Damascus: Wikis


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دِمَشق Dimashq
Damascus City landmarks

Nickname(s): (Madinat Al-Yasmin) City of Jasmin
Damascus is located in Syria
Coordinates: 33°30′47″N 36°17′31″E / 33.51306°N 36.29194°E / 33.51306; 36.29194
Country  Syria
Governorates Damascus Governorate, Capital City
 - Governor Bishr Al Sabban
 - City 573 km2 (221.2 sq mi)
Elevation 600 m (1,969 ft)
Population (2007 est.[1])
 - City 1,669,000
 Metro 4,356,000 (including Rif Dimashq)
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
 - Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Area code(s) Country code: 963, City code: 11
Demonym Damascene
Sources: Damascus city area [2]

Damascus (Arabic: دِمَشقُ‎, Dimashq, commonly known as الشام ash-Shām also known as the "City of Jasmin" Arabic: مدينة الياسمين‎) is the capital and largest city of Syria as well as one of the country's 14 governorates. The Damascus Governorate is ruled by a governor appointed by the Minister of Interior. In addition to being widely known as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Damascus is a major cultural and religious center of the Levant.

Currently, the city has an estimated population of about 1,669,000.[1] Unofficial estimates often assume a much larger population[citation needed]. Located in southwestern Syria, it is the center of a large metropolitan area of four million people.[citation needed] Geographically embedded on the eastern foothills of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range 80 km (50 mi) inland from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea on a plateau 680 metres (2,200 ft) above sea-level. Damascus experiences a semi-arid climate due to the rain shadow effect. The Barada River flows through Damascus.

First settled in the 2nd millennium BC, it was chosen as the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate from 661-750. 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. During Ottoman rule, the city decayed completely while maintaining a certain cultural prestige. Today, it is the seat of the central government and all of the government ministries. Damascus was chosen as the 2008 Arab Capital of Culture.[3]



Damascus cityscape

The name of Damascus first appeared in the geographical list of Thutmose III as T-m-ś-q in the 15th century BCE.[4] In Arabic, the city is called دمشق الشام (Dimashq al-Shām), although this is often shortened to either Dimashq or al-Shām by the citizens of Damascus, of Syria and other Arab neighbors. Al-Shām is an Arabic term for north and for Syria (Syria—particularly historical Greater Syria—is called Bilād al-Shāmبلاد الشام, "land of the north"—in Arabic.) The etymology of the ancient name "T-m-ś-q" is uncertain, but it is suspected to be pre-Semitic. It is attested as 𒁲𒈠𒊭𒅗 Dimašqa in Akkadian, 𒁲𒈠𒊭𒅗T-ms-ḳw in Egyptian, Dammaśq (דמשק) in Old Aramaic and Dammeśeq (דמשק) in Biblical Hebrew. The Akkadian spelling is the earliest attestation, found in the Amarna letters, from the 14th century BCE. Later Aramaic spellings of the name often include an intrusive resh (letter r), perhaps influenced by the root dr, meaning "dwelling". Thus, the Qumranic Darmeśeq (דרמשק), and Darmsûq (ܕܪܡܣܘܩ) in Syriac.[5][6] The English and Latin name of the city is "Damascus" which was imported from Greek: Δαμασκός, which originated in Aramaic: דרמשק; "a well-watered place".[7][8]


Ancient City of Damascus*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Umayyad Mosque facade
State Party  Syria
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iii, iv, vi
Reference 20
Region** Arab States
Inscription history
Inscription 1979  (3rd Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

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.[9] 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. The city is considered by some to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.[10]

The Damascus region, as well as the rest of Syria, became a battleground between the Hittites from the north and the Egyptians from the south,[11] ending with a signed treaty between Hattusili and Ramsis II where the former handed over control of the Damascus area to Ramesses II in 1259 BC.[11] 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.[12] Damascus was only the peripheral part of this picture which mostly affected the larger population centers of ancient Syria. However, these events had contributed to the development of Damascus as a new influential center that emerged with the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age.[12]

Damascus is mentioned in Genesis 14:15 as existing at the time of the War of the Kings.[13] (However, the verse can also be understood to mean that Damascus existed when Genesis was written - by tradition around the 13th century BC, and several centuries later according to some scholars - regardless of whether Damascus existed at the time of the War of the Kings.) 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. Elsewhere, he stated:

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.

Damascus was part of the ancient province of Amurru in the Hyksos Kingdom, from 1720 to 1570 BC.[14] Some of the earliest Egyptian records are from the 1350 BC Amarna letters, when Damascus-(called Dimasqu) was ruled by king Biryawaza.


Damascus is not documented as an important city until the arrival of the Aramaeans, Semitic nomads from Mesopotamia, in the 11th century BCE. By the start of the 1st 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 around its capital Damascus.[15] 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,[16] 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.[17] The Aramaeans initially turned Damascus into an outpost of a loose federation of Aramaean tribes, known as Aram-Zobah, based in the Beqaa Valley.[16]

The courtyard of Maktab Anbar

The city would gain preeminence 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.[16] 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.[18]

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 II, 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.[18]

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 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, all of Syria had been conquered by the Neo-Babylonians, but the status of Damascus under Babylon is relatively unknown.[19]


Ruins of the Jupiter Temple at the entrance of Al-Hamidiyah Souq

Damascus first came under western control with the campaign of Alexander the Great that swept through the Near East. After the death of Alexander in 323 BCE, 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.

In 64 BCE, 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 because it was considered such an important center of Greco-Roman culture. According to the New Testament, Saint Paul was on the road to Damascus when he received a vision, was struck blind and as a result converted to Christianity. In the year 37, Roman Emperor Caligula transferred Damascus to Nabataean control by decree.[citation needed] The Nabataean king Aretas IV Philopatris ruled Damascus from his capital Petra. However, around the year 106, Nabataea was conquered by the Romans, and Damascus returned to Roman control.

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. 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.

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 metres (4,900 ft) by 750 metres (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.

Islamic Arab era

Courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque

After most of the Syrian countryside was annexed by the Rashidun Caliphate during the reign of Caliph Umar, Damascus itself was conquered by the Arab general Khalid ibn al-Walid in September-August 635 CE. His Arabian army had previously attempted to capture the city in April 634, but without success.[20] With Damascus now in 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.[21] In August, the two powers met along the Yarmouk River where they a fought a major battle which ended in a decisive Arab victory, solidifying the latter's rule in Syria and Palestine.[22]

While Arabs administrated the city, the population of Damascus remained mostly Christian—Eastern Orthodox and Monophysite—with a growing community of Arab Muslims from Mecca, Medina, and the Syrian Desert.[23] The governor assigned to the city which had been chosen as the capital of Islamic Syria was Mu'awiya I. After the murder of Caliph Ali in 661, Mu'awiya installed himself as the caliph of the expanding Islamic empire. Because of the vast amounts of assets his clan, the Ummayads, owned in the city and because of its traditional economic and social links with the Hijaz as well as the Arab Christian tribes of the region, Mu'awiya established Damascus as the capital of the entire Caliphate.[24] 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 Arab minority of the city an advantage over the Greek-speaking Christians in administrative affairs.[25]

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.[26] 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 Rusafa. 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.[27]

The dome of Damascus' treasury in the Umayyad Mosque

On August 25, 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 ostracized, and army generals from the city were dismissed. Afterward, 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.[28]

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.[29]

The Shia Fatimids gained control in 970, inflaming hostilities between them and the Sunni Arabs of the city who frequently revolted. A Turk, Alp Takin drove out the Fatimids five years later, and through diplomacy, prevented the Byzantines from attempting to annex the city. However, by 777, 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 Damascene leaders 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.[30] 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.[31]

Seljuk and Ayyubid rule

The dome of the mausoleum of Nur ad-Din

With the arrival of the Seljuk 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 Seljuks 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), Tughtekin, took control of Damascus and the Burid line of the Seljuk dynasty. Under Duqaq and Tughtekin, 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.[32]

While the rulers of Damascus were preoccupied in conflict with their fellow Seljuks 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. Tughtekin, however, saw the Western invaders as a viable threat to Damascus which, at the time, nominally included Hims, the Beqaa Valley, Hauran, and the Golan Heights a part of its territories. With military support from Sharaf al-Din Mawdud of Mosul, Tugthekin 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 Tughtekin to agree to a truce with the Crusaders in 1110.[33]

Following Tughtakin's death in 1128, his son, Taj al-Din Buri, became the nominal ruler of Damascus. Coincidentally, the Seljuk 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 Baniyas, 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.[34] 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.[35]

The Statue of Saladin in front of Damascus citadel

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.[36]

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.[37] 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.[38] In 1177 Saladin was defeated by the crusaders at the Battle of Montgisard, despite his numerical superiority.[39] 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.

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 Ramla in 1192. Saladin allowed pilgrimages to be made to Jerusalem, allowing the crusaders to fulfill their vows, after which they all returned home. The native crusader barons set about rebuilding their kingdom from Acre and the other coastal cities.

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. 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".

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 wiped out perhaps as much as half of the city’s population.[40]

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 rule

Khan As'ad Pasha was built in 1752 under the patronage of governor As'ad Pasha al-Azm

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.

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.

The destroyed Christian quarter of Damascus, 1860.

Under Ottoman rule, Christians and Jews were considered dhimmis and were allowed to practice their religious precepts. The Damascus affair that took place in 1840 was an incident in which the 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 incident 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 neighbours.

American Missionary E.C. Miller records that in 1867 the population of the city was 'about' 140,000, of whom 30,000 where Christians, 10,000 Jews and 100,000 'Mohammedans' with fewer than 100 Protestant Christians.[41]


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

In the early years of the twentieth century, nationalist sentiment in Damascus, initially cultural in its interest, began to take a political colouring, largely in reaction to the turkicisation programme 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 army approached, residents fired on the retreating Turkish troops.

Damascus in flames as the result of the French air raid on October 18, 1925.

On 1 October 1918, T. E. Lawrence entered Damascus, the third arrival of the day, the first being the 3rd Australian Light Brigade, led by Major A.C.N. 'Harrry' Olden.[42]. Two days later, October 3, 1918, the forces of the Arab revolt led by Prince Faysal also entered Damascus.[43] 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 of Syria.

When in 1925 the Druze revolt in the Hauran spread to Damascus, the French suppressed it brutally, bombing and shelling the city on May 9, 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, Damascus was captured from the Vichy French forces by the Allies during the Syria-Lebanon campaign. In 1945 the French once more bombed Damascus, but on this occasion British forces intervened and the French agreed to withdraw, thus leading to the full independence of Syria in 1946 . Damascus remained the capital.


Damascus in spring seen from Spot satellite

Damascus lies about 80 km (50 mi) inland from the Mediterranean Sea, sheltered by the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. It lies on a plateau 680 metres (2,230 ft) above sea-level.

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 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 districts originally arose on roads leading out of the city, near the tombs of religious figures. In the nineteenth century outlying villages developed on the slopes of Jabal Qasioun, overlooking the city, already the site of the al-Salihiyah district centred around the important shrine of Sheikh Muhi al-Din ibn Arabi. These new districts 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 two to three kilometres (2 mi) north of the old city.

From the late nineteenth century on, a modern administrative and commercial centre began to spring up to the west of the old city, around the Barada, centred 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 on it. The courts of justice, post office and railway station stood on higher ground slightly to the south. A Europeanised residential quarter soon began to be built on the road leading between al-Marjeh and al-Salihiyah. The commercial and administrative centre of the new city gradually shifted northwards slightly towards this area.

In the twentieth century, newer suburbs developed north of the Barada, and to some extent to the south, invading the Ghouta oasis. From 1955 the new district of Yarmouk became a second home to thousands of Palestinian refugees. City planners preferred to preserve the Ghouta as far as possible, and in the later twentieth century some of the main areas of development were to the north, in the western Mezzeh district and most recently along the Barada valley in Dummar in the northwest 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.

Snow in Damascus

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. The Ghouta oasis has been decreasing in size with the rapid expansion of housing and industry in the city and it is almost dry. It has also become polluted due to the city's traffic, industry, and sewage.


Damascus has a semi-arid climate, due to the rain shadow effect of the Anti-Lebanon mountains.[44] Summers are dry and hot with less humidity. Winters are cool and rainy or snowy. January maximum and minimum temperatures are 11 °C (52 °F) and 0 °C (32 °F), lowest ever recorded being −13.5 °C (8 °F). The summer August maximum and minimum temperature are 35 °C (95 °F) and 17 °C (63 °F), with the highest ever recorded being 45.5 °C (113.9 °F). Annual rainfall is around 20 cm (8 in), occurring from November to March.[45]

Climate data for Damascus
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 11
Average low °C (°F) 0
Precipitation cm (inches) 3
Source: Weatherbase[45] 2008


Four Seasons Hotel

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.[46] Most goods produced in Damascus, as well as in Syria, are distributed to Countries of the Arabian peninsula.[46] Damascus also holds an annual international trade exposition in the fall since 1955.[47]
Damascus has the potential for a highly successful tourism industry. 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.[46] Since the early 2000s, numerous boutique hotels and bustling cafes opened in the old city which attract plenty of European tourists and Damascenes alike.[48]
The real-estate sector is booming in Damascus. Real-estate adviser Cushman & Wakefield listed Damascus office space as the eighth most expensive in the world in 2009.[48] The office market in Damascus is rather immature and the demand for premium office space surpasses supply. However, new supply of office space is expected to be delivered in 2009.[49] Damascus is home to a wide range of industrial activity, such as Textile, food processing, Cement and various Chemical industries.[46] The majority of factories are run by the state, however, limited privatization in addition to economic activities let by the private sector were permitted starting in the early 2000s with the liberalization of trade that took place .[46] Traditional handcrafts and artisan copper engraving are still produced in the old city.[46]
The Damascus stock exchange formally opened for trade in March 2009, and the exchange is the only stock exchanges in Syria.[50] 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.[51]


The population of Damascus in 2004 was 1,552,161 according to the 2004 official census conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) in Syria.[52] However, according to the 2007 estimates released by the CBS, the population of Damascus was estimated at 1,669,000 in 2007.[1] Population grew by 7.52% between 2004 and 2007 as a direct calculation which corresponds to an annual population growth of 2.51%.
The metropolitan area of Damascus includes the cities of Duma, Harasta, Darayya, Al-Tall and Jaramana. The lack of official population statistics in these cities makes it hard to estimate the population of the wider metropolitan area around Damascus, which is well over 2 million inhabitants.

Three Damascene women; lady wearing qabqabs, a Druze, and a peasant, 1873.


The majority of the population in Damascus came as a result of rural-urban migration. It is believed that the local people of Damascus, called Damascene, are about 1.5 million.[citation needed]


The majority of the inhabitants of Damascus—about 75%—are Sunni Muslims. It is believed that there are more than 2,000 mosques in Damascus, the most well-known being the Umayyad Mosque.[53] Christians-especially Syriac-Assyrians represent 15% of the population,[citation needed] and there a number of Christian districts, such as Bab Tuma, Kassaa, and Ghassani, with many churches, most notably the ancient Chapel of Saint Paul.[citation needed] There is a small Jewish community namely in what is called Haryet il-yahoud 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.[54]

Historical sites

A square in old Damascus.

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 (2.4 m) below the modern level. The Citadel of Damascus is located in the northwest corner of the Old City. The Street Called Straight (referred to in 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 metres (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 Medhat 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 head of Husayn ibn Ali and 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 yongest daughter of Husayn ibn Ali, can also be found near the Umayyad Mosque. Another heavily visited site is Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque, where the tomb of Zaynab bint Ali is located.

The walls and gates of Damascus

The Old City of Damascus 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-Saghir (The Small Gate)
  • 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 is now closed and a chapel marking the event has been built into the structure,
  • 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


Sheraton Damascus

Old Damascene houses


A street in Old Damascus

Threats to the future of the old City

Due to the rapid decline of the population of Old Damascus (between 1995-2005 more than 20,000 people moved out of the old city for more modern accommodation), 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-metre (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. 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:[55]

  • Souk El Atik, 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.[3]


al-Merjeh square
Ministry of Tourism

Damascus is divided into many districts. Among them there are:

Damascus Districts
1 Abbasiyyin
2 Abu Rummaneh
3 Amara
4 Bahsa
5 Baramkah
6 Barzeh
7 Dummar
8 Jobar
9 Kafar Souseh
10 Malki
11 Mazraa
12 Mezzeh
13 Midan
14 Muhajreen
15 Qanawat
16 Rukn Eddeen
17 Al-Salihiyah
18 Sarouja
19 Sha'alan
20 Al-Shaghour
21 Tijara


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 secondary institutions, several new universities were established in the city and in the surrounding area, including:


al-Hejaz Station

The main airport is Damascus International Airport, approximately 20 km (12 mi) away from the city center, with connections to many Asian, European, African, and recently, 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.

Proposed Metro Green Line

Served by Chemins de Fer Syriens, the former main railway station of Damascus was al-Hejaz railway station, about 1 km 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.[56] 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.


2008 Arab Capital of Culture

Damascus was chosen as the 2008 Arab Capital of Culture. The Arab Capital of Culture is an initiative undertaken by UNESCO,[57] under the Cultural Capitals Program to promote and celebrate Arab culture and encourage cooperation in the Arab region. 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.[58]

Syrian Cuisine

The Syrian cuisine is rich and varies in its ingredients which is linked to the region of Syria where a specific dish has originated. the main disheds are kibbeh, wara' enab, hummus, tabbouleh, fattoush, labneh, shawarma, mujaddara, shanklish, pastırma, sujuk and ba'lawa. Ba'lawa is made of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in honey. Syrians often serve selections of appetizers, known as meze, before the main course. za'atar, minced beef, and cheese manakish are popular hors d'oeuvres. The Arabic flatbread khubz is always eaten together with meze. Syrians are also well-known for their cheese. The very popular string cheese jibbneh mashallale is made of curd cheese and is pulled and twisted together. Syrians also make cookies to usually accompany their cheese called ka'ak. These are made of farina and other ingredients, rolled out, shaped into rings and baked. Another form of a similar cookie is to fill with crushed dates mixed with butter to accompany their jibbneh mashallale. Drinks in Syria vary depending on the time of the day and the occasion. Arabic coffee, also known asTurkish coffee is the most well-known hot drink usually prepared in the morning at breakfast or in the evening. it is usually served for guests or after food. Alcoholic drink Arak is also a well-known beverage served mostly in occasions. more examples of Syrian beverages include Ayran, Jallab, and White coffee. there is also a well-known locally manufactured beer called Al Shark.[59]



Popular sports include football, basketball, swimming and table tennis. Damascus is home to many sports clubs, including Al Jaish, Al Wahda and Al Majd.

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

Leisure activities

A Damascus coffeehouse
Ski Land Mall

Coffeehouses, where—in addition to Arabic coffee and tea—hookahs (water pipes) are served, proliferate Damascus. Card games, tables (backgammon variants), and chess are activities frequented in cafes.[60]

Tishreen Park is by far the largest park in Damascus. It is home to the yearly held Damascus Flower Show. Other parks include Aljahiz, Al sibbki, Altijara and Alwahda. Damascus' Ghouta (Oasis) is also a popular destination for recreation. There are several recreation centers in Damascus including several stadiums, swimming pools and golf courses. Also, The Syrian Arab Horse Association in Damasacus offers a wide range of activities and services for horse breeders and riders.[61]

Nearby attractions

  • Madaya : a small mountainous town well known holiday resort.
  • Bloudan : a town located 51 km north-west of the Damascus, its moderate temperature and low humidity in summer attracts many visitors from Damascus and throughout Syria, Lebanon and the Arab 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.

Twin towns and Sister cities



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http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/travel/2010-places-to-go.html#/6/ The 31 Places to Go in 2010 (The New York Times)


External links

Coordinates: 33°30′47″N 36°17′31″E / 33.513°N 36.292°E / 33.513; 36.292

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Asia : Middle East : Syria : Damascus
The Eastern Gate at the end of the Via Recta
The Eastern Gate at the end of the Via Recta

Damascus (دمشق) is the capital of Syria and its largest city, with about 4.5 million people.


Established between 10,000 to 8,000BC, Damascus is credited with being the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world. The old-walled city, in particular, feels very ancient and largely consists of a maze of narrow alleys, punctuated by enigmatic doors that lead into pleasing, verdant courtyards and blank-faced houses. The old city still has an authentic medieval feel to it, although this is vanishing fast due to the increasing tourist traffic as the city continues to be highlighted as an attraction. Life however, goes on in the old-walled city, which is still the religious and social center of the city.

Get in

By plane

Syria's busiest airport is the Damascus International Airport.There are internal flights to Aleppo, Deir-ez-Zur, Qamishli, and occasionally Latakia, costing approximately 1000 SP one way,

The airport is relatively well-equipped with most standard services. The tax-free assortment is limited, but prices are very low, especially on perfume. You might find better bargains on goods such as Lebanese wine, arak (an unsweetened, aniseed-flavored, alcoholic beverage) and similar items before departing the airport.

The average fare from the airport to the city is 1500 SP. the prices became that high because nowadays only Taxi Companies allowed to pickup customers from the Airport, Fares are typically about 500 SP going from the city to the airport by Taxi, however, may vary depending on your bargaining skills.

There are also buses departing to and from Baramkeh bus station in the center of town (airport buses are the only ones which serve this bus station now - all other services have moved to the new out of town Soumaria bus station). The price is 50 SP + 25 for your luggage and there are departures every half an hour, 24 hours a day. At the airport, come out of the terminal and turn right - you will find the bus at the end of the building. There is a small ticket office. The buses have been upgraded in recent years and they became really good.

By train

There are train services to and from Aleppo, making stops in Homs and Hama. One of the trains continues to Qamishli via Raqqa, Deir ez zoor and Hassaka. There are also services to Latakia, stopping at Homs and Tartus. However, buses or service taxis are more convenient. Syrian trains are slow and make many stops. The Damascus-Aleppo service is good. The main train station is at Qadam, a southern suburb. Service microbuses on the Qadam-Assali route run between Qadam and Sharia al-Thawra in the city center.

International: There are weekly sleeper trains to Istanbul (35-36 hours) and Tehran (60 hours). There are also twice weekly trains to Amman (very slow, generally require a change of trains at the border).

By car

Service Taxis are available to Amman and Irbid in Jordan. Depending on the political situation, these also service Beirut and other points in Lebanon, as well as points in Iraq. Since the closure of the more central Baramkeh Station, these service taxis leave from Soumaria (pronounced like the girls' names "Sue Maria"), which is a 10-15 minute taxi ride from central Damascus, along Autostrade Mezzeh. The bus number 15 and 21 will take you to Soumaria station from the bus stop next to Matry's place.

By bus

Damascus is well served by buses internally in the country. There are two bus stations: the western bus station serves destinations west and south (including Amman and Beirut), while the northern bus station serves destinations north (including Aleppo).

Regular buses to Damascus leave Amman, Jordan, the trip including crossing the border takes about 4 hours and cost approximately 6-9JD.

Hatay Turizm from Antakya/Turkey has regular buses to the city. You can board on these in Istanbul as well. Normally, you'll have to reserve a seat one day or more in advance, and although prices may vary, you can get a busticket for 80 TYL.

When arriving into Damascus by bus, make sure to move away from the bus terminal to find a taxi to the center of town. Otherwise, you run the risk of paying several times the going rate, which should be around SYP150-200, as cars posing as taxis operate next to the terminal. This is normally a two-man operation, with one person trying to distract you, while the driver puts your suitcase into the trunk of the "taxi" and locks it.

Upon arrival at the western bus station, city bus #15 will take you to Al-Marjeh Square in Souq Sarouja\Old Town (where you can find many hotels) for 10 SYP.

Get around

At rush hours (10AM-4PM), the best way of transport is on foot. Smoking is absolutely forbidden in all public transport ways.

On foot

A very good idea is to go on foot especially for a sightseeing, and it's the only way to get around in Old Damascus. Walking in the new city however, should be reserved to the nicer areas of Maliki and Abu-Rumaneh, as the new city tends to be pollution clogged. The driving culture in Damascus is not the safest, so beware as a pedestrian, especially in the new city. Cars will not hesitate to come extremely close to pedestrians or other cars in order to pass.

By car

It isn't a very good idea to rent a car in Damascus. There is almost always a traffic jam, especially in summer, and parking tends to be difficult too; although that isn't the the situation in suburbs.


Micro buses, also known as servees, are one of the main sources of transportation in Damascus. All journeys inside the city costs 10 Syrian Pounds (20 American Cents approximately). You can go from one place to another in Damascus with at most one or two journeys. When on the bus, give any passenger a coin and he will pass it to the driver and return the change, just remember to tell that passenger how many people you are paying for, whether you are in a group, or tell him that you are paying "for one" ("waahid") if you are alone. The route is written (in Arabic only) on the roof sign. Micro buses do not generally have fixed stops except at very busy points, just beckon to the driver and he will stop near you (Al yameen, andak iza samaht).

There are also many city buses that likewise cost 10 SYP. One useful bus is #15, which runs from Al-Marjeh Square (Souq Sarouja\Old Town) to the Western Bus Station, which serves Beirut and Amman.

Taxis on Nasr Street near the Old City
Taxis on Nasr Street near the Old City

Taxis are plentiful in Damascus, making them a great transportation. The taxis of Star Taxi, a new private company, are more expensive than normal taxis, but they are also more comfortable and safer. You can call their headquarters and they will send the nearest taxi to your door. Taxis with the Damascus Governorate logo on the side and a number on the roof sign are normally equipped with a meter, and it is best to use only these when hailing a taxi on the street. You should normally leave a 10-pound tip as well as the fare on the meter. At night, taxi drivers do not usually use the meter, so you may be best off negotiating the price before you get in. A service taxi to Amman or Beirut cost 700 Syrian pounds and takes around 4 hours and run 24 hours. Do not hesitate to take them; they are new, clean vehicles with air conditioning.


The Souq al-Hamidiyya, a broad street packed with tiny shops, is entered through columns from a Roman temple built on a site that had been occupied by an even older temple. The souqs themselves smell of cumin and other distinctive spices and you can find passages dedicated to everything from leather and copper goods to inlaid boxes and silk scarves.

The Souq al-Hamidiyya
The Souq al-Hamidiyya

At the end of Souq al-Hamidiyya stands the great Umayyad mosque; this building with three minarets is an architectural wonder. It was a Greek temple (one can still see ancient Greek carvings on the gate at the Southern wall), then a Roman temple, a church, then a mosque and a church together, and finally a mosque until now. All the symbols are still pretty much there and some Christian drawings can still be very clearly seen on the walls inside. The mosque contains the grave of John the Baptist (for Muslims, prophet Yahya) inside the main lounge. Women are asked to be to cover their hair, arms and legs. Abayas(full-body covers) can be rented near the entrance for 20SP. This is one of the few big mosques in the Islamic world where foreigners are welcome to enter.

At the other end of Souq al-Hamidiyya is a fort-like section of the extant city wall that is the Citadel (but make sure to visit Aleppo's Citadel for a truly amazing experience).

Nearby, you can visit the Mausoleum of Salah al-Din, known in the west as Saladin, the chief anti-crusader. There's a great statue of him on horseback right next to the citadel, which will make you gasp. If you walk all the way around it, there are two dejected Frankish knights underneath the horse's slightly lifted tail. These two knights are identified by inscriptions as Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, and Reynald de Chatillon, lord of Kerak, an important fortress in the Holy Land. Both were captured during Salah al-Din's definitive victory at Hattin; Guy was imprisoned in Damascus and eventually released, but Reynald was executed as punishment for his many atrocities.

The October War Panorama is out in the suburbs but accessible by minibus or taxi. It's about US$7 to get in and well worth it. It was built with the help of the North Korean Government and the influence shows. There is an exhibit of military hardware outside. English-speaking guides are available.

  • View the city from Mount Qasioun is a must-do activity in Damascus as it offers a panoramic view. The peak is accessible at any time, although the view is perhaps most spectacular at night when the whole city is lit up and the minarets of mosques are bathed in green light. The Umayyad Mosque in the old town is particularly impressive when viewed from the mountain. There is a wide range of food and refreshment available on the peak from stalls to fancy restaurants that serve good local cuisine and alcohol. Check the price before you get too comfortable though- it is a well-known scam for local cab drivers to take you to their 'favorite' cafe, where you'll end up paying anything up to 500SP for a cup of tea.
  • Visit a restaurant in old Damascus. There are many restaurants in the old quarter each with their own unique character, but perhaps the most famous (and touristy) is "Beit Jabri", although "Al-Khawali" is considered by many to be the best dining experience in the old city. Another restaurant in the old city, Narcissus Palace, located close to Maktab Anbar, would offer an enlightening experience. Every night, a singer and band play old Arabic music and create an amazing atmosphere in the restaurant. A good idea, when considering these restaraunts, is to go for breakfast, and then go sightseeing. The breakfast is very cheap, the bill will amount to 1000 SP for about four people.
  • Bathe in a Hammam, i.e., a Turkish bath. The Nur-al-Din Bath (between the Azem Palace and Straight Street) and the Bakri Bath (first street on the right after entering the Old City at Bab Touma) are two baths that are familiar with Western tourists. A visit to either costs about 500 SP, and includes towels, soap, scrub, and a massage. Nur-al-Din is for men only, Bakri might be able to accommodate women or mixed groups upon prior arrangement. Bakri Bath: for women each day except Friday 10 - 5 pm
  • Relax at a Hooka cafe "Narjelah" Hooka cafe's are popular in Damascus and are easy to find. When visiting the old city, you'll get a more cultural or traditional experience. You'll probably find a crowd of tea-drinking, backgammon-playing men all smoking hooka. In the modern city, most cafe's cater to a younger crowd and are a big part of the night life offering a huge variety of flavored tobacco ranging from double apple which is the most common, to cappuccino. In almost every major restaurant, hookas are available, including the restaurants in the old city.



There are several institutions in Damascus that teach Arabic:

  • Language Institute at Damascus University [1] - The Language Institute fully immerse their students in Arabic; the course materials and all interaction between students and teachers are done in Arabic. Students are placed in beginning, intermediate, or advanced courses based on a placement test.
  • Ma'had [2]- This state-run language academy is located in the Mezze district of Damascus. It is the cheapest option, although the courses are not as good as those at Damascus University.
  • The British Council - While the classes may be expensive, they are mainly aimed toward diplomats and businessmen.
  • DSA - Damascus Language School for Standard Arabic [3]- The school provides basic courses for beginners and advanced courses also on certain topics as for journalists, physicians, diplomats, engineers etc. Normal classes have maximum 4 Students. Lessons with private teachers are even possible. Twice a year, there are certain courses for students available at half price. Teachers are well experienced in teaching foreigners. Basic courses start every Saturday.
  • Arabesk Studies in Damascus [4]- The institute offers extensive classes in Arabic. Aide with living arrangement provided.
  • TikaTrip - Travels and Studies in Syria [5]- Providing private Arabic tutors as well as professional language teachers and all important services: starting with the pickup service at the airport, arranging accommodation and advices on how to tackle the bureaucratic procedures.


Damascus offers some of the best shopping in the Middle East. Prices are cheap, and since very few stores depend on tourists for their income, most will leave you alone to browse until you are ready to buy. Small stores are located throughout the old city, although the Souq al-Hamidiyya, located along the Roman straight street, offers the highest density of shops. The souq is a fantastic experience, but be prepared for the crowds.

A shawarma spit in the Souq al-Hamidiyya
A shawarma spit in the Souq al-Hamidiyya


The famous vegetarian falafel sandwich (15-30 SP), chicken shawarma (30-50 SP) and manakeesh (10-20 SP), bread filled with zatar, spinach, meat, pizza-style tomato and cheese or other fillings are widely available and cheap. Less common but still widely spread are places which sell foul (boiled fava beans with sauce) and hummus.

A typical Damascene dish is fatteh, made up of soaked bread, chickpeas and yogurt. Delicious and extremely filling, it is excellent on a cold winter's day. Try it with lamb or sheep's tongue, or plain with the typical garnish of a little pickle and nuts.

There is a foul restaurant on Souq Saroujah, the same street as hotel Al-Haramein and one at the bab touma square. Also in this "backpacker district" on Souq Sarouja is Mr Pizza, a fast food joint serving good pizzas, sandwiches, burgers and fries. A large plate of fries is 50 SP, a sandwich filled with chicken is 75 SP and a pizza for one person is 110 SP.

Shawarma is, of course, popular in Damascus. It comes in different varieties, including chicken and beef. Station One (near the Noura Supermarket in Abu Rumaneh) is one of many restaurants that serve shawarma throughout the city.

In order to really experience local Syrian cuisine, be sure to visit a section of Damascus called Midan. It lies south of the old city and can easily be reached by walking south from the western entrance to Souq al-Hamadiyya or from Bab Saghir. There is a main street there called Jazmatiya which offers an unlimited amount of shawerma & falafel stands, butcher shops/restaurants and plenty of Syrian pastry shops which are clearly marked by 8 foot towers of sweets stacked on top of each other. Be sure to try Shawarma from "Anas," which makes some of the best sandwiches in Damascus. This main street is best to visit at night and doesn't close till around 3AM. The street is very safe and is always very busy.

Another unusual treat is a camel kebab, available tasty and fresh from the camel butchers outside Bab Saghir. As they typically advertise their wares by hanging a camel head and neck outside the premises, you're unlikely to miss them.

Fresh juice stalls are available all over the city. Orange juice (aasir beerdan) starts at 30-50 SP, other fruits are slightly more expensive. Many fruit stalls also have a range of dishes like hot dog, sojouq (armenian sausage), liver (soda) and meat (kebab etc.). These may not always be the safest to eat.

Fruits and vegetables which are not peeled might cause infections, but are still very good. Select places that have a steady stream of customers.

The area around Martyr's square is polluted with pastry shops selling some of the sweetest, tastiest and cheapest baklava on Earth.

Note: Don't try to eat in empty places only crowded restaurants and food places are safe otherwise you may get food poisoning from Shawerma sandwiches or any other product (especially in summer) so beware!

  • Al-Sehhi Restaurant, Sharia al-Abed, Central Damascus, +963 11 221-1555. This restaurant offers the basics in Middle Eastern cooking, including mezze and a variety of grilled meats. There is a separate family section for diners and women. Alcohol is not served, and credit cards are not accepted.  edit
  • Pizza Pasta, sharia medhat pasha, at the turn to Bab Kisan. This place serves descent pasta and good pizza, and also antipasta and alcohol. The service is often less than good, but it's worth to put up with for some of the real stuff. No menu, just ask for whatever italian dish you fancy and chances are they will have it.
  • Nadil, a little closer to bab sharqi than pizza pasta, this place serves up typical arabic meat dishes and very good broasted, and does it well and cheap. Takeaway.
  • Beit Sitti, close to beit jabri in the old city (the street that runs parallel to the street of al-noufara down from the ommayad mosque). Opinions are diverse on the food. But there is no doubt that they have the best lemon and mint juice in damascus and it’s OK just to drink.
  • Inhouse Coffee, at the airport, in the bab touma shopping street on the way to sahet abbasin and in the shopping street of abu romanih (souq al-kheir, close to benetton shopping centre). This is the place for great coffee. They have everything, including pressed coffee, for those with European cravings. Heavy with smart looking people and bluetooth in the air (in Syria, it’s an acceptable way to flirt).
  • Cafe Vienna, close to cham palace, follow the street towards Jisr-al-rais, turn right in the alley opposite of the Adidas store. This place is great. They do sandwiches on brown bread and apfelstrudel!
  • Vino Rosso, in bab touma walk up the stairs beside the police station and ask your way. You can have food fried at the table and they got French cheese. Rather cheap, very cosy. Alcohol is served.
  • Chinese Restaurant, opposite of Cafe Narcissius close to Beit Jabri. Mom and Pop operation, although the chef's wife is back in China to raise their baby. Does standard Americanized Chinese food. Reasonably priced and good Chinese food, usually full of foreigners or Chinese students. The sweet and sour chicken and beef "hot pan" are highly recommended. Alcohol is served.
  • Fish place, bourj el-roos. This place is more or less male only, a little rough and does very good fish. about 500 SL per person. Not cheap, but it’s Damascus, it’s fish and it’s good. The same place runs a good place for foul and hommous next by. Alcohol is served.
  • Spicy, at the abu-roumanih side of jisr al-abiad, first street to the left if your back is faced to the bridge. Daily dishes, "home-made" style Arabic food. Excellent. No alcohol.
  • Caffe Latte, a small, warm-hearted cafe with the best coffee in town. Serves great muffins and pancakes. A very nice escape from the hustle and bustle of Damascus. Located near the Italian hospital.
  • Scoozi. It’s close to Noura Supermarket in Abu Rumanneh, if you walk from jisr al-rais towards jebel qasioun it is on your right. Best pizza in Damascus, the rest of the dishes are excellent too. No alcohol.
  • Haretna (bab touma area, take the stairs beside the police station and follow the sign) this is one of the hippest place speaking now, with some excellent mezze. The western dishes you can give a miss, but it does descent kebabs as well. But first of all, it’s always crowded, with a lot of nice looking people, and younger than most restaurants. A real Damascus favorite. No alcohol during Ramadan though.
  • Nadi al Sharq, close to hotel Four seasons, this is the best indian in Damascus. They do a great set meal for 600 S.P., which is really much good food. Or you can choose from great alacarte. The president dined here twice.
  • Rotana Cafe, a theme cafe built at the end of Damascus Boulevard by the Four Seasons. It is part of the Rotana Audio Visuals company which is probably the most famous music records company in the Arabic world. The head of Rotana is Prince Walid bin Talal. The food is great here, as well as the hookah. Some say Rotana cafe offers the best hookas in all of Damascus. There are many westeren dishes here, all cooked by world class chefs. The view from this cafe is great, Mount Kassyoun is visible and the rest of Beiruit Street. There is also a souviner shop and a music store located on the first level.
  • Cafe Trattoria is located right by the United Colors of Benneton in Abu Rummaneh. It is a beautiful sidewalk cafe that offers Italian food, hookas, and all kinds of western coffees, as well as the traditional Turkish Coffee.
  • Leila's Restaurant and Terrace, Souq al-Abbabiyya, Central Old City, +963 11 544-5900. Leila's Restaurant and Terrace has rooftop seating with a gorgeous view of Umayyad Mosque. The restaurant serves traditional Arabic cuisine. Alcohol is served at this location; however, that list is not on the menu. Ask the waiter for the drink availability.  edit
  • Beit Jabri Restaurant, 14 Sharia as-Sawwaf, Central Old City, +963 11 544-3200, [6]. A favorite among locals and tourists alike, this cafe offers the Syrian classics. The casual eatery is located in the courtyard of a beautiful Damascene house.  edit
  • Arabesque Restaurant, Sharia al-Kineesa, Central Damascus, +963 11 543-3999. The restaurant offers a combination of Syrian and French classics. While alcohol is served, credit cards are not accepted. Arabesque is on the more elegant side, so semi-formal dress may be more appropriate.  edit
  • Downtown, Sharia al-Amar Izzedin al-Jazzari, Central Damascus, +963 11 332-2321. This contemporary restaurant offers a wide array of sandwiches, salads, and fresh juices. French is more likely to be spoken than Arabic. The interior is filled with Scandinavian decor.  edit


The coffee houses of Old Damascus are something to experience. Hours can dissolve over a cup of shay (tea) or ahwa (coffee) amongst the smoke of a nargileh (water pipe) . An-Naufara (which means 'The Fountain') is a wonderful place to do this its just east of the Ummayad Mosque. There is even a Hakawati (a traditional story teller) present at 7PM most nights.

If you are craving a European coffee, head for Abu Rommeneh street and look for the Bennetton clothing store. There are a number of fancy cafes in the area, including the Middle Eastern chain Inhouse Coffee, which is very much like Starbucks in its prices and atmosphere. A large latte or cappuccino will set you back 135 SP. Free Wi-Fi is offered at each location throughout the city.

Apart from that, many bars and nightclubs have been set up in Damascus for many people to enjoy. These usually crowd up at night time, but they still guarantee nice alcoholic beverages and dances.

Merjeh Square
Merjeh Square

Souq-Al-Saroujah is where you find the cluster of backpacker hotels. There are other hotels in the area, but the three below could all be recommended.

  • Al-Rabie Hotel, Sharia bahsa, Souq saroujah (on an attractive side street about a 5-10 minute walk from the citadel), +963 11 231-8374 (). It has an attractive courtyard, and clean rooms. Breakfast is included in the price. Some of the rooms that share a bath are a bit of a hike from the bath and shower rooms. Helpful staff that can arrange tours and otherwise cater to tourist needs. No alcohol allowed on the premises. 350 SP for a shared room, 1200 SP for double with shared bath, 1600 SP for double with ensuite (as of January 2009). You can also sleep on a mattress on the partially enclosed roof in summer for 275 SP..  edit
  • Al-Haramain Hotel, Sharia bahsa, Souq saroujah (next to the Al-Rabie Hotel), +963 11 231-9489 (). Some of the rooms on the upper floors lack heaters and can be very cold in the winter unless the door to the common space is left open. The courtyard is smaller than in Al-Rabie, but the staff is nice and friendly. Showers are in the basement. Helpful staff that can arrange tours and otherwise cater to tourist needs. No alcohol allowed on the premises. Be sure to get a reservation in advance. Prices are more expensive than nearby hostels - 560 SP for shared. 700 SP for a single, 1225 SP for a double, 1700 SP for a double with bathroom. Breakfast is always included in the price..  edit
  • Hotel Al-Ghazal, Sharia souq saroujah (in souq Saroujah, at the street turning out towards Jisr-Al-Thawra, the revolution bridge), +963 11 231-3736 (), [7]. Also known as Ghazal Hotel, this hotel is a newcomer in the Saroujah budget hotels. It has a very attractive, typical Damascus courtyard. For breakfast, they serve the usual range of teas and coffeea and good water pipe free of charge. You can bring alcohol to drink in the courtyard if you like. Rooms and facilities are new. Several new, clean bathrooms with hot water and also a hostel portion in the same structure. Managers keep a safe on the premises for valuables. Owners are helpful and service-minded, but they speak less English than their competitors and don't arrange tours or otherwise on a regular basis (but could still probably help out if you ask). English spoken enough to arrange rooms, get/give directions and special circumstances. For foreign students of Arabic, the hotel staff is very accommodating and surprisingly insightful with the limited English they speak. If you are a light sleeper, you should avoid rooms close to the kitchen, bathrooms, and reception area. The rooms facing onto the courtyard are peaceful. 900 SP for a double with shared bathroom and 400 SP for a dorm room..  edit

Martyr's Square or "Merjeh" in Arabic is the other place worth considering if you're on a tight budget, though many of the places double as brothels. However, at least the hotels below can be recommended. Women alone should avoid hotels at Merjeh Sqaure, because it's the red light district of Damascus.

The rope ladder to the Damascus Hostel
The rope ladder to the Damascus Hostel
  • Al Majed Hotel, 29th May Street (above Yusef Al-'Azmeh Square, behind the Assufara (Ambassadors') Cinema), +963 11 232-3300 (, fax: +963 11 232-3304), [8]. completely renovated in 2001, this family-run 60-room hotel remains a very popular, secure and central place to stay for travelers of all sorts - from businessmen to backpackers. The Al Majed Restaurant, open 24 hours, is located on the top floor of the Hotel with a variety of dishes, from traditional Middle Eastern dishes to Continental fare.  edit
  • Damascus Hostel, (Al Abbara Street from Straight Street, or rope ladder on city walls 100m from Bab Sharqi), +963 11 541-4115, [9]. This hostel has a unique location, with some rooms in a tower on the city wall. While the location is excellent and the rooms are decent, the main reason to stay here is Raymond, the owner. A slightly mental Palestinian who lived in Australia for 40 years, the guy is as friendly and helpful a person as you're ever likely to meet. Laundry service with an automatic washer is 200SYP. Satellite television is available in the common area but there is no on-site Internet access. The website has both a printable map with directions and GPS coordinates.  edit
  • House of Damascus, (), [10]. rents a rooms for students studying in Damascus in a beautiful, traditional Arabic house situated in the heart of the Old City of Damascus. The house includes seven bedrooms, two bathrooms, two kitchens, a beautiful courtyard, and a rooftop terrace with a great view over Old Damascus. Each bedroom is furnished with a TV, bed, wardrobe, dresser and heater (A/C in some rooms). The kitchens are fully equipped (gas stove, microwave, kettle, oven etc.) and the modern bathrooms have hot water 24 hours a day. Washing machine, internet access (dial-up) and fixed telephone (landline) are also available.  edit
The Old Damascus Hotel, inner courtyard
The Old Damascus Hotel, inner courtyard
  • Hotel Old Damascus, Bab Tuma Square near Haretna Restaurant, +963 11 541-4042, [11]. is in the Old City, near the St. Thomas gate, on one of those two-meter-wide pedestrian-only streets that are so common in the older neighborhoods. The Old Damascus has about a dozen rooms and was formerly a typical Arab home of the sort common among prosperous merchants in the early 1900s. A Syrian-Arab family owns and operates the hotel.  edit
  • Cham Hotel, ''963 11'' 223-2300 (, fax: + 963 11 221-2398), [12]. Syria's national hotel chain, and one of the largest business-class hotels in the city.  edit
  • Four Seasons, Shukri Al Quatli Street, +963 11 339-1000 (fax: +963 11 339-0900), [13]. The Four Seasons, located in downtown Damascus, offers many services, such as spa, baby-sitting, and fitness facilities. This hotel houses the Al Halabi restaurant, which features the Aleppo cuisine of northern Syria.  edit

You can also check into the Sheraton Hotel, by Ummayad Square close the Malki and Mezze Area. It has a wide variety of high class restaraunts and a big swimming pool. Many concerts are held in this hotel, outdoors by the pool area, so it would be an enjoyable experience.

Most hotels in Damascus claiming to be 5 stars are actually closer to what Western travelers know as 2 stars. The Syrian government runs its own accreditation agency that gives highly suspect inflated ratings to hotels owned by Syrian chains and those that have paid "baksheesh" (bribes) to the authorities. Due to the American sanctions of Syria, credit cards linked to US Banks will not be accepted (this is pretty much every credit card in the world).

The Cham Hotel
The Cham Hotel


Most hotels can arrange international phone calls, but prices are very expensive. Most internet cafes are set up for VOIP, and offer a much cheaper alternative, although the price does reflect the quality of the connection.

Internet access is widely available, although the Syrian government censors traffic, which can cause some interesting quirks in connectivity.

Stay safe

In rural and modern areas of Damascus, people have been known to be perfectly healthy, but to imitate beggars in order to get money. Often, they will attempt to con you by giving more money and have many tricks to do so. Exercise caution.

Also, for your safety, do not take advice or recommendations, especially about accommodation, doctors and dentists, from taxi drivers.


Be warned that only very few large banks will cash American Express Traveler Cheques in Damascus and elsewhere in Syria! ATM and Credit cards are NOT a reliable option for the foreign traveler.

Note that the first ATMs were introduced into Syria in 2003, and thus are still a rare novelty in many parts, and are not always in operation. Change houses exist in many areas in Damascus, especially near the large Souks. The Euro, British Pound, and American Dollar can be changed at these shops, usually commission-free. Be sure to look up the current exchange rate before changing money so you do not get cheated. Many shops, especially in the old city), also change money. Though officially illegal, it is a handy option when you're already shopping in the old city and need to change some cash quickly. Just ask around the shopkeepers for a money changer and you will soon be directed to a store that does currency exchange.

Get out

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

DAMASCUS, the chief town of Syria, and the capital of a government province of the same name, 57 m. from Beirut, situated in 33° 30' N., and 36° 18' E.


The origin of the city is unknown, and the popular belief that it is the oldest city in the world still inhabited has much to recommend it. It has been suggested that the ideogram by which it is indicated in Babylonian monuments literally means "fortress of the Amorites"; could this be proved it would be valuable testimony to its antiquity if not its origin. The city is mentioned in the document that describes the battle of the four kings against five, inserted in the book of Genesis (ch. xiv.) Abram (Abraham) is reported to have pursued the routed kings to Hobah north of Damascus (v. 15). The name of the steward of Abram's establishment is given in Genesis xv. 2, as Dammesek Eliezer, which is explained in the Aramaic and Syriac versions as "Eliezer of Damascus." This reading is adopted by the authorized version, but the Hebrew, as it stands, will not support it. There is probably here some textual corruption.

In the period of the Egyptian suzerainty over Palestine in the eighteenth dynasty Damascus (whose name frequently appears in the Tell el-Amarna tablets) was capital of the small province of Ubi. The name of the city in the Tell el-Amarna correspondence is Dimashka. Towards the end of that period the overrunning of Palestine and Syria by the Khabiri and Suti, the forerunners of the Aramaean immigration, changed the conditions, language and government of the country. One of the first indications of this change that has been traced is the appearance of the Aramaean Darmesek for Damascus in an inscription of Rameses III.

The growth of an independent kingdom with Damascus as centre must date from very early in the Aramaean occupation. It had reached such strength that though Tiglath-Pileser I. reduced the whole of northern Syria, and by the fame of his victories induced the king of Egypt to send him presents, yet he did not venture to attack Kadesh and Damascus, so that this kingdom acted as a "buffer" between the king of Assyria and the rising kingdom of Saul.

David, however, after his accession made an expedition against Damascus as a reprisal for the assistance the city had given his enemy Hadadezer, king of Zobah. The expedition was successful; David smote of the Syrians 22,000 men, and took and garrisoned the city; "and the Syrians became servants to David, and brought gifts" (2 Sam. viii. 5, 6; r Chron. xviii. 5). This statement, it should be noticed, has been questioned by some modern historical and textual critics, who believe that "Syria" (Hebrew Aram) is here a corruption for "Edom." There is no other evidence - save the corrupt passage, 2 Sam. xxiv. 6, where "Tahtim-hodshi" is explained as meaning "the land of the Hittites to Kadesh" - that David's kingdom was so far extended northward. However this may be, it is evident that the Israelite possession of Syria did not last long. A subordinate of Hadadezer named Rezon (Rasun) succeeded in establishing himself in Damascus and in founding there a royal dynasty. Throughout the reign of Solomon (r Kings xi. 23, 24) this Rezon seems to have been a constant enemy to the kingdom of Israel.

It is inferred from 1 Kings xv. 19 that Abijah, son of Rehoboam, king of Judah, made a league with Tab-Rimmon of Damascus to assist him in his wars against Israel, and that afterwards TabRimmon's son Ben-Hadad came to terms with the second successor of Jeroboam, Baasha. Asa, son of Abijah, followed his father's policy, and bought the aid of Syria, whereby he was enabled to destroy the border fort that Baasha had erected (1 Kings xv. 22).

Hostilities between Israel and Syria lasted to the days of Ahab. From Omri the king of Syria took cities and the right to establish a quarter for his merchants in Samaria (r Kings xx. 34). His son Ben-Hadad made an unsuccessful attack on Israel at Aphek, and was allowed by Ahab to depart on a reversal of these terms (loc. cit.). This was the cause of a prophetic denunciation (r Kings xx. 42). According to the Assyrian records Ahab fought as Ben-Hadad's ally at the battle of Karkar against Shalmaneser in 854. This seems to indicate an intermediate defeat and vassalage of Ahab, of which no direct record remains; and it was probably in the attempt to throw off this vassalage in 853, the year after the battle of Karkar, that Ahab met his death in battle with the Syrians (r Kings xxii. 34-40). In the reign of Jehoram, Naaman, the Syrian general, came and was cleansed by the prophet Elisha of leprosy (2 Kings v.).

In 843 Hazael assassinated Ben-Hadad and made himself king of Damascus. The states which Ben-Hadad had brought together into a coalition against the advancing power of Assyria all revolted; and Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, took advantage of this in 842 and attacked Syria. He wasted the country, but could not take the capital. Jehu, king of Israel, paid tribute to Assyria, for which Hazael afterwards revenged himself, during the time when Shalmaneser was distracted by his Armenian wars, by attacking the borders of Israel (2 Kings x. 32).

Adad-nirari IV. invaded Syria and besieged Damascus in 806. Taking advantage of this and similar succeeding events, Jehoash, king of Israel, recovered the cities that his father had lost to Hazael.

In 734 Ahaz became king of Judah, and Rezon (Rasun, Rezin), the king of Damascus at the time, came up against him; at the same time the Edomites and the Philistines revolted. Ahaz appealed to Tiglath-Pileser III., king of Assyria, sent him gifts, and besought his protection. Tiglath-Pileser invaded Syria, and in 732 succeeded in reducing Damascus (see also Babylonia And Assyria, Chronology, § 5, and Jews, §§ ro sqq.).

Except for the abortive rising under Sargon in 720, we hear nothing more of Damascus for a long period. In 333 B.C., after the battle of Issus, it was delivered over by treachery to Parmenio, the general of Alexander the Great; the harem and treasures of Darius had here been lodged. It had a chequered history during the wars of the successors of Alexander, being occasionally in Egyptian hands. In 112 B.C. the empire of Syria was divided by Antiochus Grypus and Antiochus Cyzicenus; the city of Damascus fell to the share of the latter. Hyrcanus took advantage of the disputes of these rulers to advance his own kingdom. Demetrius Eucaerus, successor of Cyzicenus, invaded Palestine in 88 B.C., and defeated Alexander Jannaeus at Shechem. On his dethronement and captivity by the Parthians, Antiochus Dionysus, his brother, succeeded him, but was slain in battle by IHaritha (Aretas) the Arab - the first instance of Arab interference with Damascene politics. IHaritha yielded to Tigranes, king of Armenia, who in his turn was driven out by Q. Caecilius Metellus (son of Scipio Nasica), the Roman general. In 63 Syria was made a Roman province.

In the New Testament Damascus appears only in connexion with the miraculous conversion of St Paul (Acts ix., xxii., xxvi.), his escape from Aretas the governor by being lowered in a basket over the wall (Acts ix. 25; 2 Cor. xi. 32, 33), and his return thither after his retirement in Arabia (Gal. i. r7).

In 150, under Trajan, Damascus became a Roman provincial city.

On the establishment of Christianity Damascus became the seat of a bishop who ranked next to the patriarch of Antioch. The great temple of Damascus was turned by Arcadius into a Christian church.

In 635 Damascus was captured for Islam by Khalid ibn Walid, the great general of the new religion, being the first city to yield after the battle of the Yarmuk (Hieromax). After the murder of Ali, the fourth caliph, his successor Moawiya transferred the seat of the Caliphate from Mecca to Damascus and thus commenced the great dynasty of the Omayyads, whose rule extended from the Atlantic to India. This dynasty lasted about ninety years; it was supplanted by that of the Abbasids, who removed the seat of empire to Mesopotamia; and Damascus passed through a period of unrest in which it was captured and ravaged by Egyptians, Carmathians and Seljuks in turn. The crusaders attacked Damascus in 1126, but never succeeded in keeping a firm hold of it, even during their brief domination of the country. It was the headquarters of Saladin in the wars with the Franks. Of its later history we need only mention the Mongolian capture in 1260; its Egyptian recapture by the Mameluke Kotuz; the ferocious raid of Timur (Tamerlane) in 1399; and the conquest by the Turkish sultan Selim, whereby it became a city of the Ottoman empire (1516). In its more recent history the only incidents that need be mentioned are its capture by Ibrahim Pasha, the Egyptian general, in 1832, when the city was first opened to the representatives of foreign powers; its revolt against Ibrahim's tyranny in 1834, which he crushed with the aid of the Druses; the return of the city to Turkish domination, when the Egyptians were driven out of Syria in 1840 by the allied powers; and the massacre of July 1860, when the Moslem population rose against the Christians, burnt their quarter, and slaughtered about 3000 adult males.

Modern City. - Damascus is a city with a population estimated at from 154,000 (35,000 Christians and Jews) to 225,000 (55,000 Christians and Jews), situated near the northern edge of a plain called the Ghutah, at the foot of Anti-Lebanon, 2250 ft. above the sea. The river Barada (the Abanah of 2 Kings v. 12) rises in the Anti-Lebanon, runs for about Io m. in a narrow channel, and then spreads itself fan-wise over the plain. About 18 m. east of the city it loses itself in the marshlands known as the Meadow Lakes. A second river, the `Awaj (possibly the Pharpar of 2 Kings), pursues a similar course. The plain is thus exceptionally well irrigated, and its consequent fertility is proverbial over the East. Damascus is situated on both banks of the Barada, about 2 m. from the exit of the river from the gorge. On the right bank is all the older part of the city, and a long suburb called El-Meidan extending about a mile along the Hajj Road. On the left bank are the suburbs El `Amara and ElSalihia. The waters of the river are carried by channels and conduits to all the houses of the city. The orchards, gardens, vineyards and fields of Damascus are said to extend over a circuit of at least 60 m. In the surrounding plain are one hundred and forty villages, occupied in all by about 50,000 persons (1000 Christians, 2000 Druses).

The rough mud walls in the private houses give poor promise of splendour within. The entrance is usually by a low door, and through a narrow winding passage which leads to the outer court, where the master has his reception room. From this another winding passage leads to the harem, which is the principal part of the house. The plan of all is the same - an open court, with a tesselated pavement, and one or two marble fountains; orange and lemon trees, flowering shrubs, and climbing plants give freshness and fragrance. All the apartments open into the court; and on the south side is an open alcove, with a marble floor, and raised dais round three sides, covered with cushions; the front wall is supported by an ornamented Saracenic arch. The decoration of some of the rooms is gorgeous, the walls being covered in part with mosaics and in part with carved work, while the ceilings are rich in arabesque ornaments, elaborately gilt. A few of the modern Jewish houses have been embellished at an enormous cost, but they are wanting in taste.


Considering the great age of Damascus, its comparative poverty in antiquities is remarkable. The walls of the city seem to be Seleucid in origin; some of the Roman gateways being still in good order. The Derb el-Mistakim, or "Straight Street," still runs through the city from the eastern to the western gate. At the north-west corner is a large castle built in A.D. 1219, by El-Malik el-Ashraf, on the site of an earlier palace. It is quadrangular, surrounded by a moat filled by the Barada. The outer walls are in good preservation, but the interior is ruined.

The church of St John the Baptist constructed by Arcadius on the site of the temple was turned by Caliph Walid I. (705-717) to a mosque which was the most important building of Damascus. It was a structure 431 ft. by 125 ft. interior dimensions, extending along the south side of a quadrangle 163 yds.by 108 yds. Except the famous inscription over the door - "Thy kingdom, 0 Christ, is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations" - every trace of Christianity was effaced from the church at its conversion. It was destroyed by fire on the 4 th of October 1893, and though it was subsequently rebuilt, much that was of archaeological and historical interest perished. It is estimated that there are over two hundred mosques in Damascus.

Products, Manufactures, &c

Damascus occupies an important commercial position, being the market for the whole of the desert; it also is of great importance religiously, as being the startingpoint for the Hajj pilgrimage from Syria to Mecca, which leaves on the 15th of the lunar month of Shawwal each year. This of course brings much trade to the city. Its chief manufactures are silk work, cloths and cloaks, gold and silver ornaments, &c., brass and copper work, furniture and ornamental woodwork. The bazaars of Damascus are among the most famous of their kind. It is connected with Beirut and Mezerib by railway, and at the end of the past century the great undertaking of running a line to Mecca was commenced. In the surrounding gardens and fields walnuts, apricots, wheat, barley, maize, &c. are grown. Its commercial importance is referred to by Ezekiel (xxvii. 18), who mentions its trade in wines and wool. The climate is good; in winter there is often hard frost and much snow, and even in summer, with a day temperature of Too F., the nights are always cool. Fever, dysentery and ophthalmia, chiefly due to exposure to heavy dews and cold nights, are prevalent. Though still the market of the nomads, the surer and cheaper sea route has almost destroyed the transit trade to which it once owed its wealth, and has even diminished the importance of the annual pilgrim caravan to Mecca. The Damascene, however, still retains his skill as a craftsman and tiller of the soil. The chief imports are cloths, prints, muslins, raw silk, sugar, rice, &c.





Exports. .. .

Imports. . .









The value of exports and imports in certain specified years is shown in the following table: - Most of the Christians belong to the Orthodox and Roman Catholic (United) Greek Churches; and there are also communities of Melchites, Jacobites, Maronites, Nestorians, Armenians and Protestants. There are Protestant missions, founded 1843, and a British hospital.

Authorities. - Lortet, La Syrie d'aujourd'hui, p. 567 f. (Paris, 1884); Von Oppenheim, Vom Mittelmeer zum Persischen Golf, i. 49 f. (Berlin,1899); G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land; Encyclopaedia Biblica, art. "Damascus"; Consular Reports; Baedeker-Socin, Handbook to Syria and Palestine. For the Great Mosque see Dickie, Phene Spiers, and Sir C. W. Wilson in Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement, Oct. 1897. (R. A. S. M.)

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From Latin Damascus, from Ancient Greek Δαμασκός (Damaskos), from Aramaic דרמשק (darmeśeq), well-watered place).


  • IPA: /dəˈmæskəs/

Proper noun


  1. The capital city of Syria.

Derived terms



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Proper noun


  1. Damascus, the capital city of Syria

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

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Meaning: activity

The most ancient of Oriental cities; the capital of Syria (Isa 7:8; 17:3); situated about 133 miles to the north of Jerusalem. Its modern name is Esh-Sham; i.e., "the East."

The situation of this city is said to be the most beautiful of all Western Asia. It is mentioned among the conquests of the Egyptian king Thothmes III. (B.C. 1500), and in the Amarna tablets (B.C. 1400).

It is first mentioned in Scripture in connection with Abraham's victory over the confederate kings under Chedorlaomer (Gen 14:15). It was the native place of Abraham's steward (15:2). It is not again noticed till the time of David, when "the Syrians of Damascus came to succour Hadadezer" (q.v.), 2 Sam 8:5; 1Chr 18:5. In the reign of Solomon, Rezon became leader of a band who revolted from Hadadezer (1 Kg 11:23), and betaking themselves to Damascus, settled there and made their leader king. There was a long war, with varying success, between the Israelites and Syrians, who at a later period became allies of Israel against Judah (2Kg 15:37).

The Syrians were at length subdued by the Assyrians, the city of Damascus was taken and destroyed, and the inhabitants carried captive into Assyria (2Kg 16:7-9; comp. Isa 7:8). In this, prophecy was fulfilled (Isa 17:1; Amos 1:4; Jer 49:24). The kingdom of Syria remained a province of Assyria till the capture of Nineveh by the Medes (B.C. 625), when it fell under the conquerors. After passing through various vicissitudes, Syria was invaded by the Romans (B.C. 64), and Damascus became the seat of the government of the province. In A.D. 37 Aretas, the king of Arabia, became master of Damascus, having driven back Herod Antipas.

This city is memorable as the scene of Saul's conversion (Acts 9:1-25). The street called "Straight," in which Judas lived, in whose house Saul was found by Ananias, is known by the name Sultany, or "Queen's Street." It is the principal street of the city. Paul visited Damascus again on his return from Arabia (Gal 1:16, 17). Christianity was planted here as a centre (Acts 9:20), from which it spread to the surrounding regions.

In A.D. 634 Damascus was conquered by the growing Mohammedan power. In A.D. 1516 it fell under the dominion of the Turks, its present rulers. It is now the largest city in Asiatic Turkey. Christianity has again found a firm footing within its walls.

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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Damascus (sometimes called the city of Jasmin) is the Capital city of Syria. It is the largest city in Syria with about 4.8 million people living there.[needs proof] Damascus is thought to be one of oldest cities in the world that still has people living in it. It is believed that people started living in Damascus as long ago as 8000 BC to 10000BC (10000 years ago).



Damascus is about 50 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea, sheltered by the Anti-Lebanon Mountains.


Damascus used to play an important role as an important trade center. Now it is not because of political development in the region as well as the development of modern trade.[1] Most goods produced in Damascus, as well as in Syria, are distributed to Countries of the Arabian peninsula.[1] Damascus also holds an annual international trade exposition in the fall since 1955.[2] Most goods produced in Damascus, as well as in Syria, are given to Countries of the Arabian peninsula. Damascus also holds an annual international trade exposition in the fall since 1955.

Historical sites

Damascus has many historical sites dating back to many different periods of the city's history. Since the city has been built up with every passing job, it has become almost impossible to dig out all the ruins of Damascus that lie up to 8 feet (2.4 m) below the modern level. The Citadel of Damascus is located in the northwest corner of the Old City. 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 Medhat Pasha. 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.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Damascus". Encyclopædia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/150420/Damascus. Retrieved 2009-11-28. 
  2. "Damascus International Fair". http://www.peife.gov.sy. Retrieved 2009-11-28. 

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Coordinates: 33°30′47″N 36°17′31″E / 33.513°N 36.292°E / 33.513; 36.292


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