Stone relief of a lion
National Museum of Aleppo, Islamic Department
Hegira 6th–7th century / AD 12th–13th century
Height 50 cm, length 104 cm, width 15.3 cm
Bab al-Faraj, Old Aleppo, Syria.
The area of Bab al-Faraj refers to the north and northwestern area of old Aleppo.
Bab al-Faraj (Gate of Deliverance), also known as Bab al-Faradis (Paradise Gate), was built by the Ayyubid king al-Malik al-Zahir Ghazi (d. AH 613 / AD 1216) as part of his expansion and refortification of the city. Today, the Bab al-Faraj area is almost completely destroyed. Some traces of the wall were revealed in archaeological excavations by the Syrian Directorate of Antiquities, including a round tower that can feasibly be identified with the Burj al-Tha'abin (The Tower of the Serpents). Both serpents and lions were common decorative and talismanic features on city gates and city walls, long used as symbols of protection and of power.
This lion, one of a pair, was carved in relief each from a single large block hewn in an inversed t-shape form. The rather affable beast is carved in profile as if walking, with uplifted paws and a long curving tail over the body. Although rather schematic, details such as the eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth and some muscular details along the shoulder have been accentuated by deeply cut lines.
Such lions are extremely common in AH 6th- and 7th- / AD 12th– and 13th–century architectural decoration in Anatolia and Mesopotamia, often appearing as a pair on city walls, gates, and other places of fortification. In Aleppo a pair of lions, albeit in a quite different style, protect the entrance tower of the Ayyubid Citadel. A second further and much more similar pair of lions can be found along the western city wall, still integrated. A third pair of lions on the northern city wall is only documented by photography.
Not all the existing lion pairs are necessarily in their original location nor are they necessarily attributed to the same date.
This stylised animal carving was found in the Bab al-Faraj (Gate of Deliverance) area in the northwest of Aleppo. Although it is difficult to establish the exact dating of this piece, it is known that the gates of Aleppo were fortified by the Ayyubid king al-Malik al-Zahir Ghazi.
It is difficult to date this object definitively: some scholars have proposed a Mamluk attribution, identifying the lion as the blazon of Sultan Baybars (r. AH 658–75 / AD 1260–77). While Baybars did use his famous lion emblem on coins and numerous architectural constructions, he is not known to have repaired or renovated any of Aleppo's fortifications or city walls. It is far more probable that the lions belong to the Ayyubid period and the major construction works of al-Malik al-Zahir Ghazi.
This lion is one of a pair discovered in the Bab al-Faraj area of Aleppo in the 1980s when extensive construction works took place. Archaeological chance-finds were moved to the Museum by the Syrian Directorate of Antiquities.
The carved lions were not found in situ, and therefore their attribution to the Bab al-Faraj is based on oral history. Given the local expertise in stone carving, it is probable that they were made in Aleppo, possibly as part of the Bab al-Faraj or the surrounding wall.
Gierlichs, J., Mittelalterliche Tierreliefs in Anatolien und Mesopotamien, Tübingen,
Herzfeld, E., Matériaux pour un Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum: Syrie du Nord, Part 2: Inscriptions et monuments d'Alep, 3 vols, Cairo, 1954–6, pp.39-43 ; plates. VII b, VIII d, e, IX, X a, XI b.
Meinecke, M., “Zur mamlukischen Heraldik”, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Institutes, Cairo, XXVIII/2, 1972, pp.217–19.
Saba, R., “Taqrir 'an a'mal kashf Sur madinat Halab fi mintaqat Bab al-Faraj”, Les Annales Archéologique arabes syriennes, XXXVI–VII, 1986–7, pp.25–32.
Sauvaget, J., “Inventaire des Monuments Musulmans de la Ville d'Alep”, in Revue des Études Islamiques, V, 1931, p.74 ; cat. no. 5.
Tabbaa, Y., Constructions of Power and Piety in Medieval Aleppo, Pennsylvania, 1997, p.20, pp.28–30.
Julia Gonnella "Stone relief of a lion" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01_A;46;en
Prepared by: Julia Gonnella
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: SY 78