Damascus

Damascus (/dəˈmæskəs/; Arabic: دمشقDimashq Arabic pronunciation: [diˈmaʃq], Syrian: Arabic pronunciation: [dɪˈmaʃʔ]) is the capital of the Syrian Arab Republic; it is also the country's largest city, following the decline in population of Aleppo due to the battle for the city. It is colloquially known in Syria as ash-Sham (Arabic: الشامash-Shām) and titled the City of Jasmine (Arabic: مدينة الياسمينMadīnat al-Yāsmīn). In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world,[5] Damascus is a major cultural center of the Levant and the Arab world. The city has an estimated population of 1,711,000 as of 2009.[3]

Located in south-western Syria, Damascus is the center of a large metropolitan area of 2.7 million people (2004).[6] Geographically embedded on the eastern foothills of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range 80 kilometres (50 mi) inland from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean on a plateau 680 metres (2,230 ft) above sea level, Damascus experiences a semi-arid climate because of the rain shadow effect. The Barada River flows through Damascus.

First settled in the second millennium BC, it was chosen as the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate from 661 to 750. After the victory of the Abbasid dynasty, the seat of Islamic power was moved to Baghdad. Damascus saw a political decline throughout the Abbasid era, only to regain significant importance in the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods. Today, it is the seat of the central government and all of the government ministries.

Damascus

دمشق
ܕܪܡܣܘܩ
City
Umayyad Mosque General view of Damascus • Mount Qasioun Maktab Anbar • Azm Palace Tekkiye Mosque
Flag of Damascus
Flag
Official seal of Damascus
Seal
Nicknames: 
City of Jasmine (مدينة الياسمين)
Al-Fayhaa (الفيحاء)[note 1]
Damascus is located in Syria
Damascus
Damascus
Location of Damascus within Syria
Damascus is located in Asia
Damascus
Damascus
Damascus (Asia)
Coordinates: 33°30′47″N 36°17′31″E / 33.51306°N 36.29194°ECoordinates: 33°30′47″N 36°17′31″E / 33.51306°N 36.29194°E
Country Syria
GovernoratesDamascus Governorate, Capital City
Area
 • City105 km2 (41 sq mi)
 • Urban
77 km2 (29.73 sq mi)
Elevation
680 m (2,230 ft)
Population
(2009 est.)[3]
 • City1,711,000
 • Density22,220.8/km2 (57,551.3/sq mi)
DemonymsEnglish: Damascene
Arabic: دمشقيDimashqi
Time zoneUTC+2 (EET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+3 (EEST)
Area code(s)Country code: 963, City code: 11
GeocodeC1001
ClimateBWk
HDI (2011)0.709[4]high
Websitewww.damascus.gov.sy
Official nameAncient City of Damascus
TypeCultural
Criteriai, ii, iii, iv, vi
Designated1979 (3rd session)
Reference no.20
State PartySyria
RegionArab States

Names and etymology

The name of Damascus first appeared in the geographical list of Thutmose III as 𓍘𓄟𓊃𓈎𓅱/𓍘𓄟𓈎𓅱𓈉 T-m-ś-q in the 15th century BC.[7] The etymology of the ancient name "T-m-ś-q" is uncertain. It is attested as 𒀲𒋙 Imerišú in Akkadian, 𓍘𓄠𓈎𓅱 T-m-ś-q in Egyptian, Dammaśq (דמשק) in Old Aramaic and Dammeśeq (דמשק) in Biblical Hebrew. A number of Akkadian spellings are found in the Amarna letters, from the 14th century BC: 𒁲𒈦𒋡 Dimasqa, 𒁲𒈦𒀸𒄀 Dimàsqì, and 𒁲𒈦𒀸𒋡 Dimàsqa. Later Aramaic spellings of the name often include an intrusive resh (letter r), perhaps influenced by the root dr, meaning "dwelling". Thus, the English and Latin name of the city is "Damascus" which was imported from (Greek: Δαμασκός) originated from "the Qumranic Darmeśeq (דרמשק), and Darmsûq (ܕܪܡܣܘܩ) in Syriac[8][9]", meaning "a well-watered land".[10] In Arabic, the city is called Dimašqu š-Šāmi (دمشق الشام), although this is often shortened to either Dimašq or aš-Šām by the citizens of Damascus, of Syria and other Arab neighbors and Turkey (as Şam). Aš-Šām is an Arabic term for "Levant" and for "Syria"; the latter, and particularly the historical region of Syria, is called Bilādu š-Šāmi (بلاد الشام / "land of the Levant"). Historically, Baalshamin or Ba'al Šamem (Aramaic: ܒܥܠ ܫܡܝܢ‎, translit. Lord of Heaven(s)),[11][12] was a Semitic sky-god in Canaan/Phoenicia and ancient Palmyra.[13][14] Hence, Sham refers to (heaven or sky).

Geography

Damascus SPOT 1363
Damascus in spring seen from Spot satellite
Damascus-snow-ثلج-الشام
Mount Qasioun overlooking the city

Damascus was built in a strategic site on a plateau 680 m (2,230 ft) above sea level and about 80 km (50 mi) inland from the Mediterranean, sheltered by the Anti-Lebanon mountains, supplied with water by the Barada River, and at a crossroads between trade routes: the north-south route connecting Egypt with Asia Minor, and the east-west cross-desert route connecting Lebanon with the Euphrates river valley. The Anti-Lebanon mountains mark the border between Syria and Lebanon. The range has peaks of over 10,000 ft. and blocks precipitation from the Mediterranean sea, so that the region of Damascus is sometimes subject to droughts. However, in ancient times this was mitigated by the Barada River, which originates from mountain streams fed by melting snow. Damascus is surrounded by the Ghouta, irrigated farmland where many vegetables, cereals and fruits have been farmed since ancient times. Maps of Roman Syria indicate that the Barada river emptied into a lake of some size east of Damascus. Today it is called Bahira Atayba, the hesitant lake, because in years of severe drought it does not even exist.[15]

The modern city has an area of 105 km2 (41 sq mi), out of which 77 km2 (30 sq mi) is urban, while Jabal Qasioun occupies the rest.[16]

Barada river in Damascus (April 2009)
One of the rare periods the Barada river is high, seen here next to the Four Seasons hotel in downtown Damascus

The old city of Damascus, enclosed by the city walls, lies on the south bank of the river Barada which is almost dry (3 cm (1 in) left). To the south-east, north and north-east it is surrounded by suburban areas whose history stretches back to the Middle Ages: Midan in the south-west, Sarouja and Imara in the north and north-west. These neighborhoods originally arose on roads leading out of the city, near the tombs of religious figures. In the 19th century outlying villages developed on the slopes of Jabal Qasioun, overlooking the city, already the site of the al-Salihiyah neighborhood centered on the important shrine of medieval Andalusian Sheikh and philosopher Ibn Arabi. These new neighborhoods were initially settled by Kurdish soldiery and Muslim refugees from the European regions of the Ottoman Empire which had fallen under Christian rule. Thus they were known as al-Akrad (the Kurds) and al-Muhajirin (the migrants). They lay 2–3 km (1–2 mi) north of the old city.

From the late 19th century on, a modern administrative and commercial center began to spring up to the west of the old city, around the Barada, centered on the area known as al-Marjeh or the meadow. Al-Marjeh soon became the name of what was initially the central square of modern Damascus, with the city hall in it. The courts of justice, post office and railway station stood on higher ground slightly to the south. A Europeanized residential quarter soon began to be built on the road leading between al-Marjeh and al-Salihiyah. The commercial and administrative center of the new city gradually shifted northwards slightly towards this area.

In the 20th century, newer suburbs developed north of the Barada, and to some extent to the south, invading the Ghouta oasis. In 1956–1957 the new neighborhood of Yarmouk became a second home to thousands of Palestinian refugees.[17] City planners preferred to preserve the Ghouta as far as possible, and in the later 20th century some of the main areas of development were to the north, in the western Mezzeh neighborhood and most recently along the Barada valley in Dummar in the north west and on the slopes of the mountains at Berze in the north-east. Poorer areas, often built without official approval, have mostly developed south of the main city.

Damascus used to be surrounded by an oasis, the Ghouta region (الغوطة al-ġūṭä), watered by the Barada river. The Fijeh spring, west along the Barada valley, used to provide the city with drinking water and various sources to the west are tapped by water contractors. The flow of the Barada has reduced with the rapid expansion of housing and industry in the city and it is almost dry. The lower aquifers are polluted by city's runoff from heavily used roads, industry and sewage.

Climate

Damascus has a cold desert climate (BWk) in the Köppen-Geiger system,[18] due to the rain shadow effect of the Anti-Lebanon mountains[19] and the prevailing ocean currents. Summers are dry and hot with less humidity. Winters are cool and somewhat rainy; snowfall is infrequent. Annual rainfall is around 130 mm (5 in), occurring from October to May.

Climate data for Damascus (Damascus International Airport) 1981–2010
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 24.0
(75.2)
29.0
(84.2)
34.4
(93.9)
38.4
(101.1)
41.0
(105.8)
44.8
(112.6)
46.0
(114.8)
44.6
(112.3)
42.0
(107.6)
37.8
(100.0)
31.0
(87.8)
25.1
(77.2)
46.0
(114.8)
Average high °C (°F) 12.6
(54.7)
14.5
(58.1)
19.0
(66.2)
24.7
(76.5)
30.1
(86.2)
34.6
(94.3)
37.0
(98.6)
36.8
(98.2)
33.9
(93.0)
28.1
(82.6)
20.1
(68.2)
14.3
(57.7)
25.5
(77.9)
Daily mean °C (°F) 6.1
(43.0)
7.7
(45.9)
11.4
(52.5)
16.2
(61.2)
20.8
(69.4)
25.0
(77.0)
27.3
(81.1)
27.0
(80.6)
24.0
(75.2)
19.0
(66.2)
12.1
(53.8)
7.5
(45.5)
17.0
(62.6)
Average low °C (°F) 0.7
(33.3)
1.9
(35.4)
4.3
(39.7)
7.9
(46.2)
11.4
(52.5)
15.0
(59.0)
17.9
(64.2)
17.7
(63.9)
14.4
(57.9)
10.3
(50.5)
4.8
(40.6)
1.7
(35.1)
9.0
(48.2)
Record low °C (°F) −12.2
(10.0)
−12
(10)
−8
(18)
−7.5
(18.5)
0.6
(33.1)
4.5
(40.1)
9.0
(48.2)
8.6
(47.5)
2.1
(35.8)
−3.0
(26.6)
−8
(18)
−10.2
(13.6)
−12.2
(10.0)
Average precipitation mm (inches) 25
(1.0)
26
(1.0)
20
(0.8)
7
(0.3)
4
(0.2)
1
(0.0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
6
(0.2)
21
(0.8)
21
(0.8)
131
(5.1)
Average precipitation days 8 8 6 3 2 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.2 3 5 7 42.5
Average snowy days 1 1 0.1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.2 2.3
Average relative humidity (%) 76 69 59 50 43 41 44 48 47 52 63 75 56
Mean monthly sunshine hours 164.3 182.0 226.3 249.0 322.4 357.0 365.8 353.4 306.0 266.6 207.0 164.3 3,164.1
Mean daily sunshine hours 5.3 6.5 7.3 8.3 10.4 11.9 11.8 11.4 10.2 8.6 6.9 5.3 8.5
Source #1: Pogoda.ru.net[20]
Source #2: NOAA (sunshine hours, 1961–1990)[21]

History

Early settlement

Carbon-14 dating at Tell Ramad, on the outskirts of Damascus, suggests that the site may have been occupied since the second half of the seventh millennium BC, possibly around 6300 BC.[22] However, evidence of settlement in the wider Barada basin dating back to 9000 BC exists, although no large-scale settlement was present within Damascus walls until the second millennium BC.[23]

Some of the earliest Egyptian records are from the 1350 BC Amarna letters, when Damascus (called Dimasqu) was ruled by king Biryawaza. The Damascus region, as well as the rest of Syria, became a battleground circa 1260 BC, between the Hittites from the north and the Egyptians from the south,[24] ending with a signed treaty between Hattusili and Ramesses II where the former handed over control of the Damascus area to Ramesses II in 1259 BC.[24] The arrival of the Sea Peoples, around 1200 BC, marked the end of the Bronze Age in the region and brought about new development of warfare.[25] Damascus was only a peripheral part of this picture, which mostly affected the larger population centers of ancient Syria. However, these events contributed to the development of Damascus as a new influential center that emerged with the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age.[25]

Damascus is mentioned in Genesis 14:15 as existing at the time of the War of the Kings.[26] According to the 1st-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in his twenty-one volume Antiquities of the Jews, Damascus (along with Trachonitis), was founded by Uz, the son of Aram.[27] In Antiquities i. 7,[28] Josephus reports:

Nicolaus of Damascus, in the fourth book of his History, says thus: "Abraham reigned at Damascus, being a foreigner, who came with an army out of the land above Babylon, called the land of the Chaldeans: but, after a long time, he got him up, and removed from that country also, with his people, and went into the land then called the land of Canaan, but now the land of Judea, and this when his posterity were become a multitude; as to which posterity of his, we relate their history in another work. Now the name of Abraham is even still famous in the country of Damascus; and there is shown a village named from him, The Habitation of Abraham.

Aram-Damascus

ISS036-E-012047
Annotated view of Damascus and surroundings from space.[29]

Damascus is not documented as an important city until the arrival of the Aramaeans, a Semitic people from Mesopotamia, in the 11th century BC. By the start of the first millennium BC, several Aramaic kingdoms were formed, as Aramaeans abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and formed federated tribal states. One of these kingdoms was Aram-Damascus, centered on its capital Damascus.[30] The Aramaeans who entered the city without battle, adopted the name "Dimashqu" for their new home. Noticing the agricultural potential of the still-undeveloped and sparsely populated area,[31] they established the water distribution system of Damascus by constructing canals and tunnels which maximized the efficiency of the river Barada. The same network was later improved by the Romans and the Umayyads, and still forms the basis of the water system of the old part of the city today.[32] The Aramaeans initially turned Damascus into an outpost of a loose federation of Aramaean tribes, known as Aram-Zobah, based in the Beqaa Valley.[31]

The city would gain pre-eminence in southern Syria when Ezron, the claimant to Aram-Zobah's throne who was denied kingship of the federation, fled Beqaa and captured Damascus by force in 965 BC. Ezron overthrew the city's tribal governor and founded the independent entity of Aram-Damascus. As this new state expanded south, it prevented the Kingdom of Israel from spreading north and the two kingdoms soon clashed as they both sought to dominate trading hegemony in the east.[31] Under Ezron's grandson, Ben-Hadad I (880–841 BC), and his successor Hazael, Damascus annexed Bashan (modern-day Hauran region), and went on the offensive with Israel. This conflict continued until the early 8th century BC when Ben-Hadad II was captured by Israel after unsuccessfully besieging Samaria. As a result, he granted Israel trading rights in Damascus.[33]

Another possible reason for the treaty between Aram-Damascus and Israel was the common threat of the Neo-Assyrian Empire which was attempting to expand into the Mediterranean coast. In 853 BC, King Hadadezer of Damascus led a Levantine coalition, that included forces from the northern Aram-Hamath kingdom and troops supplied by King Ahab of Israel, in the Battle of Qarqar against the Neo-Assyrian army. Aram-Damascus came out victorious, temporarily preventing the Assyrians from encroaching into Syria. However, after Hadadzezer was killed by his successor, Hazael, the Levantine alliance collapsed. Aram-Damascus attempted to invade Israel, but was interrupted by the renewed Assyrian invasion. Hazael ordered a retreat to the walled part of Damascus while the Assyrians plundered the remainder of the kingdom. Unable to enter the city, they declared their supremacy in the Hauran and Beqa'a valleys.[33]

By the 8th century BC, Damascus was practically engulfed by the Assyrians and entered a dark age. Nonetheless, it remained the economic and cultural center of the Near East as well as the Arameaen resistance. In 727, a revolt took place in the city, but was put down by Assyrian forces. After Assyria led by Tiglath-Pileser III went on a wide-scale campaign of quelling revolts throughout Syria, Damascus became totally subjugated by their rule. A positive effect of this was stability for the city and benefits from the spice and incense trade with Arabia. However, Assyrian authority was dwindling by 609–605 BC, and Syria-Palestine was falling into the orbit of Pharaoh Necho II's Egypt. In 572 BC, all of Syria had been conquered by the Neo-Babylonians, but the status of Damascus under Babylon is relatively unknown.[34]

Greco-Roman period

The Jupiter temple in Damascus
Ruins of the Jupiter Temple at the entrance of Al-Hamidiyah Souq

Damascus was conquered by Alexander the Great. After the death of Alexander in 323 BC, Damascus became the site of a struggle between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires. The control of the city passed frequently from one empire to the other. Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander's generals, made Antioch the capital of his vast empire, which led to the decline of Damascus' importance compared with new Seleucid cities such as Latakia in the north. Later, Demetrius III Philopator rebuilt the city according to the Greek hippodamian system and renamed it "Demetrias".[35]

Bab Sharqi Street, Damascus
The Biblical Street called Straight of Damascus

In 64 BC, the Roman general Pompey annexed the western part of Syria. The Romans occupied Damascus and subsequently incorporated it into the league of ten cities known as the Decapolis[36] which themselves were incorporated into the province of Syria and granted autonomy.[37]

The city of Damascus was entirely redesigned by the Romans after Pompey conquered the region. Still today the Old Town of Damascus retains the rectangular shape of the Roman city, with its two main axes: the Decumanus Maximus (east-west; known today as the Via Recta) and the Cardo (north-south), the Decumanus being about twice as long. The Romans built a monumental gate which still survives at the eastern end of Decumanus Maximus. The gate originally had three arches: the central arch was for chariots while the side arches were for pedestrians.[15]

Ancient City of Damascus-107623
Remnants of ancient Damascus

In 23 BC Herod the Great was gifted lands controlled by Zenodorus by Caesar Augustus[38] and some scholars believe that Herod was also granted control of Damascus as well.[39] The control of Damascus reverted to Syria either upon the death of Herod the Great or was part of the lands given to Herod Philip which were given to Syria with his death in 33/34 AD.

It is speculated that control of Damascus was gained by Aretas IV Philopatris of Nabatea between the death of Herod Philip in 33/34 AD and the death of Aretas in 40 AD but there is substantial evidence against Aretas controlling the city before 37 AD and many reasons why it could not have been a gift from Caligula between 37 and 40 AD.[40][41] In fact, all these theories stem not from any actual evidence outside the New Testament but rather "a certain understanding of 2 Cor. 11:32" and in reality "neither from archaeological evidence, secular-historical sources, nor New Testament texts can Nabatean sovereignty over Damascus in the first century AD be proven."[42]

Damascus became a metropolis by the beginning of the 2nd century and in 222 it was upgraded to a colonia by the Emperor Septimius Severus. During the Pax Romana, Damascus and the Roman province of Syria in general began to prosper. Damascus's importance as a caravan city was evident with the trade routes from southern Arabia, Palmyra, Petra, and the silk routes from China all converging on it. The city satisfied the Roman demands for eastern luxuries. Circa 125 CE the Roman emperor Hadrian promoted the city of Damascus to "Metropolis of Coele-Syria".[43][44]

Little remains of the architecture of the Romans, but the town planning of the old city did have a lasting effect. The Roman architects brought together the Greek and Aramaean foundations of the city and fused them into a new layout measuring approximately 1,500 by 750 m (4,920 by 2,460 ft), surrounded by a city wall. The city wall contained seven gates, but only the eastern gate (Bab Sharqi) remains from the Roman period. Roman Damascus lies mostly at depths of up to five meters (16.4 ft) below the modern city.

The old borough of Bab Tuma was developed at the end of the Roman/Byzantine era by the local Eastern Orthodox community. According to the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul and Saint Thomas both lived in that neighborhood. Roman Catholic historians also consider Bab Tuma to be the birthplace of several Popes such as John V and Gregory III.

Early Islamic Arab period

Muhammad's first indirect interaction with the people of Damascus was when he sent Shiya bin Wahab to Haris bin Ghasanni, the king of Damascus. In his letter, Muhammad stated: "Peace be upon him who follows true guidance. Be informed that my religion shall prevail everywhere. You should accept Islam, and whatever under your command shall remain yours."[45][46]

Umayyad Mosque night
Courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque

After most of the Syrian countryside was conquered by the Rashidun Caliphate during the reign of Caliph Umar, Damascus itself was conquered by the Muslim-Arab general Khalid ibn al-Walid in August - September 634 AD. His army had previously attempted to capture the city in April 634, but without success.[47] With Damascus now in Muslim-Arab hands, the Byzantines, alarmed at the loss of their most prestigious city in the Near East, had decided to wrest back control of it. Under Emperor Heraclius, the Byzantines fielded an army superior to that of the Rashidun in manpower. They advanced into southern Syria during the spring of 636 and consequently Khalid ibn al-Walid's forces withdrew from Damascus to prepare for renewed confrontation.[48] In August, the two sides met along the Yarmouk River where they a fought a major battle which ended in a decisive Muslim victory, solidifying Muslim rule in Syria and Palestine.[49]

Umayyad Mosque, Damascus
View of Damascus with the Umayyad Mosque in center

While the Muslims administered the city, the population of Damascus remained mostly Christian—Eastern Orthodox and Monophysite—with a growing community of Muslims from Mecca, Medina, and the Syrian Desert.[50] The governor assigned to the city which had been chosen as the capital of Islamic Syria was Mu'awiya I. After the death of Caliph Ali in 661, Mu'awiya was chosen as the caliph of the expanding Islamic empire. Because of the vast amounts of assets his clan, the Umayyads, owned in the city and because of its traditional economic and social links with the Hijaz as well as the Christian Arab tribes of the region, Mu'awiya established Damascus as the capital of the entire Caliphate.[51] With the ascension of Caliph Abd al-Malik in 685, an Islamic coinage system was introduced and all of the surplus revenue of the Caliphate's provinces were forwarded to the treasury of Damascus. Arabic was also established as the official language, giving the Muslim minority of the city an advantage over the Aramaic-speaking Christians in administrative affairs.[52] It is critical to note that, at the time Damascus was conquered by the Muslims, the majority of Arabs were either pagans or Christians. Damascus itself was predominantly Aramaic with Arab speaking people.

Abd al-Malik's successor, al-Walid initiated construction of the Grand Mosque of Damascus (known as the Umayyad Mosque) in 706. The site originally had been the Christian Cathedral of St. John and the Muslims maintained the building's dedication to John the Baptist.[53] By 715, the mosque was complete. Al-Walid died that same year and he was succeeded at first by Suleiman ibn Abd al-Malik and then by Umar II, who each ruled for brief periods before the reign of Hisham in 724. With these successions, the status of Damascus was gradually weakening as Suleiman had chosen Ramla as his residence and later Hisham chose Resafa. Following the murder of the latter in 743, the Caliphate of the Umayyads—which by then stretched from Spain to India— was crumbling as a result of widespread revolts. During the reign of Marwan II in 744, the capital of the empire was relocated to Harran in the northern Jazira region.[54]

Umayyad Mosque-Dome of the Treasury211099
The dome of Damascus' treasury in the Umayyad Mosque

On 25 August 750, the Abbasids, having already beaten the Umayyads in the Battle of the Zab in Iraq, conquered Damascus after facing little resistance. With the heralding of the Abbasid Caliphate, Damascus became eclipsed and subordinated by Baghdad, the new Islamic capital. Within the first six months of Abbasid rule, revolts began erupting in the city, albeit too isolated and unfocused to present a viable threat. Nonetheless, the last of the prominent Umayyads were executed, the traditional officials of Damascus ostracised, and army generals from the city were dismissed. Afterwards, the Umayyad family cemetery was desecrated and the city walls were torn down, reducing Damascus into a provincial town of little importance. It roughly disappeared from written records for the next century and the only significant improvement of the city was the Abbasid-built treasury dome in the Umayyad Mosque in 789. In 811, distant remnants of the Umayyad dynasty staged a strong uprising in Damascus that was eventually put down.[55]

Ahmad ibn Tulun, a dissenting Turkish governor appointed by the Abbasids, conquered Syria, including Damascus, from his overlords in 878-79. In an act of respect for the previous Umayyad rulers, he erected a shrine on the site of Mu'awiya's grave in the city. Tulunid rule of Damascus was brief, lasting only until 906 before being replaced by the Qarmatians who were adherents of Shia Islam. Due to their inability to control the vast amount of land they occupied, the Qarmatians withdrew from Damascus and a new dynasty, the Ikhshidids, took control of the city. They maintained the independence of Damascus from the Arab Hamdanid dynasty of Aleppo and the Baghdad-based Abbasids until 967. A period of instability in the city followed, with a Qarmatian raid in 968, a Byzantine raid in 970, and increasing pressures from the Fatimids in the south and the Hamdanids in the north.[56]

Califate 750
Damascus was the capital of the Umayyad caliphate, which extended from Portugal to India

The Shia Fatimids gained control in 970, inflaming hostilities between them and the Sunni Arabs of the city who frequently revolted. A Turk, Alptakin drove out the Fatimids five years later, and through diplomacy, prevented the Byzantines from attempting to annex the city. However, by 977, the Fatimids under Caliph al-Aziz, wrested back control of the city and tamed Sunni dissidents. The Arab geographer, al-Muqaddasi, visited Damascus in 985, remarking that the architecture and infrastructure of the city was "magnificent", but living conditions were awful. Under al-Aziz, the city saw a brief period of stability that ended with the reign of al-Hakim (996–1021). In 998, hundreds of Damascus' citizens were rounded up and executed by him for incitement. Three years after al-Hakim's mysterious disappearance, the Arab tribes of southern Syria formed an alliance to stage a massive rebellion against the Fatimids, but they were crushed by the Fatimid Turkish governor of Syria and Palestine, Anushtakin al-Duzbari, in 1029. This victory gave the latter mastery over Syria, displeasing his Fatimid overlords, but gaining the admiration of Damascus' citizens. He was exiled by Fatimid authorities to Aleppo where he died in 1041.[57] From that date to 1063, there are no known records of the city's history. By then, Damascus lacked a city administration, had an enfeebled economy, and a greatly reduced population.[58]

Seljuq and Ayyubid periods

With the arrival of the Seljuq Turks in the late 11th century, Damascus again became the capital of independent states. It was ruled by Abu Sa'id Taj ad-Dawla Tutush I starting in 1079 and he was succeeded by his son Abu Nasr Duqaq in 1095. The Seljuqs established a court in Damascus and a systematic reversal of Shia inroads in the city. The city also saw an expansion of religious life through private endowments financing religious institutions (madrasas) and hospitals (maristans). Damascus soon became one of the most important centers of propagating Islamic thought in the Muslim world. After Duqaq's death in 1104, his mentor (atabeg), Toghtekin, took control of Damascus and the Burid line of the Seljuq dynasty. Under Duqaq and Toghtekin, Damascus experienced stability, elevated status and a revived role in commerce. In addition, the city's Sunni majority enjoyed being a part of the larger Sunni framework effectively governed by various Turkic dynasties who in turn were under the moral authority of the Baghdad-based Abbasids.[59]

While the rulers of Damascus were preoccupied in conflict with their fellow Seljuqs in Aleppo and Diyarbakir, the Crusaders, who arrived in the Levant in 1097, conquered Jerusalem, Mount Lebanon and Palestine. Duqaq seemed to have been content with Crusader rule as a buffer between his dominion and the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt. Toghtekin, however, saw the Western invaders as a viable threat to Damascus which, at the time, nominally included Homs, the Beqaa Valley, Hauran, and the Golan Heights as part of its territories. With military support from Sharaf al-Din Mawdud of Mosul, Toghtekin managed to halt Crusader raids in the Golan and Hauran. Mawdud was assassinated in the Umayyad Mosque in 1109, depriving Damascus of northern Muslim backing and forcing Toghtekin to agree to a truce with the Crusaders in 1110.[60]

Damascus domes
The dome of the mausoleum of Nur ad-Din

Following Tughtakin's death in 1128, his son, Taj al-Din Buri, became the nominal ruler of Damascus. Coincidentally, the Seljuq prince of Mosul, Imad al-Din Zengi, took power in Aleppo and gained a mandate from the Abbasids to extend his authority to Damascus. In 1129, around 6,000 Isma'ili Muslims were killed in the city along with their leaders. The Sunnis were provoked by rumors alleging there was a plot by the Isma'ilis, who controlled the strategic fort at Banias, to aid the Crusaders in capturing Damascus in return for control of Tyre. Soon after the massacre, the Crusaders aimed to take advantage of the unstable situation and launch an assault against Damascus with nearly 60,000 troops. However, Buri allied with Zengi and managed to prevent their army from reaching the city.[61] Buri was assassinated by Isma'ili agents in 1132; he was succeeded by his son, Shams al-Mulk Isma'il who ruled tyrannically until he himself was murdered in 1135 on secret orders from his mother, Safwat al-Mulk Zumurrud; Isma'il's brother, Shihab al-Din Mahmud, replaced him. Meanwhile, Zengi, intent on putting Damascus under his control, married Safwat al-Mulk in 1138. Mahmud's reign then ended in 1139 after he was killed for relatively unknown reasons by members of his family. Mu'in al-Din Unur, his mamluk ("slave soldier") took effective power of the city, prompting Zengi—with Safwat al-Mulk's backing—to lay siege against Damascus the same year. In response, Damascus allied with the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem to resist Zengi's forces. Consequently, Zengi withdrew his army and focused on campaigns against northern Syria.[62]

In 1144 Zengi conquered Edessa, a crusader stronghold, which led to a new crusade from Europe in 1148. In the meantime Zengi was assassinated and his territory was divided among his sons, one of whom, Nur ad-Din, emir of Aleppo, made an alliance with Damascus. When the European crusaders arrived, they and the nobles of Jerusalem agreed to attack Damascus. Their siege, however, was a complete failure. When the city seemed to be on the verge of collapse, the crusader army suddenly moved against another section of the walls, and were driven back. By 1154, Damascus was firmly under Nur ad-Din's control.[63]

In 1164, King Amalric of Jerusalem invaded Fatimid Egypt, which requested help from Nur ad-Din. The Nur ad-Din sent his general Shirkuh, and in 1166 Amalric was defeated at the Battle of al-Babein. When Shirkuh died in 1169, he was succeeded by his nephew Yusuf, better known as Saladin, who defeated a joint crusader-Byzantine siege of Damietta.[64] Saladin eventually overthrew the Fatimid caliphs and established himself as Sultan of Egypt. He also began to assert his independence from Nur ad-Din, and with the death of both Amalric and Nur ad-Din in 1174, he was well-placed to begin exerting control over Damascus and Nur ad-Din's other Syrian possessions.[65] In 1177 Saladin was defeated by the crusaders at the Battle of Montgisard, despite his numerical superiority.[66] Saladin also besieged Kerak in 1183, but was forced to withdraw. He finally launched a full invasion of Jerusalem in 1187, and annihilated the crusader army at the Battle of Hattin in July. Acre fell to Saladin soon after, and Jerusalem itself was captured in October. These events shocked Europe, resulting in the Third Crusade in 1189, led by Richard I of England, Philip II of France and Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor, though the last drowned en route.[67]

The surviving crusaders, joined by new arrivals from Europe, put Acre to a lengthy siege which lasted until 1191. After re-capturing Acre, Richard defeated Saladin at the Battle of Arsuf in 1191 and the Battle of Jaffa in 1192, recovering most of the coast for the Christians, but could not recover Jerusalem or any of the inland territory of the kingdom. The crusade came to an end peacefully, with the Treaty of Jaffa in 1192. Saladin allowed pilgrimages to be made to Jerusalem, allowing the crusaders to fulfil their vows, after which they all returned home. Local crusader barons set about rebuilding their kingdom from Acre and the other coastal cities.[68]

Saladin died in 1193, and there were frequent conflicts between different Ayyubid sultans ruling in Damascus and Cairo. Damascus was the capital of independent Ayyubid rulers between 1193 and 1201, from 1218 to 1238, from 1239 to 1245, and from 1250 to 1260. At other times it was ruled by the Ayyubid rulers of Egypt. During the internecine wars fought by the Ayyubid rulers, Damascus was besieged repeatedly.[69]

The patterned Byzantine and Chinese silks available through Damascus, one of the Western termini of the Silk Road, gave the English language "damask".

Mamluk period

Ayyubid rule (and independence) came to an end with the Mongol invasion of Syria in 1260, and following the Mongol defeat at Ain Jalut in the same year, Damascus became a provincial capital of the Mamluk Empire, ruled from Egypt, following the Mongol withdrawal. The Black Death of 1348–1349 killed as much as half of the city's population.[70]

In 1400 Timur, the Turco-Mongol conqueror, besieged Damascus. The Mamluk sultan dispatched a deputation from Cairo, including Ibn Khaldun, who negotiated with him, but after their withdrawal he put the city to sack. The Umayyad Mosque was burnt and men and women taken into slavery. A huge number of the city's artisans were taken to Timur's capital at Samarkand. These were the luckier citizens: many were slaughtered and their heads piled up in a field outside the north-east corner of the walls, where a city square still bears the name burj al-ru'us, originally "the tower of heads".

Rebuilt, Damascus continued to serve as a Mamluk provincial capital until 1516.

Ottoman period

In early 1516, the Ottoman Turks, wary of the danger of an alliance between the Mamluks and the Persian Safavids, started a campaign of conquest against the Mamluk sultanate. On 21 September, the Mamluk governor of Damascus fled the city, and on 2 October the khutba in the Umayyad mosque was pronounced in the name of Selim I. The day after, the victorious sultan entered the city, staying for three months. On 15 December, he left Damascus by Bab al-Jabiya, intent on the conquest of Egypt. Little appeared to have changed in the city: one army had simply replaced another. However, on his return in October 1517, the sultan ordered the construction of a mosque, tekkiye and mausoleum at the shrine of Shaikh Muhi al-Din ibn Arabi in al-Salihiyah. This was to be the first of Damascus' great Ottoman monuments. During this time, according to an Ottoman census, Damascus had 10,423 households.[71]

The Ottomans remained for the next 400 years, except for a brief occupation by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt from 1832 to 1840. Because of its importance as the point of departure for one of the two great Hajj caravans to Mecca, Damascus was treated with more attention by the Porte than its size might have warranted—for most of this period, Aleppo was more populous and commercially more important. In 1560 the Tekkiye al-Sulaimaniyah, a mosque and khan for pilgrims on the road to Mecca, was completed to a design by the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, and soon afterwards a madrasa was built adjoining it.

Under Ottoman rule, Christians and Jews were considered dhimmis and were allowed to practice their religious precepts. During the Damascus affair of 1840 the false accusation of ritual murder was brought against members of the Jewish community of Damascus. In addition the massacre of Christians in 1860 was also one of the most notorious incidents of these centuries, when fighting between Druze and Maronites in Mount Lebanon spilled over into the city. Several thousand Christians were killed, with many more being saved through the intervention of the Algerian exile Abd al-Qadir and his soldiers (three days after the massacre started), who brought them to safety in Abd al-Qadir's residence and the citadel. The Christian quarter of the old city (mostly inhabited by Catholics), including a number of churches, was burnt down. The Christian inhabitants of the notoriously poor and refractory Midan district outside the walls (mostly Orthodox) were, however, protected by their Muslim neighbors.

American Missionary E.C. Miller records that in 1867 the population of the city was 'about' 140,000, of whom 30,000 were Christians, 10,000 Jews and 100,000 'Mohammedans' with fewer than 100 Protestant Christians.[72]

Modern period

4ALHinDamascus
The Turkish Hospital in Damascus on 1 October 1918, shortly after the entry of the Australian 4th Light Horse Regiment

In the early years of the 20th century, nationalist sentiment in Damascus, initially cultural in its interest, began to take a political coloring, largely in reaction to the turkicisation program of the Committee of Union and Progress government established in Istanbul in 1908. The hanging of a number of patriotic intellectuals by Jamal Pasha, governor of Damascus, in Beirut and Damascus in 1915 and 1916 further stoked nationalist feeling, and in 1918, as the forces of the Arab Revolt and the British Imperial forces approached, residents fired on the retreating Turkish troops.

Emir Faisal; Lt. Colonel T.E. Lawrence - early 1918
King Faisal of Syria and T.E. Lawrence in Damascus during World War I, 1918.

On 1 October 1918, T. E. Lawrence entered Damascus, the third arrival of the day, the first being the Australian 3rd Light Horse Brigade, led by Major A.C.N. 'Harry' Olden.[73] Two days later, 3 October 1918, the forces of the Arab revolt led by Prince Faysal also entered Damascus.[74] A military government under Shukri Pasha was named and Faisal ibn Hussein was proclaimed king of Syria. Political tension rose in November 1917, when the new Bolshevik government in Russia revealed the Sykes-Picot Agreement whereby Britain and France had arranged to partition the Arab east between them. A new Franco-British proclamation on 17 November promised the "complete and definitive freeing of the peoples so long oppressed by the Turks." The Syrian National Congress in March adopted a democratic constitution. However, the Versailles Conference had granted France a mandate over Syria, and in 1920 a French army commanded by the General Mariano Goybet crossed the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, defeated a small Syrian defensive expedition at the Battle of Maysalun and entered Damascus. The French made Damascus capital of their League of Nations Mandate for Syria.

Damascus Opera House
The Damascus Opera House, opened in 2004

When in 1925 the Great Syrian Revolt in the Hauran spread to Damascus, the French suppressed with heavy weaponry, bombing and shelling the city on 9 May 1926. As a result, the area of the old city between Al-Hamidiyah Souq and Medhat Pasha Souq was burned to the ground, with many deaths, and has since then been known as al-Hariqa ("the fire"). The old city was surrounded with barbed wire to prevent rebels infiltrating from the Ghouta, and a new road was built outside the northern ramparts to facilitate the movement of armored cars.

On 21 June 1941, 3 weeks into the Allied Syria-Lebanon campaign, Damascus was captured from the Vichy French forces by a mixed British Indian and Free French force. The French agreed to withdraw in 1946, thus leading to the full independence of Syria. Damascus remained the capital.

By January 2012, clashes between the regular army and rebels reached the outskirts of Damascus, reportedly preventing people from leaving or reaching their houses, especially when security operations there intensified from the end of January into February.[75]

By June 2012, bullets and shrapnel shells smashed into homes in Damascus overnight as troops battled the Free Syrian Army in the streets. At least three tank shells slammed into residential areas in the central Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun, according to activists. Intense exchanges of assault-rifle fire marked the clash, according to residents and amateur video posted online.[76]

The Damascus suburb of Ghouta suffered heavy bombing in December 2017 and a further wave of bombing started in February 2018, also known as Rif Dimashq Offensive.

On 20 May 2018, Damascus and the entire Rif Dimashq Governorate became fully under Government control for the first time in 7 years after the evacuation of IS from Yarmouk Camp.[77]

Economy

The historical role that Damascus played as an important trade center has changed in recent years due to political development in the region as well as the development of modern trade.[78] Most goods produced in Damascus, as well as in Syria, are distributed to countries of the Arabian peninsula.[78] Damascus has also held an annual international trade exposition every fall, since 1954.[79]

The tourism industry in Damascus has a lot of potential, however the current civil war has hampered these prospects. The abundance of cultural wealth in Damascus has been modestly employed since the late 1980s with the development of many accommodation and transportation establishments and other related investments.[78] Since the early 2000s, numerous boutique hotels and bustling cafes opened in the old city which attract plenty of European tourists and Damascenes alike.[80]
In 2009 new office space was built and became available on the real estate market.[81] The real-estate sector is stopped due to the terrorism and exodus of the population.

Damascus is home to a wide range of industrial activity, such as textile, food processing, cement and various chemical industries.[78] The majority of factories are run by the state, however limited privatization in addition to economic activities led by the private sector, were permitted starting in the early 2000s with the liberalization of trade that took place.[78] Traditional handcrafts and artisan copper engravings are still produced in the old city.[78]

The Damascus stock exchange formally opened for trade in March 2009, and the exchange is the only stock exchange in Syria.[82] It is currently located in the Barzeh district, within Syria's financial markets and securities commission. Its final home is to be the upmarket business district of Yaafur.[83]

Demographics

Damascusfashion
Three Damascene women, 1873: peasant (left), Druze in tantour heardress, and urban lady wearing qabqab shoes

The estimated population of Damascus in 2011 was 1,711,000. Damascus is the center of an over-crowded metropolitan area with an estimated population of 5 million. The metropolitan area of Damascus includes the cities of Douma, Harasta, Darayya, Al-Tall and Jaramana.

The city's growth rate is higher than Syria as a whole, primarily due to rural-urban migration and the influx of young Syrian migrants drawn by employment and educational opportunities.[84] The migration of Syrian youths to Damascus has resulted in an average age within the city that is below the national average.[84] Nonetheless, the population of Damascus is thought to have decreased in recent years as a result of the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

Ethnicity

The vast majority of Damascenes are Syrian Arabs. The Kurds are the largest ethnic minority, with a population of approximately 300,000.[85] They reside primarily in the neighborhoods of Wadi al-Mashari ("Zorava" or "Zore Afa" in Kurdish) and Rukn al-Din.[86][87] Other minorities include Syrian Turkmen, Armenians, Arameans, Circassians and a small Greek community.

Among the city's minorities is a small Palestinian community.[84]

Religion

Mariamie-8-12-21032013-12-17-095100
Patriarch John the Tenth leading mass at the Mariamite Cathedral of Damascus

Islam is the dominant religion. The majority of Muslims are Sunni while Alawites and Twelver Shi'a comprise sizeable minorities. Alawites live primarily in the Mezzeh districts of Mezzeh 86 and Sumariyah. Twelvers primarily live near the Shia holy sites of Sayyidah Ruqayya and Sayyidah Zaynab. It is believed that there are more than 200 mosques in Damascus, the most well-known being the Umayyad Mosque.[88] Christians represent about 15%–20% of the population. Several Eastern Christian rites have their headquarters in Damascus, including the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch. The Christian districts in the city are Bab Tuma, Qassaa and Ghassani. Each have many churches, most notably the ancient Chapel of Saint Paul and St Georges Church in Bab Tuma. At the suburb of Soufanieh a series of apparitions of the Virgin Mary have reportedly been observed between 1982 and 2004.[89] A smaller Druze minority inhabits the city, notably in the mixed Christian-Druze suburbs of Tadamon,[90] Jaramana,[91] and Sahnaya. The Patriarchal See of the Syriac Orthodox is based in Damascus, Bab Toma. This church is independent of the Middle Eastern-based Syriac Orthodox Church in Damascus and has its own leadership and structure in India, although both practice the same or similar denomination of Christianity. There are 700,000 members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch in Syria, who are the bulk of the Christian Population alongside 400,000 Assyrians/Syriacs and 30-100,000 Armenians.

There was a small Jewish community namely in what is called Haret al-Yahud the Jewish quarter. They are the remnants of an ancient and much larger Jewish presence in Syria, dating back at least to Roman times, if not before to the time of King David.[92]

Sufism

Sufism throughout the second half of the 20th century has been an influential current in the Sunni religious practises, particularly in Damascus. The largest women-only and girls-only Muslim movement in the world happens to be Sufi-oriented and is based in Damascus, led by Munira al-Qubaysi. Syrian Sufism has its stronghold in urban regions such as Damascus, where it also established political movements such as Zayd, with the help of a series of mosques, and clergy such as Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi, Sa'id Hawwa, Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri and Muhammad al-Yaqoubi.[93]

Historical sites

Damasco via rectaHPIM3222
Typical historic Damascene street
Al-Hamidiyah Souq 02
Al-Hamidiyah Souq, dating back to the Ottoman era

Damascus has a wealth of historical sites dating back to many different periods of the city's history. Since the city has been built up with every passing occupation, it has become almost impossible to excavate all the ruins of Damascus that lie up to 2.4 m (8 ft) below the modern level. The Citadel of Damascus is located in the northwest corner of the Old City. The Damascus Straight Street (referred to in the account of the conversion of St. Paul in Acts 9:11), also known as the Via Recta, was the decumanus (East-West main street) of Roman Damascus, and extended for over 1,500 m (4,900 ft). Today, it consists of the street of Bab Sharqi and the Souk Medhat Pasha, a covered market. The Bab Sharqi street is filled with small shops and leads to the old Christian quarter of Bab Tuma (St. Thomas's Gate). Medhat Pasha Souq is also a main market in Damascus and was named after Midhat Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Syria who renovated the Souk. At the end of the Bab Sharqi street, one reaches the House of Ananias, an underground chapel that was the cellar of Ananias's house. The Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Grand Mosque of Damascus, is one of the largest mosques in the world and also one of the oldest sites of continuous prayer since the rise of Islam. A shrine in the mosque is said to contain the body of St. John the Baptist. The mausoleum where Saladin was buried is located in the gardens just outside the mosque. Sayyidah Ruqayya Mosque, the shrine of the youngest daughter of Husayn ibn Ali, can also be found near the Umayyad Mosque. The ancient district of Amara is also within a walking distance from these sites. Another heavily visited site is Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque, where the tomb of Zaynab bint Ali is located.

Shias, Fatemids and Dawoodi Bohras believe that after the battle of Karbala (680 AD), in Iraq, the Umayyad Caliph Yezid brought Imam Husain's head to Damascus, where it was first kept in the courtyard of Yezid Mahal, now part of Umayyad Mosque complex. All other remaining members of Imam Husain's family (left alive after Karbala) along with heads of all other companions, who were killed at Karbala, were also brought to Damascus. These members were kept as prisoners on the outskirts of the city (near Bab al-Saghir), where the other heads were kept at the same location, now called "Raous-us-sohda-e-karbala", visited by all Shias. There is a qibla (place of worship) marked at the place, where Imam Ali-Zain-ul-Abedin used to pray while in captivity.

The Harat Al Yehud[94] or Jewish Quarter is a recently restored historical tourist destination popular among Europeans before the outbreak of civil war. Vacationers can enjoy the neighborhood and scenic ancient homes abandoned by the completely departed Syrian Jewish community.[95]

Walls and gates of Damascus

The Old City of Damascus with an approximate area of 86.12 hectares[96] is surrounded by ramparts on the northern and eastern sides and part of the southern side. There are seven extant city gates, the oldest of which dates back to the Roman period. These are, clockwise from the north of the citadel:

  • Bab al-Faradis ("the gate of the orchards", or "of the paradise")
  • Bab al-Salam ("the gate of peace"), all on the north boundary of the Old City
  • Bab Tuma ("Touma" or "Thomas's Gate") in the north-east corner, leading into the Christian quarter of the same name,
  • Bab Sharqi ("eastern gate") in the east wall, the only one to retain its Roman plan
  • Bab Kisan in the south-east, from which tradition holds that Saint Paul made his escape from Damascus, lowered from the ramparts in a basket; this gate has been closed and turned into Chapel of Saint Paul marking this event,
  • Bab al-Saghir (The Small Gate)
  • Bab al-Jabiya at the entrance to Souk Midhat Pasha, in the south-west.

Other areas outside the walled city also bear the name "gate": Bab al-Faraj, Bab Mousalla and Bab Sreija, both to the south-west of the walled city.

Churches in the old city

Islamic sites in the old city

Saladin mouselum tomb Damascus
Saladin mausoleum

Madrasas

Khans

Old Damascene houses

Damascusalley
Narrow alley in old Damascus

Threats to the future of the old City

Due to the rapid decline of the population of Old Damascus (between 1995 and 2009 about 30,000 people moved out of the old city for more modern accommodation),[98] a growing number of buildings are being abandoned or are falling into disrepair. In March 2007, the local government announced that it would be demolishing Old City buildings along a 1,400 m (4,600 ft) stretch of rampart walls as part of a redevelopment scheme. These factors resulted in the Old City being placed by the World Monuments Fund on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world.[99][100] It is hoped that its inclusion on the list will draw more public awareness to these significant threats to the future of the historic Old City of Damascus.

Current state of old Damascus

In spite of the recommendations of the UNESCO World Heritage Center:[101]

  • Souq al-Atiq, a protected buffer zone, was destroyed in three days in November 2006;
  • King Faysal Street, a traditional hand-craft region in a protected buffer zone near the walls of Old Damascus between the Citadel and Bab Touma, is threatened by a proposed motorway.
  • In 2007, the Old City of Damascus and notably the district of Bab Tuma have been recognized by The World Monument Fund as one of the most endangered sites in the world.[102]

In October 2010, Global Heritage Fund named Damascus one of 12 cultural heritage sites most "on the verge" of irreparable loss and destruction.[103]

Education

Damascus is the main center of education in Syria. It is home to Damascus University, which is the oldest and largest university in Syria. After the enactment of legislation allowing private higher institutions, several new universities were established in the city and in the surrounding area, including:

The institutes play an important rule in the education, including:

Transportation

Damascus-Hejaz station
Al-Hejaz Station

The main airport is Damascus International Airport, approximately 20 km (12 mi) away from the city, with connections to a few Middle Eastern cities. Before the beginning of the Syrian civil war, the Airport had connectivity to many Asian, European, African, and, South American cities. Streets in Damascus are often narrow, especially in the older parts of the city, and speed bumps are widely used to limit the speed of vehicles.

Public transport in Damascus depends extensively on minibuses. There are about one hundred lines that operate inside the city and some of them extend from the city center to nearby suburbs. There is no schedule for the lines, and due to the limited number of official bus stops, buses will usually stop wherever a passenger needs to get on or off. The number of buses serving the same line is relatively high, which minimizes the waiting time. Lines are not numbered, rather they are given captions mostly indicating the two end points and possibly an important station along the line and Taxicab.

Served by Chemins de Fer Syriens, the former main railway station of Damascus was al-Hejaz railway station, about 1 km (58 mi) west of the old city. The station is now defunct and the tracks have been removed, but there still is a ticket counter and a shuttle to Damacus Kadam station in the south of the city, which now functions as the main railway station.

In 2008, the government announced a plan to construct a Damascus Metro with opening time for the green line scheduled for 2015.[105] The green line will be an essential West-East axis for the future public transportation network, serving Moadamiyeh, Sumariyeh, Mezzeh, Damascus University, Hijaz, the Old City, Abbassiyeen and Qaboun Pullman bus station. A four-line metro network is expected be in operation by 2050.

Culture

Damascus was chosen as the 2008 Arab Capital of Culture.[106] The preparation for the festivity began in February 2007 with the establishing of the Administrative Committee for "Damascus Arab Capital of Culture" by a presidential decree.[107]

Museums

Citations

Damascus appears in the videogame Assassin's Creed

Sports and leisure

Popular sports include football, basketball, swimming, tennis, table tennis, equestrian and chess. Damascus is home to many football clubs that participate in the Syrian Premier League including al-Jaish, al-Shorta, Al-Wahda and Al-Majd. Many Other sport clubs are located in several districts of the city: Barada SC, Nidal SC, Al-Muhafaza, Qasioun SC, al-Thawra SC, Maysalun SC, al-Fayhaa SC, Dummar SC and al-Arin SC.

The fifth and the seventh Pan Arab Games were held in Damascus in 1976 and 1992 respectively.

The city also has a modern golf course located near the Ebla Cham Palace Hotel at the southeastern outskirts of Damascus.

Damascus has quite busy midnights. Coffeehouses, where —in addition to Arabic coffee and tea— nargileh (water pipes) are served, proliferate Damascus. Card games, tables (backgammon variants), and chess are activities frequented in cafés.[108] Current movies can be seen at Cinema City which was previously known as Cinema Dimashq.

Tishreen Park is one of the largest parks in Damascus. It is home to the annual Damascus Flower Show. Other parks include: al-Jahiz, al-Sibbki, al-Tijara, al-Wahda, etc.. The city's famous Ghouta oasis is also a weekend-destination for recreation. Many recreation centers operate in the city including sport clubs, swimming pools and golf courses. The Syrian Arab Horse Association in Damascus offers a wide range of activities and services for horse breeders and riders.[109]

Nearby attractions

Alzabadani
Zabadani resort near Damascus
Bakdash ice-cream shop in the old souk in Damascus
Booza being sold in the Bakdash ice cream shop in the Damascus market
  • Madaya: a small mountainous town well known holiday resort.
  • Bloudan: a town located 51 km (32 mi) north-west of the Damascus, its moderate temperature and low humidity in summer attracts many visitors from Damascus and throughout Syria, Lebanon and the Persian Gulf.
  • Zabadani: a city in close to the border with Lebanon. Its mild weather along with the scenic views, made the town a popular resort both for tourists and for visitors from other Syrian cities.
  • Maaloula: a town dominated by speakers of Western Neo-Aramaic.
  • Saidnaya: a city located in the mountains, 1,500 metres (4,921 ft) above sea level, it was one of the episcopal cities of the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch.

Notable people from Damascus

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Al-Fayhaa (Arabic: الفيحاء‎), is an adjective which means "spacious".[1]

References

  1. ^ Almaany Team. "معنى كلمة الفَيْحَاءُ في معجم المعاني الجامع والمعجم الوسيط – معجم عربي عربي – صفحة 1". almaany.com.
  2. ^ Albaath.news statement by the governor of Damascus, Syria Archived 16 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine (in Arabic), April 2010
  3. ^ a b Central Bureau of Statistics in Syria: Chapter 2: Population & Demographic Indicators Archived 13 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine Table 3: Estimates of Population actually living in Syria on 31 December 2011 by Mohafazat and six (in thousands)
  4. ^ Sub-national HDI. "Area Database - Global Data Lab". hdi.globaldatalab.org.
  5. ^ Eldredge, Niles & Horenstein, Sidney (2014). Concrete Jungle: New York City and Our Last Best Hope for a Sustainable Future. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-520-27015-2.
  6. ^ Central Bureau of Statistics Syria Syria census 2004 Archived 10 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ List I, 13 in J. Simons, Handbook for the Study of Egyptian Topographical Lists relating to Western Asia, Leiden 1937. See also Y. AHARONI, The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography, London 1967, p147, No. 13.
  8. ^ Paul E. Dion (May 1988). "Ancient Damascus: A Historical Study of the Syrian City-State from Earliest Times Until Its Fall to the Assyrians in 732 BC., Wayne T. Pitard". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (270): 98. JSTOR 1357008.
  9. ^ Frank Moore Cross (Feb 1972). "The Stele Dedicated to Melcarth by Ben-Hadad of Damascus". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (205): 40. JSTOR 1356214.
  10. ^ Miller, Catherine; Al-Wer, Enam; Caubet, Dominique; Watson, Janet C.E. (2007). Arabic in the City: Issues in Dialect Contact and Language Variation. Routledge. p. 189. ISBN 978-1135978761.
  11. ^ Teixidor, Javier (2015). The Pagan God: Popular Religion in the Greco-Roman Near East. Princeton University Press. p. 27. ISBN 9781400871391. Retrieved 14 August 2017.
  12. ^ Beattie, Andrew; Pepper, Timothy (2001). The Rough Guide to Syria. Rough Guides. p. 290. ISBN 9781858287188. Retrieved 14 August 2017.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Dirven, Lucinda (1999). The Palmyrenes of Dura-Europos: A Study of Religious Interaction in Roman Syria. BRILL. p. 76. ISBN 978-90-04-11589-7. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
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Bibliography

  • Aharoni, Yohanan; Avi-Yonah, Michael (1977). The MacMillan Bible Atlas. Carta Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7318-1071-0.
  • Burns, Ross (2005). Damascus: A History. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-27105-9.
  • Cammelli, Stefano (2006). "Il Minareto di Gesù". Il Mulino.
  • Hamilton, Jill, Duchess of (2002). First to Damascus: The story of the Australian Light Horse and Lawrence of Arabia. ISBN 978-0-7318-1071-0.

External links

18 July 2012 Damascus bombing

The 18 July 2012 Damascus bombing of the National Security headquarters in Rawda Square, Damascus, killed and injured a number of top military and security officials of Bashar al-Assad's government. Among the dead were the Syrian Defense Minister and Deputy Defense Minister. The incident occurred during the Syrian Civil War, and is considered to be one of the most notorious events to affect the conflict. Syrian public-owned television reported that it was a suicide attack while the opposition claims it was a remotely detonated bomb.

Bashar al-Assad

Bashar Hafez al-Assad (Arabic: بشار حافظ الأسد‎ Baššār Ḥāfiẓ al-ʾAsad, Levantine pronunciation: [baʃˈʃaːr ˈħaːfezˤ elˈʔasad]; English pronunciation ; born 11 September 1965) is a Syrian politician who has been the President of Syria since 17 July 2000. He is also commander-in-chief of the Syrian Armed Forces and Regional Secretary of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party's branch in Syria. He is a son of Hafez al-Assad, who was President of Syria from 1971 to 2000.

Born and raised in Damascus, Assad graduated from the medical school of Damascus University in 1988 and began to work as a doctor in the Syrian Army. Four years later, he attended postgraduate studies at the Western Eye Hospital in London, specialising in ophthalmology. In 1994, after his elder brother Bassel died in a car crash, Bashar was recalled to Syria to take over Bassel's role as heir apparent. He entered the military academy, taking charge of the Syrian military presence in Lebanon in 1998. On 10 July 2000, Assad was elected as President, succeeding his father, who died in office a month prior. In the 2000 and subsequent 2007 election, he received 99.7% and 97.6% support, respectively, in uncontested referendums on his leadership.On 16 July 2014, Assad was sworn in for another seven-year term after receiving 88.7% of votes in the first contested presidential election in Ba'athist Syria's history. The election was held only in areas controlled by the Syrian government during the country's ongoing civil war and dismissed as a "sham" by the Syrian opposition and its Western allies, while an international delegation of observers from more than 30 countries led by Syria's allies stated that the election was "free and fair". The Assad government describes itself as secular, while some political scientists have claimed that the government exploits sectarian tensions in the country and relies upon the Alawite minority to remain in power.Previously seen by many states as a potential reformer, the United States, the European Union and the majority of the Arab League called for Assad's resignation from the presidency after he ordered crackdowns and military sieges on Arab Spring protesters, which led to the Syrian Civil War. During the Syrian Civil War, an inquiry by the United Nations reported finding evidence which implicated Assad in war crimes. In June 2014, Assad was included in a list of war crimes indictments of government officials and rebels handed to the International Criminal Court. Assad has rejected allegations of war crimes and criticised the American-led intervention in Syria for attempting regime change.

Battle of Damascus (2012)

The Battle of Damascus (Arabic: معركة دمشق‎), also known as Operation Damascus Volcano (Arabic: عملية بركان دمشق‎), started on 15 July 2012 during the Syrian Civil War. It is unclear who started the battle. Thousands of rebels infiltrated Damascus from the surrounding countryside. Following this, according to some reports, the opposition forces launched an operation to capture the capital, while according to other reports, the military learned of the large-scale rebel operation beforehand and made a preemptive strike. Some reports even suggested the rebels launched the operation prematurely due to their plans being discovered by the security forces.

After the rebels initially captured half a dozen districts and killed four high-ranking government ministers in a bombing, opposition forces were forced to retreat following a military counter-attack, leaving the army in control of the capital after three weeks of fighting. It was the first time tanks and helicopters had been deployed in central Damascus and left parts of the city as a warzone.

Conversion of Paul the Apostle

The conversion of Paul the Apostle, was, according to the New Testament, an event in the life of Paul the Apostle that led him to cease persecuting early Christians and to become a follower of Jesus. It is normally dated to AD 33–36. Since his birth is estimated at 5 AD, he would have been somewhere around the age of 28-31 at his conversion. The phrases Pauline conversion, Damascene conversion and Damascus Christophany, and road to Damascus allude to this event.

Damascus Eyalet

Damascus Eyalet (Ottoman Turkish: ایالت شام; Eyālet-i Šām‎) was an eyalet of the Ottoman Empire. Its reported area in the 19th century was 51,900 square kilometres (20,020 sq mi). It became an eyalet after the Ottomans conquered it from the Mamluks in 1516. Janbirdi al-Ghazali, a Mamluk traitor, was made the first beylerbey of Damascus. The Damascus Eyalet was one of the first Ottoman provinces to become a vilayet after an administrative reform in 1865, and by 1867 it had been reformed into the Syria Vilayet.

Damascus International Airport

Damascus International Airport (Arabic: مطار دمشق الدولي‎) (IATA: DAM, ICAO: OSDI) is the international airport of Damascus, the capital of Syria. Inaugurated in the mid-1970s, it also was the country's busiest airport. In 2010, an estimated 5.5 million passengers used the airport, an increase of more than 50% since 2004.

Damascus University

The University of Damascus (Arabic: جامعة دمشق‎, Jāmi‘atu Dimashq) is the largest and oldest university in Syria, located in the capital Damascus and has campuses in other Syrian cities. It was founded in 1923 through the merger of the School of Medicine (established 1903) and the Institute of Law (established 1913). Until 1958 it was named the Syrian University, but the name changed after the founding of the University of Aleppo. There are nine public universities and more than ten private ones in Syria. Damascus university was one of the most reputable universities in the Middle East before the war in Syria started in 2011.

The University of Damascus consists of several faculties, higher Institutes, intermediate institutes and a school of nursing. One of the institutions specializes in teaching the Arabic language to foreigners, which is the largest institution of its kind in the Arab world.

Damascus offensive (2013)

The Damascus offensive (2013) refers to a series of rebel operations that began in early February 2013 in and around the city of Damascus.

On 6 February, rebel forces launched an offensive, named "Battle of Armageddon", on the edge of Central Damascus, with rebels entering the Jobar District of Damascus after overrunning a Syrian Army roadblock. Parts of the Damascus ring road which acts as a barrier between Central Damascus and Ghouta were also seized by rebel fighters. Rebels have also launched attacks on Adra, north east of Damascus.On 10 February, a rebel claimed that opposition forces had captured another military checkpoint in the Jobar district. However, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that while fighting for the highway continued, government troops regained control of the area after bombing rebel positions the day before.On 19 February, rebels began moving truckloads of anti aircraft weapons into Jobar in an effort to consolidate advances made in the Eastern Damascus district.On 20 February, a SCUD missile, fired by government forces, hit the command center of the islamist militia Liwa Al-Islam near Douma, which had been spearheading the attack against the roundabout and the Jobar district. Sheikh Zahran Alloush, the commander and founder of the brigade, had been wounded in the strike. The area was devastated and other rebel fighters were also killed or wounded.On 21 February, rebels launched 3 car bombings on security targets in the Barzeh neighbourhood in Damascus. Also fired several mortar rounds at the Syrian army's general staff headquarters in Umayyad Square, as well as other streets and squares known to house government and security offices, according to residents and activists. SOHR claimed that 22 people, mostly soldiers, were killed in these other attacks.On 27 February, SOHR claimed that rebels had fired several mortar shells which exploded in the military Judiciary and literature department of the University of Damascus.On 2 March, heavy fighting was reported in Darayya between rebels and the Syrian Army. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria claimed that rebels targeted a military column attempting to storm Darayya, and also defended several attempts by the government to storm Jobar.On 3 March, rebels reportedly fired several rockets at security forces headquarters in Damascus, though it is unknown if there were any casualties.On 12 March, 30 military deserters were killed in an Army ambush near Damascus while they were heading towards the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area.On 18 March, rebels operating within Damascus launched mortar bombs at the Damascus Presidential Palace, though its unclear if there were any casualties.On 21 March, an explosion in the Iman Mosque in Al-Mazraa district killed as much as 41 people, including Sunni cleric, Sheikh Mohammed al-Buti. Al-Buti was one of the most prominent supporters of the Syrian government from the Sunni branch of Islam in Syria. Syrian State TV claimed the explosion was a suicide bombing, though some residents claim it was caused by a mortar bomb that struck a nearby political office.On 25 March, rebels launched one of their heaviest bombardments of Central Damascus since the revolt began, with mortars reportedly hitting Umayyad Square, where Baath Party headquarters, Air Force Intelligence and state television are also located. The attack was launched when rebel forces advanced into the Kafr Souseh district of Damascus, and the Syrian Army retaliated with artillery launched from Mount Qasioun.

Damascus steel

Damascus steel was the forged steel comprising the blades of swords smithed in the Near East from ingots of wootz steel imported from India and Sri Lanka. These swords are characterized by distinctive patterns of banding and mottling reminiscent of flowing water. Such blades were reputed to be tough, resistant to shattering, and capable of being honed to a sharp, resilient edge.The steel is named after Damascus, the capital city of Syria and one of the largest cities in the ancient Levant. It may either refer to swords made or sold in Damascus directly, or it may just refer to the aspect of the typical patterns, by comparison with Damask fabrics (which are themselves named after Damascus).The original method of producing wootz is not known. Modern attempts to duplicate the metal have not been entirely successful due to differences in raw materials and manufacturing techniques. Several individuals in modern times have claimed that they have rediscovered the methods by which the original Damascus steel was produced.The reputation and history of Damascus steel has given rise to many legends, such as the ability to cut through a rifle barrel or to cut a hair falling across the blade. A research team in Germany published a report in 2006 revealing nanowires and carbon nanotubes in a blade forged from Damascus steel. Although many types of modern steel outperform ancient Damascus alloys, chemical reactions in the production process made the blades extraordinary for their time, as Damascus steel was superplastic and very hard at the same time. During the smelting process to obtain Wootz steel ingots, woody biomass and leaves are known to have been used as carburizing additives along with certain specific types of iron rich in microalloying elements. These ingots would then be further forged and worked into Damascus steel blades. Research now shows that carbon nanotubes can be derived from plant fibers, suggesting how the nanotubes were formed in the steel. Some experts expect to discover such nanotubes in more relics as they are analyzed more closely.

John of Damascus

Saint John of Damascus (Medieval Greek Ἰωάννης ὁ Δαμασκηνός, Ioánnis o Damaskinós, Byzantine Greek pronunciation: [ioˈanis o ðamasciˈnos]; Latin: Ioannes Damascenus, Arabic: يوحنا الدمشقي‎, ALA-LC: Yūḥannā ad-Dimashqī); also known as John Damascene and as Χρυσορρόας / Chrysorrhoas (literally "streaming with gold"—i.e., "the golden speaker") was a Syrian monk and priest. Born and raised in Damascus c. 675 or 676, he died at his monastery, Mar Saba, near Jerusalem on 4 December 749.A polymath whose fields of interest and contribution included law, theology, philosophy, and music, he is said by some sources to have served as a Chief Administrator to the Muslim caliph of Damascus before his ordination. He wrote works expounding the Christian faith, and composed hymns which are still used both liturgically in Eastern Christian practice throughout the world as well as in western Lutheranism at Easter. He is one of the Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Church and is best known for his strong defence of icons. The Catholic Church regards him as a Doctor of the Church, often referred to as the Doctor of the Assumption due to his writings on the Assumption of Mary.The most common source of information for the life of John of Damascus is a work attributed to one John of Jerusalem, identified therein as the Patriarch of Jerusalem. This is an excerpted translation into Greek of an earlier Arabic text. The Arabic original contains a prologue not found in most other translations, and was written by an Arab monk, Michael. Michael explained that he decided to write his biography in 1084 because none was available in his day. However, the main Arabic text seems to have been written by an earlier author sometime between the early 9th and late 10th centuries AD. Written from a hagiographical point of view and prone to exaggeration and some legendary details, it is not the best historical source for his life, but is widely reproduced and considered to contain elements of some value. The hagiographic novel Barlaam and Josaphat, traditionally attributed to John, is in fact a work of the 10th century.

Qaboun offensive (2017)

The Qaboun offensive (2017) was a military operation of the Syrian Arab Army in the suburbs of Damascus against rebel forces during the Syrian Civil War. Its intended goal was to capture the Damascus suburbs of Qaboun and Barzeh from rebels led by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

Rif Dimashq clashes (November 2011–March 2012)

The Rif Dimashq clashes were a series of unrests and armed clashes in and around Damascus, the capital of Syria, from November 2011 till a stalemate in March 2012. The violence was part of the wider early insurgency phase of the Syrian Civil War. Large pro-government and anti-government protests took place in the suburbs and center of Damascus, with the situation escalating when members of the Free Syrian Army started attacking military targets in November.

It is claimed that in January 2012, parts of rural Damascus and the Damascus suburbs started to fall under opposition control. On 27 January 2012, the Syrian Army launched a military operation which retook the Damascus suburbs and the town of Zabadani with the offensive ending on 11 February. However, fighting still continued, when on 15 February FSA fighters were seen on the streets of a district in the Damascus centre, trying to recruit and mingling with opposition protesters. A few anti-government protests were still ongoing after the army offensive.

On 12 March 2012, major clashes were reported in central Damascus between the FSA and the Syrian Army for the first time. By April 2012 a fragile cease-fire was brokered by the UN peace envoy Kofi Annan. However, following the cease fire collapse, by July 2012, rebels erupted again into most Damascus suburbs and rural areas around the city, launching the Battle of Damascus, also known as Operation Damascus Volcano.

Rif Dimashq offensive (November 2012–February 2013)

The Rif Dimashq offensive (November 2012–February 2013) refers to a rebel offensive during the Syrian Civil War in the Rif Dimashq Governorate (which surrounds Damascus) which started in November 2012, and a subsequent attempted Syrian Army counterattack in January 2013. Thomson Reuters described rebels as "ramping up attacks on Damascus" in late November and BBC News described the 29 November government counterattack as "an unprecedented offensive against rebel-held districts in the east of the city".

Southern Damascus offensive (April–May 2018)

The Southern Damascus offensive began on 19 April 2018 when the Syrian Armed Forces began to clear an enclave held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in southern Damascus in the Yarmouk Camp.

Southern Damascus offensive (January–February 2018)

The Southern Damascus offensive (January–February 2018) began on 5 January 2018 as Jaysh al-Islam fighters attempted to infiltrate ISIL positions within the orchards situated in-between Yalda and Hajjar As-Aswad to the immediate south of Damascus city. This resulted in numerous casualties and as such, a week later, on 12 January ISIL shock troops launched a counter-assault on Yalda's Zein neighborhood, triggering heavy clashes, resulting in the eventual capture of several buildings in the area. On 22 January, ISIL made further progress in Taqdam Neighborhood of Hajjar al-Aswad, to this date ISIL ended up controlling 3/4 of Yarmouk Camp, majority of Hajjar al-Aswad, Qadam, Tadamon and large part of Yalda's eastern axis. Fighting continued with ISIL forces continuing their advance against other militant groups later into January, with majority of a street between Yalda and Babbila as well as some gains within the district of Tadamon. By 27 January, ISIL controlled almost entirety of Hajjar al-Aswad after breaking through the last lines of defense and were on the verge of entering the town of Yalda, during the same time, further areas were also captured in the Yarmouk district.ISIL fighters managed to make a breakthrough, with the capture of the Halfa neighborhood located in the Yarmouk Camp district, during a short skirmish with Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militants on 13 February. By 16 February, each side had inflicted around 100 casualties on each other. Haifa street and the Al-Malyoun and Al-Mashrou neighborhoods of Yarmouk were also been captured by ISIL, while Tahrir al-Sham fighters fell back to their final defensible positions at Ar-Rija Square, which came under attack by ISIL on 17 February. Urban clashes continued on 20 February between ISIL and HTS units west of Yarmouk with ISIL shock troops having seized control of the Al-Wasim mosque block. On the same day, Al-Masdar News reported that HTS had brokered an agreement with the Syrian government to secure the transportation of 160 civilians from the besieged towns of al-Fu'ah and Kafriya within the Idlib Governorate in exchange for safe passage of HTS fighters and their family members from Yarmouk Camp to Idlib.

Southern Damascus offensive (March 2018)

The Southern Damascus offensive (March 2018) started on 12 March 2018, when ISIL began attacking rebel positions in the al-Qadam neighborhood of southern Damascus as they were evacuating. The rebel pocket in al-Qadam had been surrounded on one side by government forces and on the other by ISIL. On 10 March, ISIL threatened to kill any rebels that evacuate from the area after the Syrian government gave the rebels 48 hours to surrender the district and evacuate.

Following news of the upcoming rebel evacuation from al-Qadam, ISIL forces attacked the rebels on 12 March and captured 25 percent of the neighborhood. The next day, around 300 rebel fighters and their family members were evacuated from al-Qadam to rebel territory in Idlib province. After the evacuation, government troops took control of 70 percent of the neighborhood, while the remaining 30 was under IS control. During the fighting, government air-strikes were conducted against ISIL in Al-Hajar al-Aswad and al-Qadam. While the clashes were taking place in Qadam, rebel groups attempted to break through ISIL lines in Yarmouk but were repelled.On 14 March, ISIL launched an assault against Syrian Army positions in al-Qadam, managing to advance slightly. The attack was renewed the following day but without any advances and by 16 March, the ISIL offensive had stalled. During the fighting in al-Qadam, government forces suffered heavy losses with 40 soldiers being killed and at least one tank knocked out.Overnight on 19 March, ISIL forces launched a surprise attack on government positions in al-Qadam and by the following day ISIL gained ground, pushing back the military. According to the pro-opposition activist group the SOHR, ISIL took full control of al-Qadam, with 36 soldiers being killed and dozens of others wounded, captured or missing. In contrast, military sources initially reported control of al-Qadam was divided and that ISIL failed to capture the central and western neighborhoods of the district. However, later they confirmed ISIL had taken control of 90 percent of the district following a chaotic Army withdrawal due to poor coordination between different military branches and that the Army was in control of one western neighborhood. Five of the missing soldiers were eventually rescued after becoming trapped behind ISIL lines, while others were reported to be isolated in ISIL territory. Still, later, it was stated no more living soldiers remained behind ISIL lines. At this time, veteran units of the 4th Armoured Division were sent as reinforcements to al-Qadam to try and retake the lost areas. Later that day, following heavy artillery strikes against ISIL positions, a two-day ceasefire was announced.On 21 March, it was reported that the military's death toll from ISIL's attack had rose to 62, after 26 bodies of the previously missing were retrieved. On the same day, ISIL executed a captured commander from the Palestinian People’s Party, Nidal Darwish, in the al-Qadam neighborhood.

Syria

Syria (Arabic: سوريا‎ Sūriyā), officially the Syrian Arab Republic (Arabic: الجمهورية العربية السورية‎ al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-Sūrīyah), is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon to the southwest, the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest. A country of fertile plains, high mountains, and deserts, Syria is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Syrian Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, Circassians, Mandeans and Turks. Religious groups include Sunnis, Christians, Alawites, Druze, Isma'ilis, Mandeans, Shiites, Salafis, Yazidis, and Jews. Sunni make up the largest religious group in Syria.

Syria is a unitary republic consisting of 14 governorates and is the only country that politically espouses Ba'athism. It is a member of one international organization other than the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement; it has become suspended from the Arab League on November 2011 and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and self-suspended from the Union for the Mediterranean.In English, the name "Syria" was formerly synonymous with the Levant (known in Arabic as al-Sham), while the modern state encompasses the sites of several ancient kingdoms and empires, including the Eblan civilization of the 3rd millennium BC. Aleppo and the capital city Damascus are among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. In the Islamic era, Damascus was the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt. The modern Syrian state was established in mid-20th century after centuries of Ottoman and a brief period French mandate, and represented the largest Arab state to emerge from the formerly Ottoman-ruled Syrian provinces. It gained de-jure independence as a parliamentary republic on 24 October 1945, when Republic of Syria became a founding member of the United Nations, an act which legally ended the former French Mandate – although French troops did not leave the country until April 1946. The post-independence period was tumultuous, and a large number of military coups and coup attempts shook the country in the period 1949–71. In 1958, Syria entered a brief union with Egypt called the United Arab Republic, which was terminated by the 1961 Syrian coup d'état. The republic was renamed into the Arab Republic of Syria in late 1961 after December 1 constitutional referendum, and was increasingly unstable until the 1963 Ba'athist coup d'état, since which the Ba'ath Party has maintained its power. Syria was under Emergency Law from 1963 to 2011, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens. Bashar al-Assad has been president since 2000 and was preceded by his father Hafez al-Assad, who was in office from 1971 to 2000.

Since March 2011, Syria has been embroiled in an armed conflict, with a number of countries in the region and beyond involved militarily or otherwise. As a result, a number of self-proclaimed political entities have emerged on Syrian territory, including the Syrian opposition, Rojava, Tahrir al-Sham and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Syria is ranked last on the Global Peace Index, making it the most violent country in the world due to the war, although life continues normally for most of its citizens as of December 2017. The war caused 470,000 deaths (February 2016 SCPR estimate), 7.6 million internally displaced people (July 2015 UNHCR estimate) and over 5 million refugees (July 2017 registered by UNHCR), making population assessment difficult in recent years.

Umayyad Caliphate

The Umayyad Caliphate (Arabic: ٱلْخِلافَةُ ٱلأُمَوِيَّة‎, translit. al-Khilāfatu al-ʾUmawiyyah), also spelt Omayyad, was the second of the four major caliphates established after the death of Muhammad. The caliphate was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty (Arabic: ٱلأُمَوِيُّون‎, al-ʾUmawiyyūn, or بَنُو أُمَيَّة, Banū ʾUmayya, "Sons of Umayya"), hailing from Mecca. The third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan (r. 644–656), was a member of the Umayyad clan. The family established dynastic, hereditary rule with Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan, long-time governor of Syria, who became the sixth Caliph after the end of the First Muslim Civil War in 661. After Mu'awiyah's death in 680, conflicts over the succession resulted in a Second Civil War and power eventually fell into the hands of Marwan I from another branch of the clan. Syria remained the Umayyads' main power base thereafter, and Damascus was their capital.

The Umayyads continued the Muslim conquests, incorporating the Transoxiana, Sindh, the Maghreb and the Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus) into the Muslim world. At its greatest extent, the Umayyad Caliphate covered 11,100,000 km2 (4,300,000 sq mi) and 33 million people, making it one of the largest empires in history in both area and proportion of the world's population. The dynasty was eventually overthrown by a rebellion led by the Abbasids in 750. Survivors of the dynasty established themselves in Cordoba in the form of an Emirate and then a Caliphate, lasting until 1031.

The Umayyad Caliphs were considered too secular by some of their Muslim subjects. Christians, who still constituted a majority of the Caliphate's population, and Jews were allowed to practice their own religion but had to pay a head tax (the jizya) from which Muslims were exempt. There was, however, the Muslim-only zakat tax, which was earmarked explicitly for various welfare progammes.Muawiya's wife Maysum (Yazid's mother) was also a Christian. The relations between the Muslims and the Christians in the state were stable in this time. The Umayyads were involved in frequent battles with the Christian Byzantines without being concerned with protecting themselves in Syria, which had remained largely Christian like many other parts of the empire. Prominent positions were held by Christians, some of whom belonged to families that had served in Byzantine governments. The employment of Christians was part of a broader policy of religious accommodation that was necessitated by the presence of large Christian populations in the conquered provinces, as in Syria. This policy also boosted Muawiya's popularity and solidified Syria as his power base.

Umayyad Mosque

The Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus (Arabic: جامع بني أمية الكبير‎, Romanization: Ğāmi' Banī 'Umayya al-Kabīr), located in the old city of Damascus, is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world.

After the Muslim conquest of Damascus in 634, the mosque was built on the site of a Christian basilica dedicated to John the Baptist (Yahya), honored as a prophet by Christians and Muslims. A legend dating to the 6th century holds that the building contains the head of John the Baptist. The mosque is also believed by Muslims to be the place where Jesus (Isa) will return at the End of Days. The mausoleum containing the tomb of Saladin stands in a small garden adjoining the north wall of the mosque.

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