Wood Mosaic

One of the world’s finest craftsmanship

What is Wood MOSAIC?

Wood mosaic is an ancient handicraft that has been part of the Damascene heritage for more than 300 years. It consists of diverse types of wood assembled and inlayed with seashells forming various geometrical patterns. Grouped together, they create the required sophisticated design of the wood mosaic surface that depends mainly on the artisan’s imagination, precision, and creativity.

History of Wood MOSAIC

In the nineteenth century, Gergi Bitar a dedicated and creative artisan developed and perfected the Wood Inlay crafting techniques by grafting local wood with mother-of-pearl, silver & ivory. He was able to combine art with craftsmanship by finding new techniques in which the elements of colour, materials and the quality of workmanship overlapped and were raised to the level of creativity.

Bitar was recognized for teaching his techniques to hundreds of students who became masters in this craft and preserved his legacy by transmitting it to the younger generations. Nowadays, it his methods that are still being employed to create a wood mosaic masterpiece.


Some milestones in Gergi’s Wood Mosaic profession
  • In 1891, he was chosen to design and build the iconostasis in marquetry of the church “Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre” in Paris. The iconostasis has its unique charm and represents the intersection between the gothic art and the oriental wood mosaic.
  • In 1895, the governor of Damascus Said Pacha commissioned Gergi Bitar to prepare a precious gift to present to the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid. He passionately created a set of fifty mosaic pieces and presented them to the Sultan in Istanbul. The sultan was impressed by the meticulousness in quality of the work to the extent that he awarded him the highest Ottoman distinction. He also granted him the exclusivity of the wood mosaic profession but Bitar declined this privilege, so that the craftsmen of Damascus, trained by him, could use his innovations to improve their living conditions.
  • In 1908, Gergi presented to the Pope Pious X a monumental mosaic cabinet, associating the Byzantine art with the magnificence of oriental ornaments. The Pope was fascinated and granted Gergi his benediction as well as a personal autograph in Latin.  


How is Wood MOSAIC produced?

Different types of thin wood sticks (length 10-15cm) are grouped together in a bundle forming, in section, one of the many geometrical shapes essential for the creation of the complex wood mosaic panel. Then the bundle is cut into thin equal slices (0.5 to 2mm) that are combined with different slices from other bundles creating all together a balanced and harmonious set of perfectly arranged shapes, without any imperfection at their intersection. All the slices are subsequently glued to a solid wood panel and one wood type is consequently removed and replaced with seashells creating the refined and required design. Polishing and varnishing are the last steps leading to the completion of the wood mosaic art piece.

It has to be emphasized that it is the arrangement of the figures and the respect for the symmetry of the corners that constitute the most delicate stage in the making of a wood mosaic masterpiece. It is where the craftsman becomes an artist. Like any work of art, mosaic on wood involves the creation of harmonious figures, and reflects a personal expression, a true signature of the master.

The wood used in each wood mosaic piece is local, which explains the difference in wood colours that is giving the art piece more variation, charm, and legacy. The different types of regional trees found in Damascus are walnut (dark brown coloured wood), beech (light beige/cream coloured wood) , eucalyptus (redish brown coloured wood), lemon (yellow coloured wood), apricot (orange coloured wood), olive (creamish yellowish coloured wood), various flower trees, etc.

Bab Sharqi and Bab Touma in Old Damascus and Souk Al-Hamidiyeh are among the most important areas for producing and selling the wood mosaic marquetry products.

Where is Wood MOSAIC used?

The finished product may be a small box with different geometrical shapes such as triangle, square, rectangle, hexagon, and octagon. Or large furniture pieces such as chairs, tables, mirrors frames, headboard, doors, etc.

The Azem Palace, “Maqtab Anbar” and the Nizam House in Damascus are among the most famous, accessible to the public, Damascene houses decorated with wood mosaic marquetry. Official and governmental buildings such as the presidential palace, the parliament and ministry of foreign affairs have also used wood mosaic furniture. One of the salon furniture of the presidential palace of the French Republic, the presidential palace of the Republic of Mexico, as well as many of the Gulf palaces are filled with Oriental wood mosaic marquetry.

Georgi Bitar’s professional virtuosity elevated this craft to the level of Art and established Damascus as the centre of it. It is true that other Middle-Eastern countries produce similar handicrafts, but because of Gergi Bitar’s expertise, Syrian mosaic is considered the best in the world for its high standards of quality, precision and splendour.