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Our history

Evolution of the

Raqqa Museum

Housed in a former governmental building, the Raqqa Museum became a cultural landmark, displaying artifacts from the 7th millenium BC to the Islamic Middle Ages despite the challenges of war and looting.

Historical Beginnings

Construction and Initial Use

The house was originally built in 1861 as an Ottoman Serail, a governmental building, and is mentioned in historical sources.

Between 1924 and 1928 the French Mandate re-organized administrative buildings. After Taj ad-Din al-Hasani had been established as the 1st Syrian president he instigated a series of similar governmental buildings reorganizations in various cities.

So until 1946 the two-storey house with a back-garden served as seat of the French Governor. (Remarkable are the colourful floor tiles, probably an import from France!) From 1946 until 1963 the building became the head-quarter of the Raqqa Police. Subsequently it was used from 1963 until 1981 as seat of the Raqqa Governorate.

Governmental to Cultural Shift

From governmental to cultural use

From 1946 to 1963, the building served as the headquarters of the Raqqa Police. From 1963 to 1981, it as used as the seat of the Raqqa Governorate.

In October 1981 the house opened as the Museum of Raqqa, celebrated by the Symposium International de l’Histoire de Raqqa. In addition to the exhibition inside, the garden was also included in the display, with heavier and larger artefacts and those not so prone to climate impact.

During the next decades it also accommodated the offices of the Direction Générale des Antiquités et des Musées (DGAM). On the upper floor store-rooms are also available.

Until the civil war (2011) the Museum displayed objects of more than a dozen international excavation and survey projects, all conducted in the Raqqa Governorate. Their results covered a timespan from the prehistory of the 7th millennium BC to the Islamic middle-ages of the 12/13th century AD and later.

A New Era of Enlightenment

Collections and Exhibitions

At the entrance the visitors still are greeted by three large mosaics from Halawa. During the DAESH rule they were disfigured and heavily damaged; after their recent restoration they still show some traces of their mistreatment.

On the ground floor objects from important excavations were displayed: Tall Munbaqa and Tall Sheikh Hassan, both situated on the East Bank of the Euphrates and now close to the lake; Hammam Turkman and Tall Sabi Abyad in the Balikh valley and Tall Chuera in the North between the rivers Balikh and Khabur.

In a special showcase a replica of the silver hoard of Rusafa was presented. It consisted of 5 vessels dated to the Crusader period of the 12/13th century and was apparently buried in fear of the Mongols before their invasion in 1269. The first floor showed finds of ancient oriental periods from Tall Bi’a, a predecessor of Raqqa, Tall Halawa and from Tall al-Abd on the East Bank of the Euphrates. A second part displayed the early Islamic periods with objects from the Abbasid palaces and the Great Mosque at Raqqa, finds from the Qasr al-Banat and objects from the industrial quarters of Raqqa, the Tall Zugag, Tall Aswad and Tall Fukhkhar.

Legacy of Discovery and Conflict

Damage and Rehabilitation

During the years of the so-called Islamic State rule the Raqqa Museum was heavily damaged and looted. In the aftermath of the conflict, the site was demined by Tetratech and a first study was conducted by the American Society of Overseas Research (ASOR).

Diverse Collections Unveiled

Rehabilitation by La Guilde (2019)

In 2019, the Raqqa Museum was rehabilitated by the French NGO La Guilde in cooperation with the local organizations ROYA and IMPACT and in relation with the local authorities of the Raqqa civil council. This was supported by the International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas (ALIPH), based in Geneva, Switzerland, with the financial assistance of the Principality of Monaco.

In 2022, with the same partners, a preventive conservation project was launched in order to produce an inventory of the remaining artifacts, improve their storing conditions, and organize a temporary exhibition with the aim of giving back to the population an access to its heritage.

The museum reopened to the public in November 2023, the culmination of five years’ work by all the partners.

Modern History

Artifact Losses

Unfortunately, of the former more than 8.000 objects now only 880 are left in Raqqa. The whereabouts of the other artefacts is at present unknown, but it is likely that much has been sold on the international illegal antiques market.

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