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January, 2001

On my first reconnaissance in Hama I come across an alley with balcony overhangs. Eventually I discover that the museum I am looking for in an old Ottoman house is near this alley. The outside is uninviting, almost grim, but when I push open the door and pass through the ticket office I am in a courtyard shaded by a magnolia, huge, twisted and glossy-leaved. A fountain is in the centre and in a domed muralled recess cushions and a table set for coffee. I hear the sound of water: the unobtrusive guard has switched on the fountain. 

Up bare stone stairs is another open courtyard, sunny this time. Down one side are three rooms, with figures going about their business. One is a kitchen with a slatted ceiling and huge woven mats of raffia on the wall. At mantelpiece height, fretwork tilts out from the wall. There are two women figurines, one grinding and one spinning. The other two rooms are richer, with intricately painted walls, ceilings and cupboards. The window recesses, high up, are arched and barred with a stonework design at the top of the arch. 

I clomp the vestiges of yesterday’s mud onto the marble floors as I cross the courtyard. Here the area is pillared and domed, each marble pillar with a different decorative base.  A flat ceiling is richly painted and carved, and so are casement shutters and the dome. When the guard sees me trying to photograph the ceiling he disappears and comes back with a wooden door which he places on the floor, and indicates that I should lie on it to photograph.

Downstairs again, I come across the hammam: couches and cylindrical openings in the domed roof to let in the light. Modern-looking cupboards are full of modern-looking hammam wear.

I leave, delighted with the treasures hidden behind an unprepossessing door. 

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As far as I can tell this palace is undamaged.