Damascus bookshops disappear as crisis hits culture

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Monday, May 27, 2024

Damascus bookshops disappear as crisis hits culture
Muhammad Salem al-Nouri, 71, walks by fully stacked shelves at the Dar al-Maarifa library, which was forced to close in 2000 because of poor sales and growing costs, in the Syrian capital Damascus on October 12, 2021. The Damascus bookshops and publishing houses that once stood as beacons of Syria's intellectual life are being replaced with shoe shops and money changers, as culture falls casualty to crisis. LOUAI BESHARA / AFP.

by Maher al-Mounes

DAMASCUS.- The Damascus bookshops and publishing houses that once stood as beacons of Syria's intellectual life are being replaced with shoe shops and money changers, as culture falls casualty to crisis.

Syria is home to some of the Arab world's literary giants, and Damascus boasted an abundance of busy bookshops and publishing houses printing and distributing original and translated works.

But the city's literary flare has faded.

A decade-old civil war, a chronic economic crisis and a creative brain drain that has deprived Syria of some of its best writers and many of their readers, have compounded worldwide problems facing the industry, such as the growing popularity of e-books.

"People can't afford to read and bookstores can't cover the expenses of staying open," said Muhammad Salem al-Nouri, 71, who inherited one of the capital's oldest bookshops from his father.

Last month, the iconic Nobel bookshop in Damascus, founded in 1970, closed its doors.

The Al-Yaqza bookshop, founded in 1939, shut seven years ago, with a shoe store now taking its place.

A money exchange office has replaced the Maysalun bookshop which was open for four decades.

The Al-Nouri bookstore, founded in 1930, is at risk of meeting the same fate.

"We wanted it to remain for our children and grandchildren," Nouri told AFP. "But the Al-Nouri bookshop is threatened with closure, as are other bookstores."


The Nouri family currently runs two bookshops in central Damascus.

Three years ago, the family was forced to close a third bookshop they had opened in the capital in 2000 because of poor sales and growing costs.

Its stock remains in place, gathering dust on fully stacked shelves.

On a wooden desk, old photos of celebrity customers, including politicians, artists and poets, are placed on display.

For Sami Hamdan, 40, the cultural heyday of the 1950s and 1960s is long gone.

"The war has destroyed what was left" of a cultural scene that was already in retreat, said the former owner of the Al-Yaqza bookstore.

With 90 percent of the population living below the poverty line and prices skyrocketing in the face of the plummeting value of the Syrian pound, "no one is going to invest in a bookshop during conflict," Hamdan told AFP.

For Khalil Haddad of the Dar Oussama publishing house, books have become a "luxury" for Syrians.

Surging printing costs and logistical difficulties linked to power cuts have combined to make books too expensive for most, the 70-year-old told AFP.

"People's priorities are food and housing," he said.

'Lost our readers'

Six years ago, Amer Tanbakji converted his publishing house in Damascus to a stationery store in the hope of attracting new business.

The publishing house, founded in 1954, couldn't afford to print new editions, while the currency free fall and sanctions on trade with Syria hampered imports.

The switch to stationery failed to turn the business around, and the store is now up for sale seven decades after it opened its doors.

"It would sadden me if it is converted" into something other than a bookstore or publishing house, Tanbakji said.

Syria used to import 800 publications a day before the conflict, but the number has now dropped to just five, said Ziad Ghosn, the former director of the main state-run publishing house.

Printing costs have increased by at least 500 percent over the past two years as transport and labour costs have soared, he said.

Newsstands have been virtually empty since the Covid-19 pandemic prompted authorities to halt the printing of all newspapers in government-held areas last year.

The flagship dailies of the state-run press are now available online only.

Despite mounting difficulties, Samar Haddad said she was not willing to give up.

She moved the Dar Atlas publishing house, founded by her father in 1955, to a basement to cut costs.

From an original staff of 13, Haddad has kept just one employee, who works part-time.

Haddad said she can still print seven books a year, down from 25 before the war.

"We have lost our readers... many have travelled" to escape the war, she told AFP among rows of forgotten novels.

But Haddad vowed she would fight on to keep her father's legacy alive.

"I will do everything to survive. I won't close down Dar Atlas."

© Agence France-Presse

Today's News

October 27, 2021

Final show in France for looted Benin treasures

The Snite Museum of Art receives long-term loans of Spanish Colonial art

Dutch court rules Crimean treasures must go to Ukraine

National Museum of Women in the Arts lends collection highlights to National Gallery of Art

Dayton Art Institute promotes Elaine Gounaris to Interim Development Director

Works in marble lead the way in the auction of part 1 of the John Nelson Collection

The Studio Museum in Harlem marks milestone in construction of its new home

New arts complex aims to build community in Detroit

Christie's to offer The Collection of Dr. Thomas Chua including Design, Tiffany, Impressionist and Modern Art

Damascus bookshops disappear as crisis hits culture

Tiancheng International announces highlights included in the Jewellery and Jadeite Autumn Auction

David Richard Gallery opens an exhibition of works by Sonia Gechtoff

Albanian artist offers 'therapy' with portraits painted in coffee

Afghan all-female orchestra keeps music alive in exile

Andrew Lloyd Webber plays the hits

A BRIC in flux turns out an intimate, focused JazzFest

Broadway's 'Is This a Room' and 'Dana H.' to close early

The Wolfsonian-FIU appoints Casey Steadman as new Director

Art, Design & Architecture Museum welcomes new director and reopens to visitors

Tarnanthi Art Fair breaks records with $1.4 million in sales

Mary Lattimore: Has harp, must travel

Sonny Osborne, bluegrass innovator, is dead at 83

Ballet theater gives the stage to this pianist's drag persona

Why do people wish to go with Top Ultra High Net worth Wealth Management Firms?

What Should You Be Aware Of while doing Online Gambling?

Organize Your Schedules With Unique Planner Templates!

The Best Reasons To Use A U-Haul For Your Next Move

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

sa gaming free credit
Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful