Ancient City of Damascus - The Traveller


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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ancient City of Damascus


Damascus – Second Largest City of Syria

Damascus, the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo is commonly known in Syria as ash-Sham and nicknamed as the City of Jasmine, besides being one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world. It is also a major cultural as well as religious centre of the Levant where the city has a population of around 1,711,000.

Damascus is situated towards the south-western area of Syria and is the centre of a huge metropolitan area of 2.6 million inhabitants. It is embedded, geographically, on the eastern foothills of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range at around 80 kilometres inland from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean on a plateau of 680 metres above sea level. The Barada River flows through Damascus. The climate here is semi-arid due to the rain shadow effect.

 Damascus has a rich history which is still alive in the historic quarter where narrow lanes wander from warrens of the ancient buildings that pass through lively markets, revealing historic sites which are all surrounded by remnants of venerable walls together with legendary gates. The old city of Damascus continues to preserve its graphical as well as historical aspects, where the high wall protects the old city of Damascus and is crystal clear till date.

Citadel Built – Seljuk Rule/Rebuilt – Saladdin Rule 

The citadel which was built during the Seljuk rule was rebuilt during Saladdin rule and occupies an area of land which is estimated by 220x190 square meters. It has thirteen towers. The Nureddin tower in the south west area of the wall was built in 1168 AD and Al-saleh Ayoub tower in 1248 AD. Besides this, there are many gates to the city, some of which dates back to the Roman era. Bab Sharqi and Bab Tourna are the oldest and the most famous gates of the old city of Damascus.

 Other attractions of the old city of Damascus are the museum, souk, Al-Hamidieh and many other souks, Khans, palaces and old schools together with Bimarestans The city has changed hands several times over the centuries like the Assyrians, Greeks, Persian, Nabataeans, Romans, the Umayyad caliphate, Seljuk Turks, Mongols, Ottomans, French and many more with each group leaving their traces behind which became a part of the city’s rich tapestry though it vanished after sometime and the city is thriving presently at the heart of an independent Syria.

Umayyad Mosque – Earliest Mosque

The Umayyad Mosque is Islam’s one of the earliest mosque which ranks in holiness below those of Mecca and Medina and the mosque site was a home to temple of Syria’s ancient Armaean people when the Roman temple honoured Jupiter and a Christian church during the Constantine era. The Arab conquest of Damascus eventually was responsible in the construction of the mosque which dates back to the early 8th century where a shrine is reported to house the head of John the Baptist which lies within the walls of the mosque.

Towards the north gate of the mosques is the tomb of Salah al-Din ibn Ayyub, the legendary warrior sultan who had defeated the Crusaders in various battles and had driven them from Jerusalem. Modern example of the history can be found in Souq al-Hamidiyya wherein an ancient street had been converted into an active covered market towards the late 19th century of the Ottoman era. The bazaar is considered to be the only one of the old city’s many suqs where sellers come along with spices, rugs, and sweets together with various attractive wares which have been followed over the centuries.

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