With thanks: Alain Farhi
One of the most powerful Jewish families of the Middle East were the Farhis, who made their mark on Syria in the 18th and 19th centuries. Beit Farhi in the old Jewish quarter of Damascus is the enduring legacy of Raphael El Muallem Farhi (1774 - 1846), a banker, tax collector and adviser to the Ottoman sultanate.
Beit Farhi is the largest of several houses in Damascus belonging to the Farhi family (others included the Mourad house and what is now the Talisman hotel). It was immortalised by the 19th century British painter Sir Frederic Leighton.
La Cueillette des citrons by Sir Frederic Leighton, set in Beit Farhi's main courtyard.
Few passers-by would have guessed at the opulence within the unassuming outer walls. In order to conform with the stricture that dhimmi Jews and Christians must not show off their wealth and status, casual visitors would encounter a blank wall as they entered and be ushered to the left, into a small and dingy anteroom. However, those trusted to enter were permitted to turn right, and would be dazzled by the first of five courtyards with their citrus trees.
Proud owners of the medieval Farhi Bible, the Farhis were well-versed in Judaism and Beit Farhi housed Raphael's exquisite pink library (below), adorned with Hebrew and Arabic inscriptions.