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Documentation of Nasif [sic] House.

Jeddah & Riyadh: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Education, General Department of Antiquities and Museums, AH 1401/ 1980-1 Stock Code: 144736
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Bayt Naseef

A superb, apparently unique visual record of Jeddah's landmark Bayt Nasseef before its early 1980s restoration. In 1975 the Saudi government purchased the house, designating it a historic landmark, and initially employing it as a library. After restoration it has become a cultural centre, used for exhibitions and events. We can trace no other copy of this wonderfully resonant photo-document.

Located on Suq al-Alawi, the main street of the city's historic Al-Balad, old town district, the house was built between 1872 and 1881 for the prominent merchant Sheikh Umar Effendi al-Nassif, at that time the governor of the city. From his taking of the city in 1925 until the completion of the Khuzam Palace, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud used the house as his primary residence in Jeddah.

Locally known as The House of the Tree, because the neem tree (which has survived and can be seen in the images gathered here) was the only tree in the old city until the 1920s, the building is widely recognised one of the most important surviving examples of Red Sea coralline limestone architecture. King Faisal's decision "with respect to rehabilitate Beit Nassif provided an enlightened and inspiring model for sustainability in historic areas. This was the first, major rehabilitation project in Al Balad" ("Urban Conservation and Sustainability; Cases from Historic Cities in the Gulf and North Africa", Conference On Technology & Sustainability in the Built Environment, 2009, p. 315).

This extraordinary photobook offers a tour of the building passing from fish-eye lensed images of the exterior elevations, allowing all four floors to be shot from the confines of the narrow surrounding streets, into the huge rainwater cisterns below the raised ground floor that helped to cool the interior, and floor by floor to the open roof space with its two al-mabit teak kiosks, fast cooling and ideal for sleeping.

The images were clearly created as part of an extensive official record, painstakingly documenting the building in close detail in all its aspects, but the gathering assembled here seems carefully selected and arranged, not just to walk the viewer through this remarkable structure, but offering an aesthetic, an evocation of atmosphere, whether the carvings on the two-floor wooden kushk bay or the massive exterior doors; the sequence of carefully composed pages featuring the variant geometric patterning in the plaster-work friezes of the façades; or light effects captured in the magnificent entrance hall and apartments, down in the vaulted cisterns, or in the high-walled stairways with their shallow risers designed to allow fully laden camels to ascend to all floors. Perhaps some of the most interesting images are those of the rooftop structures making play of the sharp shadows cast in from the the open courts outside, the details of the carved castellations topping the walls, with geometrically pierced wooden shutters shielding the attractively shaded interiors.

This truly handsome presentation captures the pre-restoration beauty-in-decay and pervasive ambience of this imposing and historically important building.

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Folio (300 x 310 mm). Bespoke album with covers of ornately embossed tan leather over thick card, tongue and loop fastening at the fore-edge with antiqued brass dome-headed fixtures, title gilt in Arabic and English to front, ivory moiré silk endsheets.


120 original photographs (c. 130 x 180 mm), 80 colour, gloss finish-printed with white borders, 40 black and white, silk finish no borders, mounted recto and verso on 47 leaves of pale cream light card, textured tissue interleave guards, each image with a


Covers a little rubbed at corners else very good, the photos all clean and unfaded, a couple of tissue guards with minor splits and creases, one loose; overall excellently preserved, a handsome piece.


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Established in 1969, Peter Harrington is one of the leading rare book firms in the world. It is a proud member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association – along with ILAB, the PBFA and Lapada – and from shops in Mayfair and Chelsea, London, sells rare books, prints and ephemera to customers across the world.

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