Arab cities were adapted to the requirements of religious observance.

Arab cities go back many centuries. Damascus, Cairo and Baghdad experienced town planning long before London or Paris. Public services were provided to ensure cleanliness, both personal (public baths) and urban. The organisation of markets was very advanced even in the earliest days of Islam. In addition, patterns of life in cities were naturally adapted to the requirements of religious observance.

In traditional Arab cities the old commercial shopping areas are usually very picturesque. You can find narrow, winding streets which have evolved over time. To foreigners these narrow streets may look like they were designed in a haphazard way. However, the structure of many Arab towns and cities is not as haphazard as it appears. Traditionally, the mosque formed the centre of a townThe narrow lanes spread out in all directions from the mosque, sometimes leading to a dead-end.

Arabic suuq / bazaar

These shopping areas are often called the suuq (bazaar or market). Actually, the word suuq implies the place where livestock are ‘driven’ or ‘herded forward’. In some cities, such as Tripoli in the Lebanon, ways or channels where livestock was once driven or herded can be clearly seen running through the old market area.

As you enter the heart of the suuq, it will be obvious that there is and always has been an emphasis on security. Goods and shops had to be kept safe. For this reason you will see many strong, wooden doors as you walk through the traditional market areas. There will be many highly decorated gates, very strongly built, behind which there are inner courtyards. In the downtown area, in the heart of the suuq, you will frequently then find a mosque (jaami3), or more than one.

A feature of the old downtown areas in many Arab towns is that each street or alleyway will specialize in one item or one trade.


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