The Street Called Straight (Via Recta, الشارع المستقيم), is the Roman street that runs from east to west in the old city of Damascus. It was visited by St. Paul as recorded in the book of Acts and contains several interesting sights from the Roman, Christian and Islamic periods.
Under the Greeks, the old city of Damascus was designed after the grid pattern designed by Hippodamus. The Roman street, extending 1500 meters, used to be lined with columns and had gates on both ends, houses and shops on both sides. These columns can still be seen today. Today it consists of two main streets in old Damascus; the Avenue of Bab Sharqi and Souk Medhat Pasha, a major Damascus market, known after Medhat Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Damascus who renovated it and ordered its coverage with a lead-shade.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight."
But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name."
So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.
Entering the city from the east through the Bab Sharqi, one can still see the remains of a double colonnade that used to line the entire length of the street. In Roman times, Straight Street was 26 meters wide and 1,570 meters long, lined on both sides with covered porticos containing shops. The present road follows the same line, starting at Bab Sharqi in the East, crossing the whole width of the ancient city of Damascus, and coming out at the end of Suq Madhat Pasha, 20 meters to the North of Bab al-Jabiya on the western side. The present road is narrower than the ancient one, and about 4 meters above its original level.
Almost 700 meters to the west of Bab Sharqi is a Roman monumental arch that was excavated and rebuilt in 1947 by the Syrian Department of Antiquities. It is here that the intersection of Straight Street and the north-south Cardo Maximus has been located. On the right-hand side in ancient times stood a Byzantine church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and called Mariamyeh. Today, on the same site, stands a church which serves as the Seat of the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate.
The eastern section of the street from the Bab Sharqi gate to the monumental arch is called Sharee al Mustaqueem, which is the Arabic word for 'straight', but it is also known as the Suq et-Tawil, which means 'the large market'. After the arch and all the way to the western end, the street is called Suq Madhat Pasha, and is lined with shops selling textiles, cotton, domestic articles, spices, imported objects and other interesting items. It forms a part of the large commercial complex of Al-Hamidiyah Souk.
About 450 metres from the western entrance of Madhat Pasha Street, in a stretch covered with a large metal dome, is a small mosque with a balcony in the form of a pulpit that serves as a minaret, called Jakmak or Sheikh Nabhan Mosque. It is here that the Christian tradition locates the house of Judas, the place where Saul remained for three days without eating or drinking and was baptized at the hands of Ananias (Acts 9:9). The Christians of Damascus say the mosque was built over the ruins of an ancient church that commemorated the episode narrated in the Acts of Apostles. Today, the nearby House of Saint Ananias commemorates the event.
At the west end of Straight Street is the Arab Gate of the Water Trough, Bab al-Jabiya. This is where the Roman Temple of Jupiter once stood. The Mosque of Hisham (built in 1427), with fine stalactite design, is a bit further on. It is believed that the theater built by Herod the Great in the 1st century BC was in this area.
Also nearby is Chapel of St. Paul, said to be where St. Paul fled by being dropped in a basket through a window in the wall.