I was fortunate enough to visit Syria in 2004. After spending a couple of days in Aleppo I decided to take two excursions. The first one was a tour around the dead cities, which are numerous abandoned settlements in northern Syria. However, I also wanted to see something real and alive. Therefore, I decided to go to an authentic village close to Aleppo. Unfortunately I simply can’t remember the name of this beautiful village home to hundreds of conic buildings serving as residences. I couldn’t believe that many of these old Syrian Beehive houses date back to the 6th century BC!
- 1 My Visit to Beehive Houses Near Aleppo
- 2 History of Beehive Houses in Syria
- 3 Layout of a Typical Beehive House
- 4 Traditional Syrian Beehive Village
- 5 Where to Find Beehive Houses in Syria
- 6 Beehive Houses in Turkey
- 7 Beehive Houses Around the World
- 8 Lessons Learned From the Beehive Houses
- 9 Books on Vernacular Architecture
My Visit to Beehive Houses Near Aleppo
The lovely receptionist of my hotel organized my visit to a village with beehive houses close to Aleppo. Thanks to him, a local family invited me inside their home and I had such a wonderful time. It was a moment that I’ll remember forever. While we chatted and enjoyed delicious tea I could see kids toying around outside. An especially funny kid was demonstrating to us how to ride a donkey properly. It was hilarious! I can’t even imagine what these warm people must be going through. They are the ones that have to suffer a war directed, for profit and power, by higher powers.
History of Beehive Houses in Syria
The oldest examples of conical dwellings in the world are in the Anatolian Plateau, around Cappadocia, in Turkey. The area’s landscape is the result of lava flowing from nearby Mount Erciyes hundreds of thousands of years ago. During the following millenniums, wind and water eroded the landscape, creating the conical dwellings we see today. As soon as we humans arrived, we began hollowing these cones and using them as homes. However, it is not clear if these ancient Anatolian structures are direct ancestors of the beehive houses in Syria. In any case, their form and shape react perfectly to the inhospitable environment of the Middle Eastern dessert. Thus, we wouldn’t be surprised if there is a connection between these similar-looking structures.
Layout of a Typical Beehive House
A typical beehive house is a conical dwelling with a high dome. Their thick walls are made of adobe (sun-baked brick), and they rarely have doors or windows. A layer of mud and straw on both the interior and exterior, which becomes a hard surface when dry, protects the walls. Likewise, this shields the houses from direct sun, so they remain cool in summer. In the same way, they are pretty warm in winter. A little opening at the top of the conical dome sucks hot air out of the room. The shape of the dome also helps the rain drain off smoothly from the house. Everything is there for a reason!
Traditional Syrian Beehive Village
A typical Syrian beehive village is a densely built cluster of beehive houses with courtyards. Sometimes, the streets are narrow and curvy. Other villages seem planned, with straight streets and octagonal blocks. Usually, paved roads reach the village, while unpaved ones connect the houses. Some beehive houses are homes, while others stables and barns. Most buildings remain without paint, thus their earthly brownish color. On the other hand, some are mosques typically painted in green. Since these villages are in a dry desert area, there is not much vegetation around.
Where to Find Beehive Houses in Syria
Syria is currently involved in a deadly civil war, and you simply can’t go. But the war will pass, and when that happens, interest in these ancient vernacular mud houses will pick up again. Several villages and towns in Aleppo and Hama Governorates have beehive houses. In Aleppo, there are several settlements with beehive houses in the As-Safira District. Two of these villages are Fajdan Village in the As-Safira sub-district and Al Hajib Town in the Al Hajib sub-district. In Hama, most of these settlements are in the Salamiyah District. The most interesting villages are Sheikh Hilal and Abul Kusour in the Al Saan sub-district.
Beehive Houses in Turkey
If you want to visit these interesting ancient structures, you’ll be happy to know that there is a great place to do so in Turkey. Indeed, there are plenty of beehive houses in the town of Harran in Şanlıurfa Province, Southern Turkey. Though Harran hosts authentic beehive houses, people don’t live inside them anymore. Instead, they are here on display for tourists. In any case, don’t expect to meet masses of tourists. Additionally, you can visit the remains of an ancient castle! You can visit Harran as a day trip from Sanliurfa, which in itself is a fabulous destination. That said, we strongly recommend spending at least one night over. The only hotel you can book online is the Harran Kümbet Otel, but there are a couple of other options too.
Beehive Houses Around the World
There are dwellings like this outside of Syria and Turkey too. Several countries around the world have their own beehive houses, including Ireland and Italy. In Ireland, they are called beehive huts or Clochán. There are Beehive huts in the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland. These are made of dry stone, not like in Syria. Perhaps the most popular ones are in Italy, the so-called Trulli. Just like the ones in Ireland, made of dry-stone. The Apulia region in Southeast Italy has villages with Trulli. The town with the biggest number of them is Alberobello, a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site.
Lessons Learned From the Beehive Houses
Since I visited Syria in the early days of the Internet, I wasn’t aware of the existence of these houses at all. I remember my surprise when I saw a poster at my hotel offering excursions to one of those villages. I thought, how cool is that; people still living in such places!? In the 21st century, architects are trying hard to build the most innovative, sustainable, and ecological homes. These ancient structures in North Syria are all of that and more. They are sustainable, cheap, easy to build, and easier to maintain. We can all learn so much from them. I hope this terrible war comes to an end soon. I am surely going back to Syria!
Books on Vernacular Architecture
There are no books exclusively about beehive houses in Syria and Turkey. That said, I have enjoyed several interesting books on vernacular architecture around the world. The Habitat: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet by Sandra Piesik documents different types of unique habitats and buildings around our planet. On the other hand, the Handmade Houses & Other Buildings: The World of Vernacular Architecture by John May is a small guide packed with information on materials and techniques used in vernacular architecture. The level of detail and cultural references is impressive. It makes you want to build your own house! Finally, Lessons from Vernacular Architecture by Willi Weber and Simos Yanas brings vernacular architecture into our current world. Both authors are reputed authorities on building physics and environmental issues. What I enjoyed about this book is how it explains the ways vernacular architecture can and should be used today to make our buildings more environmentally friendly.