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Syrian Room

The Syrian Room is one of Shangri La’s most cohesive spaces: a period room created for posterity, echoing those found in a number of other museums.

Syrian Room

The Syrian Room is one of Shangri La’s most cohesive spaces: a period room created for posterity, echoing those found in a number of other museums.

Damascus Room

The Damascus Room is a highlight of the Islamic art collection assembled by Doris Duke (1912–93) and is one of two Syrian interiors preserved at Shangri La.

Entry Courtyard

Visitors to Shangri La descend a long driveway shielded by dense foliage and first encounter the main house from within an open-air space known variously as the entry or banyan courtyard.

Foyer

The foyer is the first room that visitors enter in the main house, and it provides an introduction to Doris Duke (1912–93) as a collector and patron, to the visual language of Islamic art, and to the experience of Islamic art that Shangri La offers.

Central Courtyard

The main house at Shangri La revolves around a central courtyard, an architectural feature central to a number of buildings in the Islamic world.

Living Room

The living room preserves a number of important works of art from North Africa and Spain.

Mihrab Room

The Mihrab Room preserves a number of masterpieces in the DDFIA collection, particularly architectural tilework produced during the Ilkhanid period (1226–1353).

Dining Room

The dining room is Doris Duke’s (1912–93) interpretation of an Islamic-style tent.

Playhouse

Located on the west end of the property and adjacent to the ocean, the Playhouse at Shangri La is a poolside pavilion inspired by the Chehel Sutun (c. 1647–50) palace in Isfahan, the capital of Iran from 1598 to 1722. 

Mughal Garden

The Mughal Garden is Shangri La’s microcosm of the royal gardens found throughout the Indian subcontinent. 

Private Hall

The private hall is located off the central courtyard and terminates in the Mughal Suite.

Mughal Suite

The Mughal Suite is located at the end of a private hall extending from the central courtyard.

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Syrian Room. © 2014, Linny Morris, courtesy of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

Large Syrian Room. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

Large Syrian Room, as seen from the small Syrian Room. © 2014, Linny Morris, courtesy of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

Detail of the large Syrian Room's ceiling. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2009.)

Small Syrian Room. At the far end is a masabb (wall niche) with a faceted hood, acquired from New York University. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

The two floral and fruit panels (64.17.1–2) on the wall of the small Syrian Room were once part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Damascus Room." Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2012.)

Detail of painted wood panel decorated with floral and fruit designs, Damascus, Syria, early eighteenth century. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

The small Syrian Room's ceiling. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2012.)

Carved Syrian stonework and a Moroccan textile (85.4) on the east wall of the small Syrian Room. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2003.)

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Doris Duke (1912–93) oversaw a major renovation at Shangri La following her acquisition of late Ottoman–period Syrian architectural elements from New York University’s Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies. What had previously been a billiard room, bathroom and office was demolished to create two adjacent rooms to house the newly acquired ‘ajami wood paneling (walls and ceilings), faceted hood of a wall niche (masabb), carved stonework, marble paneling (fountain and flooring), and several types of doors. The result was one of Shangri La’s most cohesive spaces: a period room created for posterity, echoing those found in a number of other museums. The Syrian Room is further distinguished by its relative isolation. Within its closed walls, one can feel transported to the Middle East with little distraction from the surrounding tropical setting.

Combining historic elements acquired from NYU and elsewhere with new pieces made in Hawai‘i by local craftsmen, Doris Duke and her staff created an interior that evokes the spatial layout and multi-media, multi-sensory experience of the Syrian qa‘a (Arabic: hall), a reception room found in affluent courtyard homes of the late Ottoman period (in Syria: 1516–1918). Visitors enter the room from Shangri La’s central courtyard and step down onto marble flooring, where a fountain bubbles. Above is an ‘ajami ceiling (64.13), the room’s most splendid single element, which is set off from the walls below by a whitewashed space punctuated by colored-glass windows (Qajar Persian, Ottoman, custom-made Moroccan). The rear of the main room features a raised seating area with various pillows (additionally covered with carpets during Duke’s lifetime), and the surrounding walls include closed cupboards, shelved vitrines, and a pair of gilded doors. The calligraphic cartouches along the upper walls feature Arabic verses from the Mawlid of al-Busiri (d. 1294), and the final cartouche is dated 1271 of the Hijra (1854–55 of the Common Era) (64.6.9a-e). In the adjacent smaller rectangular room, visitors can appreciate additional ceiling panels decorated with landscape and architectural scenes (64.19), carved stonework (41.3), a pair of vertical panels with fruit and floral designs (which were once part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Damascus Room”; 64.17.1-2), and Duke’s recreation of a masabb, a wall niche with a faceted hood (64.18). The vitrines in both rooms are filled with Duke’s own coveted collections, including nineteenth-century Persian and Bohemian glass, seventeenth–nineteenth-century Ottoman silk velvets, and sixteenth–seventeenth-century Iznik ceramics. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, many of these Iznik dishes were displayed in Shangri La's second Syrian interior, the Damascus Room.

Historical Images

Qa'a (Arabic: hall) of the so-called 'Quwatli' house, Damascus.  Elements of Shangri La's Syrian Room were dismantled from this house no later than 1934, including the gilded doors. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Left side of the iwan (barrel-vaulted space facing the courtyard) in the so-called 'Quwatli' house, Damascus.  Stonework and pastework from this space are installed throughout Shangri La. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Hagop Kevorkian's 'Nur al-Din' room, with elements marked for sale, 1954. Doris Duke purchased the 'ajami floral and fruit panels and the risers separating the 'ataba and tazar. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Ablaq (pastework) elements acquired from New York University, 1976; now on view in the private hall leading to the Mughal Suite. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Elements from NYU's Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, including the black marble panels on the side of this table, were incorporated into Doris Duke's Syrian Room. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Small Syrian Room, c. 1983. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
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Available on this website:

Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (Scharrahs), "Model of a Splendid Damascene Home," Research, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, February 2015.

Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, “Late-Ottoman Syrian Interiors and Furnishings,” Collection Highlights, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, November 2012.

Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, "Conservation of the Collection," Stewardship, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, November 2012.

Samantha Skelton and Jessica Ford, “Conserving the Syrian Room,” The Door to Shangri La, August 29, 2012.

Other resources:

Ellen Kenney, “The Damascus Room,” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2011.

Marika Sardar, “The Greater Ottoman Empire, 1600–1800,” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2011.

Ottoman Ceramics,” in Islamic Ceramics Trail, Ashmolean Museum.

The Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, New York University.

"The Iznik Pottery Industry: C15th–C18th,” Ashmolean Museum.

The Syria-Lebanon Room, Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh.

Damascus Room
Private Hall
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