Damascus: Carpenters

Arabic: najjār

Date: c. 1400

In his biography of Timur (d. 1405; known in European sources as Tamerlane), Ibn ʿArabshah notes that the ruler ‘took from Damascus learned men and craftsmen and all who excelled in any art.’ His list of craftsmen includes carpenters. Timur ordered that the artisans of Damascus be taken to his capital in Samarqand. See also: Sawyer; Wood Carver; Wood Turner; Mirror Maker.

Citation: Ahmad Ibn ʿArabshah, Kitāb al-Ajāʾib al-maqdūr fī akhbār Tīmūr. Translated by John H. Sanders as Tamerlane: or, Timur the Great Amir (London: Luzac and Co., 1936), p. 161.



Date: late fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries

Carpenters (sing. najjār) are recorded as having been members of the zuʿr (criminal gangs) in late Mamluk Damascus. See also: Sawyer; Cabinet Maker; Maker of Clogs.

Citation: Miura, Toru, Dynamism in the urban Society of Damascus: The Ṣāliḥiyya Quarter from the twelfth to the twentieth Centuries, Islamic Area Studies 2 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2016), p. 164.



Date: 1870s

Discussing the market in Damascus that sold good to those about to undertake the annual pilgrimage (ḥajj), Charles Doughty (d. 1926) mentions the carpenters who worked on mending the frames of palanquins. See also: Maker of Palanquins (muḥāyirī); Cabinet Maker.

Citation: Doughty, Charles, Travels in Arabia Deserta (London, 1888. Reprinted in one volume, New York: Random House, 1936), p. 41.



Date: c. 1890-1906

An important craft in Damascus, the carpenter works with a variety of woods, and were responsible for architectural commissions, including the erection and repair of wooden roofs, ceilings, doors, balconies, and other structural elements of architecture. Damascene clients would also request for household items such as cabinets and boxes from the najjār. A fridge-like cabinet popular during the period, the mikabba, was also crafted by the najjār. In addition, carpenters would manufacture elements of the wagon including the wheel, spokes, carriage poles, cab, and container for the load. Carpentry was a thriving activity and generated good profits for those who engaged in the craft. See also: Sawyer (nashshār), Wood turner (kharrāṭ).

Citation: al-Qasimi, Muhammad Saʿid, Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi, and Khalil al-ʿAzm (al-Azem), Dictionnaire des métiers damascains, ed., Zafer al-Qasimi. (Le Monde d’Outre-Mer passé et présent, Deuxième série, Documents III, Paris and Le Haye: Mouton and Co., 1960), pp. 478-79 (chapter 407).
Also discussed in: Milwright, Marcus. “Wood and Woodworking in Late Ottoman Damascus: An Analysis of the Qāmūs al-Ṣināʿāt al-Shāmiyya”, Bulletin d’Etudes Orientales 61 (2012): pp. 552-53.

Date: c. 1906

Henry Van Dyke (d. 1933) notes that carpenters in the city were adept at using their feet to hold their work. See also: Wood Turner; Sawyer; Maker of Inlaid Furniture; Maker of Pipe Stems.

Citation: Van Dyke, Henry. Out of Doors in the Holy Land: Impressions of Travel in Body and Spirit, Outdoor Essays IV (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908, reprinted 1920), p. 290.