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Out of the Dark Lighting

About the exhibition

Before the invention of electricity people had to light their homes with other devices.

Most common were oil-lamps in various shapes that changed with times, tastes and fashion. But they all function with the same basic idea: a small vessel containing the fuel - mostly oil, fat or tallow -, with two openings. The bigger one is used for filling in the oil, the smaller one holds the wick made of cotton, cloth or some other thread. They have handles or small knobs for holding and carrying them.

The lamps were produced in 2 moulds, into which the clay was pressed (like no. 93 or no. 21) - a quick and easy way of production, including a decoration. These could be simple geometric designs, but also inscriptions and religious symbols.

Only later lamps were thrown on a potter’s wheel and got a round shape (no. 29 and no. 55). An additional glaze made them even more durable (no. 69). Every household needed a large number of such lamps and it is not surprising that in archaeological excavations masses of oil-lamps are found.

Less common are candlesticks like no. 411. The production of candles was more expensive, because it needed the wax of bees or other insects. If they were made of low-quality materials like tallow they would be extremely smelly!

Unfortunately in Raqqa there are no remains of the large mosque lamps made out of glass. They are hung from the ceiling on long chains, were filled with water and oil and lit by a swimming wick. But in the Great Mosque evidence was found for another very sumptuous type of lamp, the so-called polycandelon. Here small glass cups resembling wine-glasses without a foot are inserted into a bronze grid, which could hold 7 - 16 lamps. In the Mosque dozens of theses glasses were found (on the photo they are upside down!) - but no grid.

Oil-lamps from early Islamic times, 9th-11th century: bowl-shaped lamps with short handles. Glazed.​

No. 29 Provenance unknown, L: 8,5; cm; H: 4,6 cm
No. 55 Provenance unknown, L: 8,8 cm; H: 4,6 cm
No. 69 Provenance unknown, L: 8,6 cm; H: 4,8 cm

Oval, mould-shaped oil-lamps

No. 21 Provenance unknown, L: 9,4 cm; H: 3,3 cm
No. 93 Provenance unknown, L: 8,6 cm; H: 4,3 cm
No. 411 Candlestick, probably Raqqa, Abbasid palaces, 8th/9th century. H: 19 cm; Dm. 11 cm