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Monday, February 18, 2008 

The Eighth Gate

Damascus has seven gates - the busiest: Bab Sharqi and Bab Tuma. The non existent: Bab Kisan. The others: Bab Al Faradis, Bab Al Jabieh, Bab As Saghir, and Bab As Salam.

Now, there is an eighth.

But it's not in the Old City. The Eighth Gate is being built in Yafour, north of Damascus. Yafour is one of the new-money suburbs - outside of central Damascus, where building is limited by protection laws. The Eighth Gate - and Yafour in general - represents Damascus's Gulf architectural boom. The most potent symbol of the style is the Four Seasons hotel.

No, the Gulf architecture doesn't fit in to Damascus. Go up to Jebl Qasioun and look down at the city. It used to be the Umayed Mosque which stood out. Now, your eyes are drawn to the Four Seasons first.

But it is an improvement on the Soviet architecture which has dominated since the 1960s. That's a natural change.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. Emaar, the Dubai-based developers of the Eighth Gate, are having a massive sales push, even though the homes haven't been finished yet.

Have no doubt, this will change the face of Damascus. Damascus in the wider sense - not the Old City, not even the New City. But Damascus and its environs. I'm not sure I am completely behind this. There seem to be too many penthouses and not enough affordable housing (building a certain proportion of affordable housing was a condition for granting Emaar a licence to build this development).

It is also an attempt to decenter the city. By building the largest shopping center in the region here, Yafour residents will no longer need to come into the centre of town. It is sucking the life out of Damascus - literally and figuratively.

In many ways, this is how Beirut operates - as a multi-centered city (how much does the photo remind you of Beirut's Downtown?).

Some of the houses will be on the waterfront, and the shopping mall will be built in the style of the Damascus Old City. Access to the whole complex is through an Old City style gate.

It is costing half a billion dollars to build, and is already one year behind schedule. (This is an earlier post about the development).

I agree with what you said, there is much to be asked about this project. [Check Joshua's post about it, and the comments]

Most importantly, in a city that is plagued with water shortages, I am sure that this project will take water from areas that deeply need it [i.e. poorer areas].
And regardless of how it disgustingly represents that ever growing gap in income [Maybe not more than Rotana cafe, which is built right on top of one of damascus's saddest areas, Jisr el-Ra2ees].

The architecture inside is not exactly Damascene, it is more "Arab", in the sense of "Baghdad" arab. The "Arabian Nights" archs were never really a part of damascene architecture.

On the other hand, it will guarantee a few job opportunities [albeit, construction jobs are temp ones], and it is a direct foreign injection. But still, I don't Damascus to turn into Cairo, I truly don't want it to.

That's an interesting point Yazan.

I think its one saving grace is that it's being built out of sight of the city. It'll be a mini super-suburb.

We will have to see just how many of these homes are available to the poor. It will only ever be a tiny percentage, but unfortunately that's the way the capitalist housing industry works (force developers to build a small number of cheap homes, alongside a premium development).

As for the architecture - that's very interesting, I'd like to know more. Ironic then, that they've named it as a Gate of Damascus! Shows how intellectually corrupt they are. Well, I guess if they can build man-made islands in the shape of palm trees when viewed from a plane...

"It is also an attempt to decenter the city"

Surely you don't mean "Decentering Damascus"? :D sorry for the pun I couldn't resist! She can sue you for copyright infringement now!

For example,

this is how the commercial center is supposed to look like.


Damascene architecture has very different coloring patterns, and different arch types.

As for the "poor", I doubt any of these houses are available for them. With prices like these...

"Gross 1 sq meter sells for US$2,800"

Even the ones built "exclusively" for the poor. This is not a community that "attends" to the poor. Everything will priced ten-folds its real price.
There might be some upper middle class who get to live there, because they happened to work there [doctors or such...]..

As much as I hate this… we need big markets here in Syria
We need all those job opportunity and the increasing of the competition in Markets
And Decentering Damascus… that’s never gonna happen, no one will replace the greatness of the old city with a copied themed building.
I think it is stupid and cheap idea to use the theme of old ages in new buildings.

But again as much as I hate this… Damascus needs expanding, and that will happen sooner or later.
The government must increase pressure on “Imar” in order to increase the number of houses meant to be given to low-income families and must be in the same quality and services available as every spot in the project.

You mean the black/white brick style Yazan?

I agree with you Yazan and Dania - it is vital to make sure enough of these properties are genuinely available to low income families. We will see how much of that actually happens, but I share your scepticism Yazan.

As for the job creation Dania, you are right. It is with a heavy heart that I accept that this monstrosity might actually bring some benefits. I just hope it does. I'm still waiting to see how the Four Seasons / Rotana has helped Damascus.

White House Targets Syrian Businessman
U.S. Imposes Economic Sanctions Over Alleged Efforts To Weaken Iraqi, Lebanese Governments
Comments 1
WASHINGTON, Feb. 21, 2008


President George W. Bush last week signed an executive order that expanded penalties against senior government officials in Syria and their associates who are judged to have benefited from public corruption. (AP)

Fast Facts

Learn about the people, economy and history.

Hezbollah Chief: New "Incentive" To Attack

(AP) The United States on Thursday imposed economic sanctions against a prominent Syrian businessman as part of an effort to punish officials in Syria for alleged efforts to undermine the governments of Iraq and Lebanon.

The Treasury Department said the sanctions would be imposed on Rami Makhluf, who was identified as a prominent Syrian businessman and regime insider.

President George W. Bush last week signed an executive order that expanded penalties against senior government officials in Syria and their associates who are judged to have benefited from public corruption.

The Treasury Department order freezes any assets that Makhluf holds in U.S. financial institutions and prohibits U.S. citizens and firms from engaging in any business contacts with him.

Makhluf is the first cousin of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and is considered one of the most powerful and influential businessmen in Syria. The 39-year-old controls the country's mobile phone network, SyriaTel, as well as other lucrative businesses

"Rami Makhluf has used intimidation and his close ties to the Assad regime to obtain improper business advantages at the expense of ordinary Syrians," Stuart Levey, Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.

"The Assad regime's cronyism and corruption has a corrosive effect, disadvantaging innocent Syrian businessmen and entrenching a regime that pursues oppressive and destabilizing policies, including beyond Syria's borders, in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories," Levey said.

Mr. Bush signed the executive order on Feb. 13, one day after Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world's most wanted and elusive terrorists, was killed in a car bombing in Syria nearly 15 years after dropping from sight.

The one-time Hezbollah security chief was the suspected mastermind of attacks that killed hundreds of Americans in Lebanon as well as the brutal kidnappings of Westerners.

The new executive order builds on one that Mr. Bush issued in May 2004 that banned all U.S. exports to Syria except for food and medicine.

The 2004 order also banned flights to and from the United States to Syria and authorized the Treasury Department to freeze assets of Syrian nationals and entities involved in terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, occupation of Lebanon or terrorism in Iraq.

© MMVIII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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Syria's leader sent a July 4 message full of praise to President Barack Obama on Friday and invited him to visit Syria -- the latest signs Damascus is hedging its bets in Mideast politics, warming up to its rival the United States at a time when its longtime ally Iran is in turmoil.

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  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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