Syria and Turkey commentary


NEW BOOK, STEALING FROM THE SARACENS, inspired as a result of the fire at Notre-Dame in April 2019, on the European debt to Islamic architecture, fully illustrated, fully footnoted, full of surprises, published in the UK on 20 August 2020 and in the USA on 1 November 2020. It sold out on publication day and has been reprinted many times. Arabic and Turkish editions are in the pipeline.

Nominated Book of the Year 2020 by The Spectator, The New Statesman and the BBC History Magazine:


SFTS Final 3SFTS Final 2

SFTS Final 5 (1)SFTS Final 4SFTS Final 6

Available from Hurst Publishing:



Signed copies from Daunts Bookshop, Marylebone London NW1:



The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/aug/13/looted-landmarks-notre-dame-big-ben-st-marks-east-stealing-from-the-saracens

The Observer: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/sep/06/stealing-from-the-saracens-by-diana-darke-review-a-long-overlooked-cultural-exchange

The Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/3d97df4b-4994-4609-96c5-8fb957565588

History Hit podcast with Dan Snow: https://play.acast.com/s/dansnowshistoryhit/stealingfromthesaracens-islamandeuropeanarchitecture

Middle East Eye: https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/stealing-saracens-hidden-islamic-origins-western-architecture#:~:text=Stealing%20from%20the%20Saracens%3A%20The%20hidden%20Islamic%20origins%20of%20Western%20architecture,-Vaughan%20Hart&text=Islamic%20influence%20on%20European%20cultural%20heritage%20is%20a%20thorny%20topic.&text=Diana%20Darke’s%20new%20book%2C%20Stealing,interconnectivity%20between%20East%20and%20West.

THE LAST SANCTUARY IN ALEPPO – published 7 March 2019 by Headline

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Alaa AljaleelAlaa Cat Man and Ernesto


BBC Breakfast TV live studio interview with Naga Munchetty 2 March 2019

THE MERCHANT OF SYRIA – published APRIL 2018 by Hurst

Darke Merchant_1_vignette web

Published by Hurst in the UK and by Oxford University Press in the USA, this new book tells the story of a real, yet archetypal Syrian merchant who lived from 1921-2013. The result of four years’ extensive research, it serves as a concise economic and cultural history of Syria illustrated through the life of the merchant, making Syria’s turbulent past and present accessible to the general reader. It can be purchased here:




In-depth Oxford University Press peer review:

The Merchant of Syria is an original take on the social history of Syria. The book is based on extensive research on the country from the days of Ottoman rule through the French mandate period and into the present. It presents this history in an accessible way that appeals to the non-specialist reader but this does not detract from the book’s rigour and scholarship.

The book’s structure is engaging. Chapters alternate between telling the personal stories of its main characters, namely the family of the merchant, and those giving an overview of the historical context in which those family members live during different eras. Through doing so, Diana Darke manages to offer the reader concise summaries of key time periods in Syria’s history. The reader emerges with knowledge of the rise of the Baath party, the ruling Assad family, the Lebanese civil war, as well as of Ottoman and contemporary Syria.

Darke skilfully contextualizes modern day Syria within that of the past. Syria has come to occupy a central part of media coverage in the West since the start of the conflict in 2011, but few people can relate the nuances of what they see or hear in the news with Syria’s historical development. The book serves as an accessible way to make that link, such as in the discussion of the war economy in today’s conflict-ridden Syria. Anyone following the rise of ISIS in north eastern Syria will have come across the fact that that region is populated by tribes. The book’s explanation of tribal dynamics, particularly how tribes evolved to become clients of whoever appears to be in possession of power and wealth in their areas, clarifies to the reader how come ISIS managed to take over those tribal areas in Syria.

The book is based on oral history, archival research and ethnography. It is anthropological in the way it interprets its findings, and the fact that the author herself lived in Syria and knows the country intimately comes across strongly in her deep sense of engagement with the country. This takes the book a notch higher than pieces of work on Syria that are based on second-hand sources only. This rich utilization of primary and secondary material gives the work great value as a resource not only for mainstream readers but also for researchers seeking to understand the evolution of social and economic dynamics in Syria. The level of detail in the book is also remarkable, and even experts with good knowledge of Syria will find in it novel information.

The combination of originality of approach, in-depth research, rich findings, and triangulation of research methods makes the book a strong literary as well as academic product. It is as useful a resource on Syria since 2011 as about historical Syria. As such, it makes an important contribution to literature on the history of the Levant.


The Times Literary Supplement, review by James Barr


American Publishers Weekly magazine:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-190874-85-8 Foreword:

Foreword, five-star review:




MHID cover 3rd edition


51 Five-star Amazon reviews:

A unique perspective on the ongoing Syrian crisis with a deep understanding of the complexities of Syria’s society

306 pages

February 2016

Haus Publishing Ltd. +44(0)20 7838 9055



(The Daily Mail MUST READS, 12 May 2016)


(The Economist 20 February 2016, Damascus Love Story)


(Hurriyet Daily News 12 September 2015 ‘My House in Damascus’ aims to humanise Syria’s tragic situation)


(‘Surely among the best and most sensitive of the hundreds published since the Syrian war erupted’ 10 September 2015)


“How one woman’s luxury Damascus villa became a refugee camp”, “..moving, powerful new book”

http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1423819.ece  ” echoing … Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons… written with the pace of a novel and the colour of the best travel writing… a learned encyclopedia of Syrian history, of the Arabs and their language and traditions, of Islamic art and architecture, and more”.

https://www.facebook.com/hauspublishing Review in The Tablet, “written with honesty, wit and affection”.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/My-House-Damascus-Inside-Syrian/dp/190832399X (36 five-star reviews)





Diana Darke is a fluent Arabic speaker and has specialised in the Middle East for over 30 years. The owner of an old courtyard house within the walls of Old Damascus, she is well known as an authority on Syria and has written for  the Sunday Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, the Financial Times and the BBC. Diana Darke is the author of several guides to Syria and Eastern Turkey.

How did Syria’s revolution lose its way? This book provides a human context to the revolution, explains the realities on the ground inside the country and why Syria was always going to be different to other ‘Arab-Spring’ countries. Woven into the story of buying and restoring an ancient courtyard house in the heart of Old Damascus, are layer upon layer of Syrian history, philosophy, art and architecture, the accumulation of the author’s years of meticulous research and academic study. The richness and diversity of Syrian society are explored, while its natural creativity and humour are revealed through its characters. In them lies the message of hope for a better future, as these are the strengths that will endure and help lead Syria forward though its current crisis.

A proportion of proceeds (15%) will be donated to a special fund for Syrian Higher Education administered by the Said Foundation:


The 'secret ceiling', an accidental discovery, that comes to represent the multi-coloured complexity of Syrian society [DD, 2013]


EASTERN TURKEY (2nd edition, April 2014)


Eastern Turkey pp1-8d (2)

OMAN  (Third edition, November 2013)



NORTH CYPRUS (Seventh edition, March 2012)



SYRIA (Second edition, February 2011)


Syria Front Cover

Syria Front Cover

EASTERN TURKEY (First edition, February 2011, Second edition due out May 2014)


Eastern Turkey Front Cover

Eastern Turkey Front Cover


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