1) Location and history of construction
The museum is located at the heart of the Syrian capital, at its entrance from the west, along the Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi Street, just between the University of Damascus and Tekkiye Sulaymaniyah close to the well-known” President’s Bridge”. Syria has not had any establishments that could be described museum until the end of the First World War. When the long Ottoman occupation ended finally, the so –called Diwan (meaning office) of Knowledge was established. The new body was in charge of looking after the antiquities and to establish a museum in which the relics could be stored safely. Therefore, one of the spacious halls of the Al-Adlia School building in Bab Al-Bareed, in front of the Dhahriya School was allocated and used as a storage for the relics. The museum received support and relics from several generous families in Syria that led to the formation of its first collections artifacts in 1920 AD. Yet, with the continuous growth of archaeological discoveries announced that it was about time to find a more convenient and equipped building for storing properly the large amount of artifacts. In fact, the museum’s collections began to
grow steadily across time until the old building’s halls were not enough to keep the relics. Hence, the Directorate of the awqaf (meaning Endowments) for Damascus, allocated a piece of land in the “Green plain”, to build the new museum building on which the first section of it was opened in 1936 AD, designed by the French engineer. M. Écochard. The museum’s new building plan was distinguished by its ability to expand and was initially limited to a courtyard, two galleries, four halls, an office suite, and an upper floor containing three other halls. The building plan continued to expand until it has reached its current shape.
2) The museum’s departments
The museum consists of five departments, established in several stages:
- Department of Prehistory of Syria (1994)
- Department of Ancient Syrian Antiquities (established in 1952)
- Department of Classical Syrian antiquities (established in 1936)
- Department of Islamic Syrian antiquities (established in 1950)
- Department of Modern Art (established in 1956)
1) Museum garden
It consists an important part of the visit to the museum, since it displays relics in what seem like an open-air museum. There the visitor can see group of statues, monuments, doors, windows, mosaic panels, column capitals, coffins and a number of wonderful large sculptures distributed in the garden among the amazingly colored and refreshing roses and trees. The exhibited objects there, where selected so their materials are strongly resistant to natural factors so must of them are from basalt, and a special program of restoration was dedicated to care about the more fragile ones. The museum also has its own library, which is specialized in archaeological and historical books and articles, where the reader has access to significant sources about Syrian history and archeology, in addition to global knowledge. The garden has also a cosay (cafeteria) for visitors and tourists where they can enjoy their time after the visit.
2) Department of Prehistory of Syria
It is located on the third floor and displays a large number of important (stone) flint and bone pieces and tools, in addition to a group of figurines, statues, ornaments, some pottery pieces, and others. Its exhibition range starts from the very early steps of humanity during the so-called “Paleolithic period” until the “Chalcolithic period”. The exhibited relics came from various key archeological sites in Syria such as Tell Aswad, Tal Haloula, Tal al-Asad, Jurf al-Ahmar, Tal al-Abr, Baz Jebaden and many others.
1. Significant exhibits of the department include
- A skeleton of a “Neanderthal”, which is almost complete from the Daydaria Cave site in Afrin Valley. It dates back to the Middle Paleolithic period.
- A seated female clay figurine from the site of Seker Aluhaimer that embodies the cult of “mother goddess”. Her head is elaborately, and it has a relatively large size and a high manufacturing technique. The figurine is considered one of the rare examples of the outstanding artifacts of the Neolithic period in Syria.
3) Department of Ancient Syrian Antiquities
It consists of seven halls that were divided according to the relics of the sites as follows:
- two halls for Ugarit discoveries
- two halls for the discoveries of Mari
- A hall for the discoveries of Ebla
- A hall for discoveries of coastal Syrian sites (such as Amrit, Tal al-Qazl and Ibn Hani)
- A hall for discoveries of internal Syria sites (such as Tal Khwira, Tal al-Sabi Abyad and others).
2. Significant exhibits of the department include
- The “Ugarit alphabet”, which is a small pottery inscription, (length: 5 cm, width, 3.1 cm) written on it with thirty alphabetical characters, considered the first alphabet known to history.
- The head of a person made of ivory made with gold, silver, copper and lapis lazuli, perhaps the face of a Ugarit prince or princess, wears a high crown on his head (height: 15 cm, width: 9,5 cm).
- The shape of an eagle whose body is made of lapis lazuli, its head is in the shape of a lion’s head made of hollow gold foil, eyes lowered with bitumen, and the tail of gold foil also, it was found at the site of Mary and dates back to the third millennium BC. The eagle “Anzu” in Sumerian represents a deity (height: 11.8 cm, width: 13 cm).
- The statue of the singer (or singer?) Named “Ornina” after an inscription found of it , which is made of beautiful white alabaster stone, dating back to the beginning of the second millennium BC. It was found at the Ishtar temple in the ancient city of Mari (height: 25.4 cm, width: 13,5 cm).
4) Department of Classical Syrian antiquities
This department, which was recently renovated, displays relics covering the rich and diverse history of Syria during the classical ear ranging from Greek, Roman until Byzantine periods. There the visitor can enjoy watching masterpieces of stone carvings, textiles, coins, weapons, jewelry, monuments, and burials, pieces of glass, pottery and mosaics.
3. Significant exhibits of the department include
- A bronze mask dating back to the first century AD, found in Homs.
- A marble sarcophagus Naous found in Rastan region, engraved on its cover a man and his wife (the head is missing) sitting on an embroidered sofa. The engraved inscriptions show various mythological details from the legend of the Trojan War, and the sarcophagus is carved from a single piece of marble, dating back to the Roman era
- A tomb stele carved from limestone from the tomb of Taei discovered in Wadi al-Qabr (Palmyra), dating back to the second century AD (length: 55 cm, width: 83, 4 cm).
- An Outstanding wall painting from the Synagogue unearthed at the site of Dura Europos, which dates back to the third century AD. In addition, a section was planned in way to resemble the original plan of the synagogue. The Dura Europos hall consists of a courtyard surrounded by three galleries, the clergy section, and a rectangular worship hall.
5) Department of Islamic Syrian antiquities
It includes the Hall of Antiquities unearthed at Raqqa, the Hall of Hama Antiquities, in addition to two galleries and a number of halls classified according to the material of the objects. Therefore the victor can see the stone, ceramic, pottery, glass, wooden, metal halls, as well as the Manuscripts hall. The department’s jewelry is the so-called “Shamiya Hall” meaning the Damascene Hall, in addition to some of the pieces displayed in the garden.
4. Significant exhibits of the department include
- A ceramic statue of a knight riding a horse, his features are Asian, wearing a pointed bonnet hanging from behind a long braid, carrying in his left hand a shield against a snake, and in his right hand, he carries a wide sword that he raises towards his head. The statue was found in Raqqa and dates back to the 12 the century AD.
- The facade and the ruins of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi, which is located in Badiyat al-Sham in the southwest of Palmyra, 80 km away from it. The façade was transferred and rebuilt in the museum in a great construction effort.
- The Damascene Hall that was devoted to giving lectures and official receptions, and it consisted a part of the residency of the late former Syrian Prime Minister Jamil Mardam Bey, who generously donated it to the National Museum in 1958. It dates back to the year 1150 and was decorated with a cladding of carved and painted wood with the finest dyes and the most creative engineering and plant motifs and the inscription and repulsion. Alabaster, marble and stone were used as decorative elements for wall cladding, which represent the majesty of the artistic trends of the 18th century.
6) Department of Modern Art
It consists of six halls that contain works by Syrian artists, including paintings and statues of the most important Syrian artists such as Louay Kayali, Adham Ismail, Ilyas Al-Zayat, and others. It also includes modern gold and silver coins, in addition to medals, stamps, antique pieces and a number of gifts from official delegations that visit the museum.
5. Significant exhibits include
- A bronze sculpture by the Syrian sculptor Aktham Abdel Hamid.
- painting by the artist Louay Al-Kayyali entitled :The Shoe cleaner