[hah-mah, hah-mah]

Hama (ancient Hamath; Arabic: حماة, meaning fortress) is a city on the banks of the Orontes river in central Syria north of Damascus. It is the provincial capital of the Hama Governorate. It is the location of the historical city Hamath.


Its population numbers 410,000 inhabitants, making it the fifth-largest city in Syria, after Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Latakia.

Hama is an important agricultural and industrial center in Syria, with 3,680 square kilometres (over a third of the governorate's area) under cultivation. The governorate produces over half of the national crop of potatoes and pistachio nuts, as well as growing a variety of other vegetables and supporting a healthy livestock ranching industry besides.

The city proper is renowned for its 17 norias used for watering the gardens, which — it is claimed — date back to 1100 BC. Though historically used for purpose of irrigation, nowadays the norias constitutes an almost entirely esthetic traditional show.


Ancient era

The ancient settlement of Hamath was occupied from the early Neolithic to the Iron Age. It was excavated between 1931 and 1938 by a Danish team under the direction of Harald Ingholt. The stratigraphy is very generalised, which makes detailed comparison to other sites difficult. Level M (6 m thick) contained both white ware— vessels made from lime-plaster— and true pottery. It may be contemporary with Ras Shamra V (6000-5000 BC). The overlying level L dates to the Chalcolithic Halaf-period.

The Hittite levels are overlain by Aramaic remains which date to the end of the 11th century BC. At this time, Aramaic tribes seem to have taken over the whole Orontes and Litani valleys.

Iron age Hamath seems to have been a centre of ivory-working. It shows strong Egyptian influence. Together with Aram (Damascus), Hamath formed an important Aramaic state in the Syrian interior. As the Aramaic script was written on parchment, very few written records have been recovered in Hama itself.

The few Biblical reports state that Hamath was the capital of a Canaanite kingdom (Genesis 10:18; 2 Kings 23:33; 24:21), whose king congratulated King David on his victory over Hadadezer, king of Soba (2 Samuel 8:9-11; 1 Chronicles 13:9-11). Solomon, it would seem, took possession of Hamath and its territory and built store cities. The prophet Amos (vi, 2) calls the town "Hamath the Great". Indeed, the name appears to stem from Phoenician khamat "fort" . The Assyrians took possession of it towards the end of the eighth century BC.

When the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (858-824 BC) conquered the north of Syria he reached Hamath in 835 BC; this marks the beginning of Assyrian inscriptions relating to the kingdom. Irhuleni of Hamath and Im-idri of Aram (biblical Bar-Hadad) led a coalition of Syrian cities against the encroaching Assyrian armies. According to Assyrian sources, they were confronted by 4,000 chariots, 2,000 horsemen, 62,000 foot-soldiers and 1,000 Arab camel-riders in the Battle of Qarqar. The Assyrian victory seems to have been more of a draw, although Shalmaneser III continued on to the shore and even took a ship to open sea. In the following years, Shalmaneser III failed to conquer Hamath or Aram. After the death of Shalmaneser III, the former allies Hamath and Aram fell out, and Aram seems to have taken over some of Hamath's territory.

An Aramaic inscription of Zakir, king of Hamath and La'ash, tells of an attack by a coalition including Sam'al under Ben-Hadad III, son of Hasael, king of Aram. Zakir was besieged in his fortress of Hazrak, but saved by intervention of the God Be'elschamen. Later on, Ja'udi-Sam'al came to rule both Hamath and Aram.

In 743 BC Tiglath-Pileser III took a number of towns in the territory of Hamath, distributed the territories among his generals, forcibly removed 1223 selected inhabitants to his territories in the Upper Tigris valley; he exacted tribute from Hamath's king, Eni-Îlu (Eniel). In 738 BC Hamath is listed among the cities conquered by Assyrian troops. Over 30,000 Syrians from the environs of Hamath were deported to the [[Zagros mountains. After the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, Hamath joined with the remnant Samarians in 720 BC and rebelled against Assyria but soon fell to Sargon II who carried off to Nimrud the ivory-adorned furnishings of its kings burned the city as a lesson, and colonized the area with Assyrians, to stabilize it; the defeat of Hamath made a profound impression on Isaiah.

In the seventh century Hamath was asubject to Damascus. In 605 BC, the remains of the Egyptian garrison of Carchemish was annihilated at Hamath by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. In 554/553 BC, Hamath was the target of a campaign by Nabonidus of Babylon.

After Alexander the Great's conquest it was given the name Epiphania, no doubt in honour of, and probably by king, Antiochus Epiphanes. The inhabitants took no notice and continued to use the old name, which Josephus records as Amathe. Aquila and Theodoretus call it Emath-Epiphania.

The city later came under the control of Rome and of the Byzantine Empire, as part of the province of Syria Secunda. The Byzantine historian John of Epiphania was born in Hama in the sixth century.

Muslim and crusader feudal era

Conquered by Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah in AD 638 or 639, the town regained its ancient name, and has since retained it, under the form Hama(h), meaning a fortress.

Tancred, Prince of Galilee, took it in 1108, but in 1115 the Franks lost it definitively. In 1157 an earthquake shattered the city. The Arab geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi (1179-1229), was born there. In 1188 it was re-taken by Saladin, under whose Ayyubid family it remained until it passed to Egyptian Mamluk control in 1299. An early Mamluk governor of Hama was Abu al-Fida (reigned 1310–30), the historian and geographer.

In the early 16th century the city came under the control of the Ottoman Empire, during which period a variety of Khans (caravan posts), and a beautiful Palace (the Al-Azem Palace, still existent), were built. Hamah (in Turkish) was a town of 45,000 inhabitants, prettily situated on the Orontes, and the residence of a Mutessarif (governor), depending on Damascus. The main portion of the population was Muslim, besides about 10,000 Christians of various rites.

Modern era

After World War I Hama was made part of the French Levant States League of Nations mandate, and in 1941 it became part of independent Syria.

Political insurgency by Islamic groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood beginning in the early 1980s culminated in an uprising in February, 1982. Government forces led by the president's brother, Rifaat al-Assad, quelled the revolt, but killed thousands of civilians and destroyed much of the old part of the city in the process. The town was shelled by the Syrian military, and the estimated deaths numbered more than 20,000 and may have been as high as 30,000 or 40,000, a big portion of them were women and children. The story is suppressed in Syria.

Ecclesiastical history

Hamatha or Amatha is still a Roman Catholic titular see, suffragan of Apamea. It is as Epiphania that it is best known in ecclesiastical documents. Lequien (Oriens Christianus, II, 915-918) mentions nine Greek bishops of Epiphania. The first of them, whom he calls Mauritius, is the Manikeios whose signature appears in the First Council of Nicaea (Heinrich Gelzer, Patrum Nicaenorum Nomina, p. lxi).

It has two Catholic archbishops, a Greek Melkite and a Syrian, the one residing at Labroud, the other at Homs, reuniting the titles of Homs (Emesus) and Hamah (Missiones Catholicae, 781-804). The Orthodox Greeks have a bishop of their own for either see.

Main sights

Hama's most famous attractions are its 17 norias, dating back to the Byzantine times. Fed by the Orontes river, they were up to 20 m in diameter. The largest norias are the al-Mamunye (1453) and the al-Muhammediye (14th century). Originally they were used to route water into aqueducts, which led into the town and the neighbouring agricultars areas.

Other sights include:

  • the museum, housed in a 18th century Ottoman governor residence (Azem Palace). Remains in the exhibition include a precious Roman mosaic from the nearby village of Mariamin (4th century AD)
  • al-Nuri mosque, finished in 1163 by Nur ad-Din after the earthquake of 1157. Notable is the minaret.
  • The small Mamluk al-Izzi mosque (15th century)
  • The mosque and Mausoleum of Abu al-Fida, a celebrated Arab historian who was also governor of the city.
  • al-Hasanain mosque, als rebuilt by Nur ad-Din after the aforementioned earthquake.
  • The Great Mosque. Destroyed in the 1982 bombardment, it has been rebuilt in its original forms. It has elements dating from the ancient and Christian structures existing in the same location. It has two minarets, and is preceded by a portico with an elevated treasury.


See also

External links

Governmental services

News and events




Further reading

  • P. J. Riis/V. Poulsen, Hama: fouilles et recherches 1931-1938 (Copenhagen 1957).

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