Damascus Univ. (1923), Damascus Oriental Institute of Music (1950), a technological institute (1963), an industrial school (1964), and the national museum (1919) are in Damascus. The old city lies south of the Barada, and the new town (greatly extended since 1926) lies north of the river. Points of interest include the Great Mosque (one of the largest and most famous mosques in the Muslim world), the quadrangular citadel (originally Roman; rebuilt 1219), a 16th-century Muslim monastery, and Azm palace (1749; now a museum and center for the study of Islamic art and architecture). The biblical "street which is called Straight" still runs in the old city from the east to the west gate, flanked by bazaars.
Located in a strategic gap commanding the Barada River and transdesert routes, Damascus has been inhabited since prehistoric times and is reputedly the oldest continuously occupied city in the world. There was a city on its site even before the time (c.2000 B.C.) of Abraham. Damascus was probably held by the Egyptians before the Hittite period (2d millennium B.C.) and was later ruled by the Israelites and Aram. Tiglathpileser III made it (732 B.C.) a part of the Assyrian Empire. From the 6th to the 4th cent. B.C. it was a provincial capital of the Persian Empire until it passed (332 B.C.) without a struggle to the armies of Alexander the Great.
After Alexander's death the Seleucids (see Seleucia) gained control of the city, although the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt tried to wrest it from them. When Seleucid power waned, Tigranes of Armenia took Damascus; but after his surrender to the Romans, Damascus passed (64 B.C.) into the Roman Empire under Pompey. One of the cities of the Decapolis confederacy, it was generally under Roman influence until the breakup of the empire.
Damascus became a thriving commercial city, noted for its woolen cloth and grain, and was early converted to Christianity. It was on the road to Damascus that Paul (d. 67) experienced his dramatic conversion, and it was from Damascus that he escaped persecution by being lowered down the wall in a basket. The Roman emperor Theodosius I had a Christian church built there (A.D. 379) on the foundations of the Roman temple of Zeus (1st cent. A.D.).
After the permanent split (395) of the Roman Empire, Damascus became a provincial capital of the Byzantine Empire. The Arabs, who had attacked and sporadically held the city since before the time of Paul, occupied it permanently in 635. The city was then gradually converted to Islam, and the Christian church built by Theodosius was rebuilt (705) as the Great Mosque. Damascus was the seat of the caliphate under the Umayyads from 661 until 750, when the Abbasids made Baghdad the center of the Muslim world. Damascus thereafter fell prey to new conquerors—the Egyptians, the Karmathians, and the Seljuk Turks (1076).
Although the Christian Crusaders failed in several attempts to annex the city, they ravaged the rich alluvial plain several times while the Saracen rulers, notably Nur ad-Din (1118-74) and Saladin (1137?-1193), were absent on campaigns. Damascus continued to prosper under the Saracens; its bazaars sold brocades (damask), wool, furniture inlaid with mother of pearl, and the famous swords and other ware of the Damascene metalsmiths. In 1260 the city fell to the Mongols under Hulagu Khan, and it was sacked c.1400 by Timur, who took away the swordmakers and armorers.
In 1516, Damascus passed to the Ottoman Turks, and for 400 years it remained in the Ottoman Empire. There was a massacre of Christians by Muslims in 1860, and in 1893 a disastrous fire damaged the Great Mosque. In World War I, Col. T. E. Lawrence helped to prepare the British capture of Damascus; it was entered (1918) by British Field Marshal Allenby and Emir Faisal (later King Faisal I of Iraq).
Britain had promised that Arab lands would revert back to the Arabs if the Turks were defeated. However, once in Damascus, the British reneged on the promise. After the war the city became the capital of one of the French Levant States mandated under the League of Nations. Owing to broken promises about Arab control, Damascus in 1925-26 joined with the Druze in revolt against the French, who shelled and badly damaged the city.
During World War II, Free French and British forces entered Damascus, which became capital of independent Syria in 1941. When Syria and Egypt joined to form the United Arab Republic in 1958, Cairo was made the capital, with Damascus the capital of the Syrian region. Syria withdrew from the United Arab Republic in 1961.
See C. Thubron, Mirror to Damascus (1967, repr. 1986).
Damascus (دمشق, , also commonly known as الشام ash-Shām) is the capital and largest city of Syria. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world (see section: Ancient history), before Al Fayyum, and Gaziantep. Its current population is estimated at about 1.67 million. The city is a governorate by itself, and the capital of the governorate of Rif Dimashq (Rural Damascus).
According to the 1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in his twenty-one volume Antiquities of the Jews, Damascus (along with Trachonitis), was founded by Uz, the son of Aram. Elsewhere, he states:
Nicolaus of Damascus, in the fourth book of his History, says thus: "Abraham reigned at Damascus, being a foreigner, who came with an army out of the land above Babylon, called the land of the Chaldeans: but, after a long time, he got him up, and removed from that country also, with his people, and went into the land then called the land of Canaan, but now the land of Judea, and this when his posterity were become a multitude; as to which posterity of his, we relate their history in another work. Now the name of Abraham is even still famous in the country of Damascus; and there is shown a village named from him, The Habitation of Abraham.
Damascus is designated as having been part of the ancient province of Amurru in the Hyksos Kingdom, from 1720 to 1570 BC. (MacMillan, pp. 30-31). Some of the earliest Egyptian records are from the 1350 BC Amarna letters, when Damascus-(called Dimasqu) was ruled by king Biryawaza. In 1100 BC, the city became the center of a powerful Aramaean state called Aram Damascus. The Kings of Aram Damascus were involved in many wars in the area against the Assyrians and the Israelites. One of the Kings, Ben-Hadad II, fought Shalmaneser III at the Battle of Qarqar. The ruins of the Aramean town most probably lie under the eastern part of the old walled city. After Tiglath-Pileser III captured and destroyed the city in 732 BC, it lost its independence for hundreds of years, and it fell to the Neo-Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar starting in 572 BC. The Babylonian rule of the city came to an end in 538 BC when the Persians under Cyrus captured the city and made it the capital of the Persian province of Syria.
In 64 BC, the Roman general Pompey annexed the western part of Syria. The Romans occupied Damascus and subsequently incorporated it into the league of ten cities known as the Decapolis because it was considered such an important center of Greco-Roman culture. According to the New Testament, St. Paul was on the road to Damascus when he received a vision, was struck blind and as a result converted to Christianity. In the year 37, Roman Emperor Caligula transferred Damascus into Nabataean control by decree. The Nabataean king Aretas IV Philopatris ruled Damascus from his capital Petra. However, around the year 106, Nabataea was conquered by the Romans, and Damascus returned to Roman control.
Damascus became a metropolis by the beginning of the second century and in 222 it was upgraded to a colonia by the Emperor Septimius Severus. During the Pax Romana, Damascus and the Roman province of Syria in general began to prosper. Damascus's importance as a caravan city was evident with the trade routes from southern Arabia, Palmyra, Petra, and the silk routes from China all converging on it. The city satisfied the Roman demands for eastern luxuries.
Little remains of the architecture of the Romans, but the town planning of the old city did have a lasting effect. The Roman architects brought together the Greek and Aramaean foundations of the city and fused them into a new layout measuring approximately by , surrounded by a city wall. The city wall contained seven gates, but only the eastern gate (Bab Sharqi) remains from the Roman period. Roman Damascus lies mostly at depths of up to five meters (16.4 ft) below the modern city.
The old borough of Bab Tuma was developed at the end of the Roman/Byzantine era by the local Eastern Orthodox community. According to the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul and Saint Thomas both lived in that neighborhood. Roman Catholic historians also consider Bab Tuma to be the birthplace of several Popes such as John V and Gregory III.
Damascus was conquered by the Rashidun Caliphate during the reign of Umar by forces under Khaled ibn al-Walid in 634 CE. Immediately thereafter, the city's power and prestige reached its peak when it became the capital of the Umayyad Empire, which extended from Spain to India from 661 to 750. In 744, the last Umayyad caliph, Marwan II, moved the capital to Harran in the Jazira, and Damascus was never to regain the political prominence it had held in that period.
After the fall of the Umayyads and the establishment of the Abbasid caliphate in 750, Damascus was ruled from Baghdad, although in 858 al-Mutawakkil briefly established his residence there with the intention of transferring his capital there from Samarra. However, he soon abandoned the idea. As the Abbasid caliphate declined, Damascus suffered from the prevailing instability, and came under the control of local dynasties. In 875 the ruler of Egypt, Ahmad ibn Tulun, took the city, with Abbasid control being re-established only in 905. In 945 the Hamdanids took Damascus, and not long after it passed into the hands of Muhammad bin Tughj, founder of the Ikhshidid dynasty. In 968 and again in 971 the city was briefly captured by the Qaramita.
In 970, the Fatimid Caliphs in Cairo gained control of Damascus. This was to usher in a turbulent period in the city's history, as the Berber troops who formed the backbone of the Fatimid forces became deeply unpopular among its citizens. The presence in Syria of the Qaramita and occasionally of Turkish military bands added to the constant pressure from the Bedouin. For a brief period from 978, Damascus was self-governing, under the leadership of a certain Qassam and protected by a citizen militia. However, the Ghouta was ravaged by the Bedouin and after a Turkish-led campaign the city once again surrendered to Fatimid rule. From 1029 to 1041 the Turkish military leader Anushtakin was governor of Damascus under the Fatimid caliph Al-Zahir, and did much to restore the city's prosperity.
It appears that during this period the slow transformation of Damascus from a Graeco-Roman city layout - characterised by blocks of insulae — to a more familiar Islamic pattern took place: the grid of straight streets changed to a pattern of narrow streets, with most residents living inside harat closed off at night by heavy wooden gates to protect against criminals and the exactions of the soldiery.
With the arrival of the Seljuk Turks in the late 11th century, Damascus again became the capital of independent states. It was ruled by a Seljuk dynasty from 1079 to 1104, and then by another Turkish dynasty - the Burid Emirs, who withstood a siege of the city during the Second Crusade in 1148 . In 1154 Damascus was conquered from the Burids by the famous Zengid Atabeg Nur ad-Din of Aleppo, the great foe of the Crusaders. He made it his capital, and following his death, it was acquired by Saladin, the ruler of Egypt, who also made it his capital. Saladin rebuilt the citadel, and it is reported that under his rule the suburbs were as extensive as the city itself. It is reported by Ibn Jubayr that during the time of Saladin, Damascus welcomed seekers of knowledge and industrious youth from around the world, who arrived for the sake of "undistracted study and seclusion" in Damascus' many colleges.
In the years following Saladin's death in 1193, there were frequent conflicts between different Ayyubid sultans ruling in Damascus and Cairo. Damascus was the capital of independent Ayyubid rulers between 1193 and 1201, from 1218 to 1238, from 1239 to 1245, and from 1250 to 1260. At other times it was ruled by the Ayyubid rulers of Egypt. Damascus steel gained a legendary reputation among the Crusaders, and patterned steel is still "damascened". The patterned Byzantine and Chinese silks available through Damascus, one of the Western termini of the Silk Road, gave the English language "damask".
In 1400 Timur, the Turco-Mongol conqueror, besieged Damascus. The Mamluk sultan dispatched a deputation from Cairo, including Ibn Khaldun, who negotiated with him, but after their withdrawal he put the city to sack. The Umayyad Mosque was burnt and men and women taken into slavery. A huge number of the city's artisans were taken to Timur's capital at Samarkand. These were the luckier citizens: many were slaughtered and their heads piled up in a field outside the north-east corner of the walls, where a city square still bears the name burj al-ruus, originally "the tower of heads".
Rebuilt, Damascus continued to serve as a Mamluk provincial capital until 1516.
In early 1516, the Ottoman Turks, wary of the danger of an alliance between the Mamluks and the Persian Safavids, started a campaign of conquest against the Mamluk sultanate. On 21 September, the Mamluk governor of Damascus fled the city, and on 2 October the khutba in the Umayyad mosque was pronounced in the name of Selim I. The day after, the victorious sultan entered the city, staying for three months. On 15 December, he left Damascus by Bab al-Jabiya, intent on the conquest of Egypt. Little appeared to have changed in the city: one army had simply replaced another. However, on his return in October 1517, the sultan ordered the construction of a mosque, taqiyya and mausoleum at the shrine of Shaikh Muhi al-Din ibn Arabi in Salihiyya. This was to be the first of Damascus' great Ottoman monuments.
The Ottomans remained for the next 400 years, except for a brief occupation by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt from 1832 to 1840 . Because of its importance as the point of departure for one of the two great Hajj caravans to Mecca, Damascus was treated with more attention by the Porte than its size might have warranted — for most of this period, Aleppo was more populous and commercially more important. In 1560 the Taqiyya al-Sulaimaniyya, a mosque and khan for pilgrims on the road to Mecca, was completed to a design by the famous Ottoman architect Sinan, and soon afterwards a madrasa was built adjoining it.
Perhaps the most notorious incident of these centuries was the massacre of Christians in 1860, when fighting between Druze (most probably supported by foreign countries to weaken the economical power) and Maronites in Mount Lebanon spilled over into the city. Several thousand Christians were killed, with many more being saved through the intervention of the Algerian exile Abd al-Qadir and his soldiers (three days after the massacre started), who brought them to safety in Abd al-Qadir's residence and the citadel. The Christian quarter of the old city (mostly inhabited by Catholics), including a number of churches, was burnt down. The Christian inhabitants of the notoriously poor and refractory Midan district outside the walls (mostly Orthodox) were, however, protected by their Muslim neighbours.
On 1 October 1918, the forces of the Arab revolt led by Nuri as-Said entered Damascus. The same day, Australian soldiers from the 4th and 10th Light Horse Regiments reinforced with detachments from the British Yeomanry Mounted Division entered the city and accepted its surrender from the Turkish appointed Governor Emir Said (installed as Governor the previous afternoon by the retreating Turkish Commander) A military government under Shukri Pasha was named. Other British forces including T. E. Lawrence followed later that day, and Faisal ibn Hussein was proclaimed king of Syria. Political tension rose in November 1917, when the new Bolshevik government in Russia revealed the Sykes-Picot Agreement whereby Britain and France had arranged to partition the Arab east between them. A new Franco-British proclamation on 17 November promised the "complete and definitive freeing of the peoples so long oppressed by the Turks." The Syrian Congress in March adopted a democratic constitution. However, the Versailles Conference had granted France a mandate over Syria, and in 1920 a French army commanded by the General Mariano Goybet crossed the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, defeated a small Syrian defensive expedition at the Battle of Maysalun and entered Damascus. The French made Damascus capital of their League of Nations Mandate of Syria.
When in 1925 the Druze revolt in the Hauran spread to Damascus, the French suppressed it brutally, bombing and shelling the city. The area of the old city between Souk al-Hamidiyya and Souk Midhat Pasha was burned to the ground, with many deaths, and has since then been known as al-Hariqa ("the fire"). The old city was surrounded with barbed wire to prevent rebels infiltrating from the Ghouta, and a new road was built outside the northern ramparts to facilitate the movement of armoured cars.
In 1945 the French once more bombed Damascus, but on this occasion British forces intervened and the French agreed to withdraw, thus leading to the full independence of Syria in 1946 . Damascus remained the capital. With the influx of Iraqi refugees beginning in 2003, and funds from the Arabian Gulf, Damascus has been going through an economic boom ever since.
The old city of Damascus, enclosed by the city walls, lies on the south bank of the river Barada. To the south-east, north and north-east it is surrounded by suburban areas whose history stretches back to the Middle Ages: Midan in the south-west, Sarouja and Imara in the north and north-west. These districts originally arose on roads leading out of the city, near the tombs of religious figures. In the nineteenth century outlying villages developed on the slopes of Jabal Qasioun, overlooking the city, already the site of the Salihiyye district centred around the important shrine of Sheikh Muhi al-Din ibn Arabi. These new districts were initially settled by Kurdish soldiery and Muslim refugees from the European regions of the Ottoman Empire which had fallen under Christian rule. Thus they were known as al-Akrad (the Kurds) and al-Muhajirin (the migrants). They lay two to three kilometres (2 mi) north of the old city.
From the late nineteenth century on, a modern administrative and commercial centre began to spring up to the west of the old city, around the Barada, centred on the area known as al-Marjeh or the meadow. Al-Marjeh soon became the name of what was initially the central square of modern Damascus, with the city hall on it. The courts of justice, post office and railway station stood on higher ground slightly to the south. A Europeanised residential quarter soon began to be built on the road leading between al-Merjeh and Salihiyye. The commercial and administrative centre of the new city gradually shifted northwards slightly towards this area.
In the twentieth century, newer suburbs developed north of the Barada, and to some extent to the south, invading the Ghouta oasis. From 1955 the new district of Yarmouk became a second home to thousands of Palestinian refugees. City planners preferred to preserve the Ghouta as far as possible, and in the later twentieth century some of the main areas of development were to the north, in the western Mezze district and most recently along the Barada valley in Dumar in the northwest and on the slopes of the mountains at Berze in the north-east. Poorer areas, often built without official approval, have mostly developed south of the main city.
Damascus is surrounded by an oasis, the Ghouta region (الغوطة al-ġūṭä), watered by the Barada. The Fijeh spring, west along the Barada valley, provides the city with drinking water. The Ghouta oasis has been decreasing in size with the rapid expansion of housing and industry in the city. It has also become polluted due to the city's traffic, industry, and sewage.
Damascus has a wealth of historical sites dating back to many different periods of the city's history. Since the city has been built up with every passing occupation, it has become almost impossible to excavate all the ruins of Damascus that lie up to below the modern level. The Citadel of Damascus is located in the northwest corner of the Old City. The Street Called Straight (referred to in the conversion of St. Paul in Acts 9:11), also known as the Via Recta, was the decumanus (East-West main street) of Roman Damascus, and extended for over . Today, it consists of the street of Bab Sharqi and the Souk Medhat Pasha, a covered market. The Bab Sharqi street is filled with small shops and leads to the old Christian quarter of Bab Tuma (St. Thomas's Gate). Souk Medhat Pasha is also a main market in Damascus and was named after Medhat Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Syria who renovated the Souk. At the end of the Bab Sharqi street, one reaches the House of Ananias, an underground chapel that was the cellar of Ananias's house.
The Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Grand Mosque of Damascus, is one of the largest mosques in the world, and one of the oldest sites of continuous prayer since the rise of Islam. A shrine in the mosque is said to contain the head of John the Baptist. The mausoleum where Saladin was buried is located in the gardens just outside the mosque. Sayyidah Ruqayya Mosque, the shrine of the yongest daughter of Husayn ibn Ali, can also be found near the Umayyad Mosque. Another heavily visited site is Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque, which is the tomb of Zaynab bint Ali. Hundreds of thousands of Shia Muslims visit it every year.
The Old City of Damascus is surrounded by ramparts on the northern and eastern sides and part of the southern side. There are seven extant city gates, the oldest of which dates back to the Roman period. These are, clockwise from the north of the citadel:
Due to the rapid decline of the population of Old Damascus (between 1995-2005 more than 20,000 people moved out of the old city for more modern accommodation), a growing number of buildings are being abandoned or are falling into disrepair. In March 2007, the local government announced that it would be demolishing Old City buildings along a stretch of rampart walls as part of a redevelopment scheme. These factors resulted in the Old City being placed by the World Monuments Fund on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world. It is hoped that its inclusion on the list will draw more public awareness to these significant threats to the future of the historic Old City of Damascus.
Damascus is divided into many districts. Among them there are:
The main airport is Damascus International Airport, approximately away from the city center, with connections to many Asian, Europe, African, and recently, South American cities. Streets in Damascus are often narrow, mostly in the older parts of the city, and speed bumps are widely used to limit the speed.
Public transport in Damascus depends extensively on minibuses. There are about one hundred lines that operate inside the city and some of them extend from the city center to nearby suburbs. There is no schedule for the lines, and due to the limited number of official bus stops, buses will usually stop wherever a passenger needs to get on or off. The number of buses serving the same line is relatively high, which minimizes the waiting time. Lines are not numbered, rather they are given captions mostly indicating the two end points and possibly an important station along the line.
Al-Hijaz railway station, lies in the city center. Currently this station is closed, and railway connections with other cities take place in a suburb.
In 2008, the government announced a plan to construct an underground system in Damascus with opening time for the green line scheduled for 2015 Damascus Metro
Damascus oasis is also a popular destination for recreation.