Ancient City of Damascus (1979)

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Founded in the 3rd millennium B.C., Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. In the Middle Ages, it was the centre of a flourishing craft industry, specializing in swords and lace. The city has some 125 monuments from different periods of its history – one of the most spectacular is the 8th-century Great Mosque of the Umayyads, built on the site of an Assyrian sanctuary. 

  • Syria 1929. The Great Mosque, also known as the Ummayad Mosque. 

Syria 1929. The Great Mosque, also known as the Ummayad Mosque.

Damascus or Dimashq, is the capital and chief city of Syria, in southwestern Syria, on the Baradá River, near the Anti-Lebanon Mountains in the southwestern part of the country. The streets of the city, with the exception of the “street called Straight” (mentioned in the Bible in Acts 9:11), on which Saint Paul is supposed to have lived, are crooked and narrow. The houses frequently combine a splendidly decorated interior with a plain and somber exterior. The walls fronting the street are usually without windows. 

Syria 1955. Air Post. The Ummayad Mosque.

Syria 1947. Mosaics from the Ummayad Mosque, Damascus.

Syria 1925. Mosque of Damascus.

Damascus has more than 200 mosques, of which 70 are still in use. Of these, the Umayyad Mosque, or Great Mosque, is the most important. Said to have been a heathen temple, it was converted into a Christian church at the end of the 4th century (Byzantine Era). 

It then contained what was believed to be the head of Saint John the Baptist and was named the Cathedral of Saint John. A true reminder of the Christian era in Damascus is the Minaret of Jesus within the complex of the Umayad Mosque. 

A prominent member of the Umayad Family is the Andalusian emir Abdul Rahman, whom you can read more about on the page of Córdoba, Spain (on this site). 

  • Syria 1937. Air Post. Umayad Mosque and the Minaret of Jesus. 

Syria 1937. Air Post. Umayad Mosque and the Minaret of Jesus in Damascus.

Syria 1947. Hercules and the Lion, an ornamentation from the era of Alexander the Great.

Damascus is one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities. According to 15th-century bc Egyptian inscriptions, Damascus was the capital of a city-state. During biblical times the city was subjugated by David, king of Judah and Israel (see 2 Samuel 8:5-6; 1 Chronicles 18:5), and later engaged in warfare with Israel. 

In 732 BC Damascus was conquered by the Assyrians, under Tiglath-pileser III, and in 333 and 332 BC it fell to Alexander the Great. After the death of Alexander in 323 BC, Damascus became part of the Seleucid Kingdom. Christianity was introduced into Damascus during the 1st century ad, and the city became the seat of a bishop's diocese. In 635 it was taken by the Muslims, and for a time before the foundation of Baghdad in 762, the city was the residence of the caliphs and was greatly adorned and fortified. In 1076 Damascus was seized by the Seljuk Turks, and in 1154 it fell to the Egyptians. 

  • Syria 1947. Hercules and the Lion, an ornamentation from the era of Alexander the Great. 

Damascus was the headquarters of Saladin, sultan of Egypt and Syria, during the Third Crusade. In 1401 the Turkic conqueror Tamerlane pillaged and burned the city. It was soon rebuilt and in 1516 was wrested from Egypt by the Ottoman Empire. Damascus was returned to Egyptian rule by Ibrahim Pasha in 1832; in 1841 it was restored to the Ottoman Empire as part of Syria. An uprising of the Muslim population in 1860 resulted in the destruction of the Christian quarter and the massacre of many Christians. 

Iraq 1927. King Faisal I.

During World War I (1914-1918), Ottoman and German troops, directing their operations against the Suez Canal, were based in Damascus. In 1918 the city was captured by combined forces under British Field Marshal Edmund Henry Allenby and the Arab leader who became Faisal I, king of Iraq. 

Faisal later attempted to make Damascus the capital of an independent Arab state, and in March 1920 he was proclaimed king of Syria by a Syrian congress meeting in Damascus. In July the French, who had been granted a mandate over Syria by the Supreme Council of the Allied Powers, occupied Damascus. Between 1925 and 1927, the French were driven out of Damascus twice during revolts by the Druze, a religious sect; each time, they reoccupied the city after heavy bombardments. 

  • Iraq 1927. King Faisal I. 

Much of the city was ruined in the fighting, and many inhabitants were killed. Following the defeat of France by Germany in 1940, during World War II, the pro-German Vichy government of France established in Damascus a colonial regime favorable to Germany. In 1941 a combined Allied force attacked Syria and took Damascus, which became the capital of independent Syria in 1946. 

Sources and links:

Other World Cultural Heritage Properties in Syria (on this web site). For more information about the individual properties, please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Syria-section. 

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Revised 29 jul 2006  
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