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‘The Cradle of Civilization’ – Cleveland’s Syrian Cultural Garden

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Syrian Cultural Garden was 82 years in the making.

Dedicated in 2011, the land the garden sits on was allocated in 1929 by the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. While it is unknown why the garden wasn’t built initially, the growing Syrian population in Cleveland eventually came together to create the first garden representing an Arab country.

The concept of the garden was to immortalize the culture of Syria and its people throughout history.

This includes the most notable structure in the garden, the Arch of Palmyra. Easily seen from MLK Drive, it is a smaller replica of the third-century Monumental Arch of Palmyra in Syria, also known as the Arch of Septimus Severus after the Roman ruler.

The originalarch featured ornate stone carvings depicting plants and geometric designs and was a revered ancient artifact. However, it was destroyed in Syria by ISIS in 2015, according to the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.

Other features include the Amphitheater of Basra and the Arabic Fountain, a replica of a famous fountain in Damascus surrounded by six pedestal columns depicting Syrian history.

One of the pedestals explains Syria’s claim to be the “Cradle of Civilization,” and home to several different civilizations. In addition, the garden boasts of Syria’s contributions to early development, such as irrigation, animal domestication, metalworking, musical notes, and creating the written language with the earliest alphabet known to humankind.

“Early Syrians formed a letter based on a word that they knew,” says Dr. Adnan Mourany, president of the Syrian Cultural Garden. “Phonetics came from that.”

Finally, the most recent addition to the garden was the bust of Syrian poet Nizar Qibanni in 2015, whose famous poems include The Brunette Told Me, Jasmine Scent of Damascus, To the Legendary Damascene, Prince Tawfiq Qabbani and Balquis.

Scenes from the Syrian Cultural Garden in Cleveland.
A bust of Syrian poet Nizar Qibanni in the Syrian Cultural Garden in Cleveland. Qibanni’s poems include famous poems include The Brunette Told Me, Jasmine Scent of Damascus, To the Legendary Damascene, Prince Tawfiq Qabbani and Balquis. Zachary Smith, Cleveland.com

This is part of the ongoing series of stories exploring Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens and the communities each garden represents. Read more coverage on cleveland.com at this link – Exploring the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.

The first wave of Syrian immigrants in Cleveland arrived in the 1800s, often from agricultural towns that surrounded Beirut (then a part of Syria) and Damascus or from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, according to Cleveland Historical.

Early settlers to the Cleveland area predominately lived in downtown, including the Haymarket district, while also establishing communities in Ohio City and Tremont.

Syrian immigrants of this time were often peddlers, factory workers, and in construction, but eventually established retail shops, grocery stores, restaurants and contracting firms.

This was the first of a few waves to come to the United States, but the reasons were always the same.

“Oppression forced people from Syria and Lebanon to come,” says Mourany. “Eventually, Lebanon and Syria identified differently due to political situation, but there was another wave because of World War I.

Scenes from the Syrian Cultural Garden in Cleveland.
The entrance to the Syrian Cultural Garden in Cleveland from East Boulevard.Zachary Smith, Cleveland.com

Modern times have led to more Syrian refugees to Cleveland and the United States.

“The wave in the last 50 years is because of political turmoil in the Middle East, especially after the Civil War,” says Mourany.

The civil war in Syria has ravaged the nation since 2011. Ohio received 517 Syrian refugees between 2011-2016. The war has made Syria the 10th highest country in terms of refugees coming to the United States in recent years, with 28,089 coming from 2001 to 2023, according to the Refugee Processing Center.

In 2022, the garden held a vigil for the more than 50,000 deaths reported at the time and hundreds of thousands displaced and injured.

In addition, it’s the sixth highest country for asylum seekers, with 5,509 from 2012 to 2021, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

According to the U.S. CensusBureau estimates from 2022, nearly 1,300 people of Syrian ancestry call the Cleveland metro area home.

Like many other immigration groups, people come to Cleveland because they already know somebody in the city.

“When I came here, I had an office in Seattle, but I had an aunt in Cleveland,” says Mourany. “Then I got married, and next thing I know, my wife’s two cousins who are doctors in Syria want to come to America. So they come to us in Cleveland, and now they’re successful OBGYN and GI specialists.

“As soon as they have friends here, Syrians come to Cleveland, and suddenly we have a number of doctors here and it is amazing. It makes you proud to contribute and be successful and have grandkids follow in your footsteps.”

The Syrian Cultural Garden can be accessed from both East Boulevard and MLK Drive. On East Boulevard it is located at the intersection of East 98th Street and East Boulevard, next to the Hebrew Cultural Gardens. On MLK Drive, it is across from the India Cultural Gardens.

Source : cleveland.com