Damascus, the capital of Syria, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Damascus has occupied a position of importance in the fields of science, culture, politics, art commerce, and industry from the earliest times. Damascus has been called Al-Fayha'a (the fragrant city), Al-Sham, Jollaq, and Pearl of Orient as Emperor Julian named it. It was mentioned in the Holy Qur'an as the many-columns city of Aram, "whose like has never been built in the land".
Early references to Damascus such as those in Ebla tablets, confirm that it was as a city of immense economic influence during 3rd millennium BC.
Ancient Pharaonic scripts refers to it as Dameska. It enjoyed great prominence during 2nd millennium BC as center of an Aramaic kingdom under the name of Dar-Misiq (the irrigated house). The Aramites were the original inhabitants of Damascus, and their language was Syriac. Many villages around Damascus are still known by their Aramaic names.
Damascus fell under the domination of Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. They all left their mark on Damascus as visitors can still readily observe today. In the Roman era, Damascus was first among ten most prominent cities. Damascus received many privileges, especially during the reign of Syrian dynasty of Roman emperors. It was from Damascus that most talented architect of Roman Empire came. This was Apolodor the Damascene, who designed the celebrated Trajan Column in Rome, and the great bridge on the River Danube. Part of heritage of this era is the remains of the city-plan which Apolodor designed in oblong shape according with Roman architectural style. There is also part of the Roman temple of Jupiter, which was erected on the site of an older Aramaic temple (Hadad) where the Omayyad Mosque stands today; a part distinguished by its huge Corinthian columns with its richly decorated capitals.
In Byzantine era, a great number of churches and monasteries were built in Damascus , and most of them have survived to present.
Damascus became capital of the first Arab state at time of the Omayyads in 661 AD. This marked the beginning of its golden epoch, and for a whole century it was the center of the youthful Islamic Empire. This reached its peak of expansion during this period, and came to stretch from shores of Atlantic and Pyrennese in west, to river Indus and China in east. Omayyads took a genuine interest in building up Damascus, organizing its souks (bazaars) and districts, improving its water supply, erecting palaces, and hospitals.
Nowadays, Damascus is a living museum spanning thousands of years. A city measuring time not by hours, days, months, and years but by empires it has seen rise and crumble to ruin.
Of the most important landmarks at Damascus are: Omayyad Mosque, Azem Palace, St. Ananias Church, Damascus Citadel, Old Souks like Al-Hamidieyeh and Midhat Pasha, Bimarstan Al-Nory, Saladdin's Tomb, St. Paul Church, and Al-Takieh Al-Suleimaniyeh.
Damascus citadel is The only fortress in Syria built on the same level as the city, it does not top a hill or a mountain like all other castles and citadels. It was erected by the Seljuks in 1078 A.D. with masonry taken from the city wall, and turned into a heavily-fortified citadel surrounded by walls, towers, a moat and trenches. Inside, they built houses, baths, mosques, and schools; Damascus citadel was a city within a city. At the height of Crusader raids and attacks, it was used as residence for the sultans of Egypt and Syria such as Nureddin, Saladin, and al-Malek al-Adel,whence they supervised military operations against the Crusaders. But al-Malek al-Adel soon found that it was no longer adequate for defense against contemporary weapons and siege tactics, so he decided in 1202 to demolish and re-build it. The outcome was an impressive modern citadel, incorporating the latest inventions in the martial arts. It has imposing walls and a dozen colossal turrets surrounding it; there were three-hundred arrow slits and enormous parapets all round. In the mid-thirteenth century, however, it was the principal target for Tatar and Mongol attacks, and was later neglected by the Ottomans. The moats and trenches around it were filled up, and the souqs of Hamidiyeh, Asrounieh, and al-Khuja were built thereon. Recently, the latter was demolished, and the western walls of the fortress came into full view. Extensive repair and restoration work is underway at the moment; when completed Damascus citadel will become a war museum, and a center for various cultural activities.
The wall and gates of Damascus
The Wall of Damascus was built in the Roman era with large, tapered stones. It was oblong in shape, designed in the manner of Roman military camps, cities, and fortifications. There are seven gates in The Wall of Damascus : Bab Sharqi, Bab Al-Jabieh, Bab Keissan, Bab al-Saghir, Bab Tuma, Bab al-Jeniq, and Bab al-Faradiss. The main thoroughfare traversed Damascus from Bab al-Jabieh to Bab Sharqi; on both sides there were Corinthian columns, and cross it numerous triumphal arches. But this thoroughfare has been submerged over the years to about six metres underground, and has been superseded by Souq al-Tawil of Midhat Pasha, under which are occasionally discovered some Roman columns, especially when road works are in progress.
One such discovery was made in 1950 when a triumphal arch was found at Bab Sharqi, brought up to street level, and re-erected after its restoration was completed.
At the time of the Islamic conquest in 635 A.D., Damascus wall was still solid nd impregnable, so the two Muslim leaders Khaled ibn al-Wlid and abu Obeida ibn al-Jarrah entered the city through Bab Sharqi and Bab al-Jabieh respectively. Thus Damascus wall was preserved, and remained intact throughout the Omayyad era. But when the Abassids stormed Damascus in 750 A.D., they destroyed large parts of Damascus wall . Damascus wall began to deteriorate over the years so much, so that Damascus wall became oval in shape. But it was partly restored and reinforced at the time of the Nourites and Ayoubites, in order to withstand the attacks of the Crusaders. During Ottoman rule, however, it was neglected altogether, and some masonry was removed for use in other buildings; later on, numerous houses were built upon the greater expanse of it.
The only part of
historic significance still standing in its original form is 500 metres
long, and stretches from Bab al-Salaaam to Bab Tuma. Most of Damascus gates are
still there, although much altered by additions and engraving done over the
years. Other Damascus gates were made during the Islamic era, such as Bab al-Salaam
and Bab al-Faraj which were built by Nureddin. Bab Keissan and Bab al-Jeniq
were blocked up; and Bab al-Nasre, which has stood next to al-Qal'a (the
castle) was removed when Souq al-Hamidiyeh was built in 1863. The remaining
towers on the Wall are: The Nureddin Tower to the south of Bab Tuma, and al-Saleh
Ayoub Tower to the east.
The Azem Palace ín Damascus
This also stands at the heart of the Old City of Damascus, on the southern side of the Omayyad Mosque, and very close to it. It is an astonishing example of a Damascene house, where the simple, almost primitive, exterior contrasts rather sharply with the beauty and sophistication of the interior. Here one finds a sense of space, a wealth of polychrome stone, splendid marble, cascading fountains, and fragrant flowers. The palace was built in the mid-eighteenth century for the Governor of Damascus. The palace now houses the Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions.
The souqs of Damascus
The old covered
souqs of Damascus have a unique flavour you can savor with eyes closed. As
you walk about in the warm darkness of these streets with their fragrant
scents, spices, and colourful merchandise spilling out of the shops onto the
pavements, you enter the strange world of exotic legend. Most prominent of
To the south of Souq al-Hamidiyeh, this was built by Nureddin in the twelfth century as a hospital, and financed by ransom money to the amount of 300,000 dinars paid by a Crusader king held captive. During the Ottoman periood it was converted into a school for girls, and it now houses the Museum of Arab Medicine and Science. It contains the most exquisite examples of decorative inscriptions used for the first time during Nureddin's reign to replace the traditional kufi inscriptions.
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