The Cincinnati Art Museum’s Damascus Room Is a Portal to 18th-Century Syria

It’s one of just five Damascus rooms in the U.S.
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Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

Stepping into the dimly lit Damascus Room at the Cincinnati Art Museum is like taking a time portal to 18th-century Syria, when the Middle Eastern country still remained under Ottoman rule. Located in the museum’s South Asian & Islamic Art gallery, the room, parts of which date to 1711, was originally built in Damascus, Syria’s capital, and likely served as a greeting room in a wealthy nobleman’s home, says Ainsley Cameron, curator of South Asian Art, Islamic Art & Antiquities. Intricate carvings, calligraphy, and vignettes decorate every inch of the small room’s gessoed wood-paneled walls and ceiling, which are offset by low white couches and white marble flooring.

How did this lavish space make its way to Cincinnati? Andrew Jergens, founder of the Andrew Jergens Soap Company, purchased it during his travels in 1932 and installed it in his Northside home. A year before he died in 1966, he gifted the room to the museum. One of five Damascus rooms in the U.S., it’s the only one that allows visitors to enter the space. Its quiet, meditative atmosphere feels sacred. “It brings these cultures to life,” Cameron says. “The fact that we’re standing in someone’s living room, that’s really fascinating to behold.”

Click through the below gallery for more photos of the Damascus Room:

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