of 1987, 1990, and 1992, focused specifically on the study of Justinianic fortifications between Palmyra and the Euphrates, as a continuation of the earlier years’ explorations of south-eastern Turkey. Through those new itineraries, however, the most relevant buildings of the Islamic and Crusades periods were also thoroughly examined.

During these experiences, the scholars established a fruitful collaboration both with local authorities, who granted all necessary permission to carry out investigations and surveys, and with Syrian archaeologists, who were carrying on important excavations of Byzantine sites. Among those, the palatial complex of Qasr ibn-Wardan (6th century) was being progressively freed from the sand under the direction of Abdurrazzaq Zaqzuq, from the Museum of Hama, and specifically studied by Fernanda de’ Maffei (1995).

This photographic collection on the monuments of Syria, containing nearly 5000 pictures, is second only to CDSAB’s compilation on Turkey.

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