Fire at Damascus Historic District: destroyed a Palace and Cultural Treasures

On the morning of July 16, 2023, a fierce fire ravaged the city’s historic district, specifically the Old City’s Souk Sarouja, resulting in the destruction of Abdulrahman Pasha Al-Yusuf’s palace. The origin of the fire was hypothesized in a house adjacent to the palace, igniting around 3 a.m. local time, rapidly spreading and causing substantial damage. Official reports from the state media agency SANA suggested an electrical fault as the likely cause.

An image of Saouja district before the 2023 fire – By Raghad.kabtool – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The flames also reached Al-Azm Palace, home to the Center for Historical Documents, and extended to adjacent residences, stores, and workshops along Al-Thawra Street. Firefighters grappled with the inferno for more than four hours before gaining control, but by then, significant harm had befallen the Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited locations.

Souk Sarouja, an approximately 800-year-old neighborhood initially constructed by the Mamluks to house soldiers, evolved into a district of prominence by the mid-19th century, boasting some of Damascus’ finest homes. Known as “Little Istanbul,” it earned its nickname due to the presence of high-ranking Ottoman officials and its architectural resemblance to the Ottoman capital. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Souk Sarouja gained political significance, hosting the palaces of senior Arab officials affiliated with the Imperial Court in Istanbul.

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