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Damascus

From Academic Kids

This article is about Damascus, the capital of Syria. See Damascus (disambiguation) for alternate meanings.
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Damascus by night, the green spots are minarets

Damascus (Arabic officially دمشق Dimashq, colloquially ash-Sham الشام) is the capital city of Syria and one of the world's oldest cities. Its current population is estimated at about 2 million.

Contents

Name

In Arabic, the city is called دمشق الشام Dimashq ash-Sham. Although this is often shortened to Dimashq by many, the citizens of Damascus, and of Syria and some other Arab neighbors, colloquially call the city ash-Sham. Ash-Sham is derived from the Arabic root for North. The English name for Damascus is taken from the Greek Δαμασκός, via Latin. This comes from the old Aramaic name for the city — דרמשק Darmeśeq, which means "a well-watered place". However, pre-Aramaic tablets unearthed at Ebla refer to a city to the south of Ebla named Damaski. It is possible that the name Damascus pre-dates the Aramaic era of the city.

Geography

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Khan as'ad Pacha built in 1752

Damascus lies about 80 km inland from the Mediterranean Sea, sheltered by the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. It lies on a plateau 680 meters above sea-level. Damascus is located at 33°30' North, 36°18' East (33.5, 36.3). [1] (http://earth-info.nga.mil/gns/html/cntry_files.html)

The majority of Damascus, including the old city, is on the south bank of the river Barada. The new suburbs extend from the north bank. Damascus is surrounded by an oasis, the Ghuta (الغوطة), watered by the Barada. The Ghuta oasis has been decreasing in size with the rapid expansion of housing and industry in the city. It has also become polluted due to the city's traffic, industry, and sewage.

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Satellite image of Damascus

History

Ancient

Excavations at Tell Ramad on the outskirts of the city have demonstrated that Damascus has been inhabited as early as 8,000 to 10,000 BC. It is due to this that Damascus is considered to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. However, Damascus is not documented as an important city until the coming of the Aramaeans, Semitic nomads who arrived from the Arabian peninsula. It is known that it was the Aramaeans who first established the water distribution system of Damascus by constructing canals and tunnels which maximized the efficiency of the Barada river. 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 Damascus today. In 1100 BCE, the city became the center of a powerful Aramaean state called Aram Damascus. The Kings of Aram Damascus were involved in many wars in the area against the Assyrians and the Israelites. One of the Kings, Hadadezer, fought the Assyrians at the Battle of Karkar. The ruins of the Aramean town most probably lie under the eastern part of the old walled city. After Tiglath-Pileser_III captured and destroyed the city in 732 BC, it lost its independence for hundreds of years, and it fell under the Neo-Babylonian rule of Nebuchadnezzar starting in 572 BC. The Babylonian rule of the city came to an end in 538 BC when the Persians under Cyrus captured the city and made it the capital of the Persian province of Syria.

Greco-Roman

Damascus first came under western control with the giant campaign of Alexander the Great that swept through the near east. 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 Nicator, one of Alexander's generals, had made Antioch the capital of his vast empire. This led to the importance of Damascus declining as compared with the newly founded Seleucid cities such as Latakia in the north.

In 64 BC, Pompey and the Romans annexed the western part of Syria. They occupied Damascus and and subsequently incorporated it into the league of ten cities known as the Decapolis because it was considered such an important center of Greco-Roman culture. According to the New Testament, St. Paul was on the road to Damascus when he received a vision, was struck blind and as a result converted to Christianity. Damascus became a metropolis by the beginning of the second century and in 222 it was upgraded to a colonia by the Emperor Septimius Severus. With the coming of 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.

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 1500 by 750 meters, 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 below the modern city.

Islamic

Damascus was conquered by the Caliph Umar I in AD 636. Immediately thereafter, the city's power and prestige reached its peak when it became the capital of the Omayyad Empire, which extended from Spain to India from AD 661 to AD 750, when the Abbasid caliphate was established at Baghdad.

After this, Damascus was ruled from Baghdad, and then, for a time, by the Fatimid Caliphs in Cairo. With the arrival of the Seljuk Turks in the late 11th Century, Damascus again became the capital of independent states. It was ruled by a Seljuk dynasty from 1079 to 1104, and then by another Turkish dynasty - the Burid Emirs, who withstood a siege of the city during the Second Crusade in 1148. In 1154 Damascus was conquered from the Burids by the famous Zengid Atabeg Nur ad-Din of Aleppo, the great foe of the Crusaders. He made it his capital, and following his death, it was acquired by Saladin, the ruler of Egypt, who also made it his capital. In the years following Saladin's death, there were frequent conflicts between different Ayyubid sultans ruling in Damascus and Cairo. Damascus steel gained a legendary reputation among the Crusaders, and patterned steel is still "damascened". The patterned Byzantine and Chinese silks available through Damascus, one of the Western termini of the Silk Road, gave the English language damask.

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Azem Palace

Ayyubid rule (and independence) came to an end with the Mongol invasion of Syria in 1260, and Damascus became a provincial capital of the Mameluke Empire following the Mongol withdrawal. It was largely destroyed in 1400 by Tamerlane, the Mongol conqueror, who removed many of its craftsmen to Samarkand. Rebuilt, it continued to serve as a provincial capital until 1516. In 1517, it fell under Ottoman rule. The Ottomans remained for the next 400 years, except for a brief occupation by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt from 1832 to 1840.

Modern

In 1918, Damascus was captured by the British and their Arab allies at the end of the First World War. An attempt to create an Arab kingdom under the Emir Faisal was defeated by the French in 1920, who made Damascus the capital of their League of Nations Mandate of Syria. When Syria became independent in 1946, Damascus remained the capital.

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Rooftops of Damascus

Historical sites

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 8 feet below the modern level.

Damascus Citadel

The Citadel of Damascus is located in the northwest corner of the Old City.

The street called straight

The street called straight (referred to in the conversion of St. Paul in Acts 9:11), also known as the Via Recta, was one of the main streets of Roman Damascus, and extended for over 1500 meters. 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 Touma (St. Thomas's Gate). Souk Medhat Pasha is also a main market in Damascus and was named after Medhat Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Damascus who renovated the Souk.

House of Ananias

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.

Umayyad Mosque

The  Mosque in the center of Damascus
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The Umayyad Mosque in the center of Damascus

The Umayyad Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world and perhaps the oldest continually used site for religious worship. It was first a temple of Hadad in the Aramean era. The Aramaean presence was attested by the discovery of a basalt orthostat depicting a sphinx, excavated in the north-east corner of mosque. The mosque was later temple of Jupiter in the Roman era, then a Christian church in the Byzantine era. Initially, the Muslim conquest of 636 did not affect it, it remained a church although the Muslims built a mud brick structure against the southern wall so that they could pray. As time passed the number of Christians lessened and the number of Muslims increased, so it was changed into a mosque. The mosque holds the tombs of both John the Baptist and Saladin. John the Baptist's head was supposedly dug up after it was reburied a shrine was built above it.

Born in Damascus

See also

External links

ca:Damasc da:Damaskus de:Damaskus es:Damasco eo:Damasko fr:Damas id:Damaskus it:Damasco he:דמשק nl:Damascus ja:ダマスカス pl:Damaszek pt:Damasco ru:Дамаск sk:Damask sv:Damaskus

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