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The Silk in Syria: History, Techniques, Sociological

and Actual Situation


Rim AI‑Attrache





Since longtime, Syria was known by silk fabrication, once the brocade or the damas are mentioned, we think directly of Damascus and Syria.


Historical Introduction


The principal silk Road traverses syrian territory. Syria is the Most active state : it is the cross/road of commerce between East and West, North and South. Since Damascus is the principal access to Hijaz, Egypt, Antiochia and Alexandrette, all these countries delivered Asian merchandises to Mediterranean ships, to be transported to Genes and Venizia... In the second place there was Palmyra, with its eastern door open to Mesopotamia. Before this stage, the Extreme‑Orient people monopolised the silk fabrication and exportation and collected abundant profits. Afterwards, other people discovered the very precious material ; then the silk commerce passed to Greco‑Roman world who dominated directly this commerce.


In the Middle Ages, the Arabs have controlled this commerce till the Crusades in the 12th and 13th centuries.


In 555 A.D., two monks from Athos Mountain (or Nestorian monks) transferred silk to the Middle‑East. Then this industry expanded to Greece, Black‑sea region, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Egypt too. The Arabs were interested in planting mulberry‑trees and cultivation of silk worms. Many arab cities flourished with silk workshops, particularly in Damascus. Arabs have contributed to expand this industry to Europe through Andalousia. The Omeyad calif Mouawiya bin Abi Soufian founded a workshop in his own Palace in Damascus in 665 A.D.


These products were called (stitched tissues). In the Abasside epoch, similar workshops were founded in Aleppo and Tyr. Syrian silk products were sold in Europe markets.


At the end of the Ayyoubid epoch and during the Mamelouk epoch, silk production was large, especially the golden silk. During Mamelouk domination and Ottoman afterwards, Damascus was renowned by silk products : more than 40 species of it.


In modem times, silk has widely expanded in the 17th century. The Maani in Lebanon encouraged this industry. Lebanon was a pioneer in this field. The silk fabrication was prosperous till the 20th century ; but unfortunately, it suffered serious regression.


In the 18th century, the Ottoman government imposed many taxes which subsequently caused real stagnation.

In 1915, the Chamber of Commerce in Lyon (France) sent a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, encouraging the French government to occupy Syria (Syria‑Lebanon-Palestine...), rich with silk, and then must remain dependent of the Lyonees market, which imported yearly (500 Tuns) of Syrian silk.


During the French Mandate, in the thirties, the world wide economic crisis struck Syrian silk production, so many enterprises made bankruptcy.


The introduction to Syria of the European fashion late 19th century, and in the beginning of the 20th contributed to the regression of traditional silk fabrics ; add to that, the new mechanical looms at the dawn of the 20th century replaced the manual looms, and the degradation of the silk handicraft was clear to all.


Silk Worm Cultivation


Silk worm is cultivated in Syria in spring and autumn in west mountains, and along side of the Orontes River.