Damascus (Dimashq), the capital of
Syria, is the oldest
continuously inhabited city in the world. While all the world
is now entering the third millennium, Damascus is entering its
sixth. Once the capital of the Umayyad Dynasty, it now houses the
Syrian Government and with a population of 3.5 million, is the hub
of Syrian economic affairs.
Geographically, Damascus is situated
in the south-western corner of Syria.
It is built at the foot of a buttress of the Anti-Lebanon, Mount
Kassioun, and at the border of a fertile plain, the Ghouta. It is
situated just a two-hour drive away from the Lebanese capital
Beirut and the Jordanian border, and about the same from the
temporary Israeli border at the Golan Heights. The villages of
Maaloula and Seidnaya are less than an
hour away, and so is the Mosque of Al Sayidah Zeinab.
There is a direct route from Damascus to the ancient city of
and a direct route running all the way to
is also a direct route leading to the Jordanian border, and
another through which you can visit Qanawat, Shahba, Bosra and
other Southern sites.
The first mention of Damascus is in Egyptian records of four
thousand years ago,as a city conquered in the 15th century BC by
the Pharaoh Thutmosis III. According to the Old Testament, it was
once the capital of the Aramean Kingdom in the 11th Century BC. In
the 10th Century BC, it started being attacked and it was in
battle with several other kingdoms including the Hebrews and
After 1200 BC the kingdom of Damascus became a powerful state that
long defied Assyria. Finally, in 732 BC, it was taken over by
Tiglath Pileser II ordered by the King of Judea, Achaz. Some years
after the fall of the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, the Kingdom of
Damascus was destroyed by Babylon. Damascus was conquered in 333
BC by Parmenion, one of Alexander's lieutenants, who took it from
the Persians. It later fell to the Seleucids who fell into dispute
with a branch of the empire of the Macedonian conqueror, the
Lagides, who ruled Egypt. In 66 BC it was occupied by Pompey and
belonged to the province of Syria.
At the beginning of this era, St. Paul was sent to put down the
Christians, he had the revelation of faith. He was directed by
Jesus (in the vision of light) to the house of Judas. There he met
Ananias and together they preached for Christ.
Under the Byzantine Empire, Damascus was an important base for
watching over the Syrian Desert, But it was fatally looted
by the Sassanid Persians. Damascus was later besieged by the
Muslim faith fighters in 635 AD, and was retaken by Khaled Ibn al
Waleed in 636. This meant a radical change of civilization for
this city as it swung from Byzantium and Christianity to the
Orient and the Semitic world. This marked the beginning of the
city?s golden age which reached its apex in 661, when it became
the capital of the Great Arab Empire that stretched from Spain to
India, under the Umayyad Dynasty.
Damascus was the most important centre of Arab Islamic culture
before it lost most of its importance to Baghdad in 750. This
golden age ended with the Abbasids who moved the Capital to
Baghdad. From then on, it fell under the power of various Muslim
sects and sovereigns, the most important of which was the Egyptian
Fatimids. It later went through another rich period, when Saladin
took it from the Fatimids and started the Ayyubid Dynasty. At the
time it was battling against the Franks (the Crusaders). Numerous
monuments built by Nur al Din and Saladin are still the pride of
In 1260 it was taken over by the Mamelukes of Egypt who pushed
the Mongols back. The city was captured by the Ottoman Sultan
Salim I in 1516 and the Ottoman occupation lasted for the next
four centuries, until World War I.
After World War I, a very exhausted Damascus was liberated in
1918, by an Arab contingent under the command of the British Army
of General Allenby. The Syrian National Congress was formed in
1919 under the patronage of
Emir Faisal who came from Hedjaz. He was named King of Syria
in 1920, but British and France had their own different plans, and
one month later was taken over by the French in the name of the
League of Nations. However, the Syrian people decided to resist.
In 1925, the Great Syrian Revolution against the French was
launched from Jabal-al-Arab. Many battles between the revolts and
the French troops took place in the farms of al-Ghouta outside
Damascus. The city was bombed by the French and parts of it were
severely damaged. Again in 1945, the French carried out a similar
aggression against the Syrian Parliament buildings in Damascus.
After resistance and a few uprisings, Syria was proclaimed
Independent by the French general, Catroux, on September 16th
1941. This however was not taken into effect until 1946 and since
then has been considerably developed and industrialized while its
political role was strengthened thanks to an increased
The Syrian capital had witnessed great changes during the past
50 years. Much modernization had occurred. The city?s area and
population count doubled many times. Today an estimated population
of 3 million lives in Damascus.
Attractions and historical building
Now, Damascus is a wonderful mixture of old and new. In the modern
part of the city there are up-to-date homes, hotels and government
buildings. Whereas in the Old City, you can watch the graceful
minarets and domes of more than 200 mosques rise above the famous
one-story Damascene houses.
Damascus is famous for its bazaars. Bazaars are streets lined
with shops, stalls and cafes. One of these is the Called ?Street
Straight?, mentioned in the Bible in connection with St. Paul?s
conversion to Christianity. The tomb of John the Baptist (Prophet
Yahia in the Quran) is situated in the Grand Umayyad Mosque in the
centre of the old city.
The Umayyad Mosque is the symbol of Damascus. Built by
Caliphate Al-Walid I in the 7th century, this mosque is a
wonderful example for Islamic art and architecture. Other historic
monuments in Damascus include the Azem Palace, a typical Damascene
house of the 18th century.