Skip to main content

450-year-old home restored in traditional style in Gaza

A Gaza resident has turned his centuries-old house into a Damascene-type home with an inner courtyard, using old cut stones, stained glass and iron.

In the old town of the Zaytoun neighborhood in Gaza City, a 450-year-old house stands out with its unique archaeological design.

Built during Ottoman rule in Palestine, the house belongs today to Atef Salameh. Salameh has turned it into a shami, a typical Syrian house like the ones in popular TV series, such as “Bab al-Hara” ("The Neighborhood's Gate") and “Layali al-Salihia” ("Salihia Nights").

“I turned my home into a traditional Syrian house, or shami, because I take pride in the Arab heritage, which the Israeli occupation strives to erase from our memory. I want to prove wrong the old Israeli saying ‘The old die and the young forget,’” Salameh told Al-Monitor.

With its ancient cut stones, stained glass windows and an inner courtyard with a well, Salameh’s house is the result of a major investment, in terms of both planning and funding.

The house is built with large, traditional cut stones. (photo by Amjad Arafat)

Salameh said the house was built entirely of ancient stones called karkar, collected from abandoned houses that were originally built in the 15th and 16th centuries. He also purchased some cut stones from people whose old homes were demolished. They did not understand why someone would want such outdated stones that weigh over 30 kilos (66 pounds), Salameh said.

He said old cut stones are thicker and stronger than ones that can be bought today, keeping the interior of the house cool in summer and warm in winter.

He encountered difficulties in obtaining other necessary materials, such as the windows that were made of stained glass, which he brought from Egypt. The iron he needed in the restoration came from Hebron.

Salameh said he added a well in the middle of the inner courtyard of the ground floor, such as the ones seen in old Syrian TV series. “Nearby, we placed a large clay pot cooler to store water. This can be used for drinking or washing, as all women did in the past. There is also a tunnel opening next to the well that leads to a basement, like a pantry where food is stored for different seasons,” he said.

The house uses traditional, lower seating units with colorful cushions. (photo by Amjad Arafat)

The ground floor consists of two rooms, one of which is a guest room with traditional Arabic style seating; the second is the library with a rare collection of books, some of which are more than 100 years old.

The upper floor is made up of two living rooms and a larger one in the middle with a fireplace that resembles old heating stoves that have been practically extinct for centuries. A wooden ladder leads to the roof of the house, set to be used for baking and cooking with an oven made of clay.

Salameh said turning his home into a shami took a lot of time, effort and money. He worked on it for over six months but said he is happy that he did. He said that the psychological comfort he felt in seeing his family living in this home, and the satisfaction he feels knowing that he has preserved their heritage as Arabs living in the Palestinian territories, is worth it.

The small neighborhood where Salameh lives now has preserved as many aspects of heritage and civilization. This house is now an extension of the nostalgic general atmosphere of the neighborhood, which includes old churches, mosques and an old public bathhouse where the city's residents once gathered to bathe.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Palestine Briefing Palestine Briefing

Palestine Briefing

Top Palestine stories in your inbox each week

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial