The Enchanted City
MYTHS ABOUT DAMASCUS
The name “Damascus” is attributed by some scholars to Damaskos, son of Hermes, who is said to have lived in this area and given it his name. Others attribute the name to the myth of Askos or that of Damas, who accompanied Dionysias, and offered him a skene (skin) thus the name “Damaskene”. While others believe that the origin of the name came from Damakina, the wife of the god of water. Linguistically analysed, some feel that the name “Damascus” was derived from ” The Water Land”.
THE HISTORY OF DAMASCUS
Damascus is as old as history itself. In ancient times the significance of its location contributed to the rise of a small village with a temple. At the end of the 2nd millennium Rezon the Aramean leader established his kingdom in Damascus. He was well known for defending the whole area and uniting the Arab Aramean kingdoms. In 732 B.C. the Assyrians took power untill 605 B.C., when Damascus went under Chaldean rule. In 538 B.C. the Akhemaeans ruled over Damascus area. During this period the geographer Estrabon mentions Damascus as the most famous city in the west of Asia. When Nabateans, under the rule of Al-Hareth III rose to power (87 B.C.) they made Damascus their Capital. In 105 A.D. the Romans destroyed the Nabatean kingdom, and established a Roman state with Bosra as its capital.
After the Roman Empire dissension, Damascus like the other parts of Syria, Came under the rule of the Byzantine Empire during which the influence of the Ghassanites increased.
In 635 A.D. the Arab Moslems took over Damascus from the Byzantines, and it became the capital of the first Arab state at the time of the Omayyads. This marked the beginning of its golden epoch, and for a whole century it was the center of the young Islamic Empire. The Omayyads took a genuine interest in building up the city, organizing its souqs and districts, improving its water supply, and erecting palaces and hospitals in its various parts.
Following the decline and fall of the Omayyads, 749 A.D. Damscus went through different periods: Abbassid, Tolonian, Ikhshidian, Fatemite, Ayoubite, Mamluk, ottoman and the French Colonization seeing prosperity sometimes, and suffering neglect and deterioration other times.
However, when independence was achieved in 1946, the city started to regain its importance as a significant cultural and political center in the Arab world. After 1970, when president Hafez Assad came to power, Damascus witnessed a new renaissance period personified by constructing roads and bridges, setting up schools, hospitals, sport stadiums, public gardens, art galleries, international hotels and an international airport.
- The National Museum of Damascus, with artistic and scientific items exhibited.
- The National Museum of the Arts and popular Tradtions of Syria.
- The Historical Museum of Damascus in Khaled Al-Azem palace.
- The museum of Epigraphy.
- The Military Museum.
- Damascus Museum of Agriculture.
- Damascus International Fair (September, every year).
- Damascus Flower Show. (May, every year).
Damascus is quite famous for its popular markets:
- Al-Hamidieh Souq: one of the most famous and attractive souqs in the world with its constant show of traditional arts. It begins near the Damascus Ayyyoubite Citadel and ends at the Large Gate of the Omayyad Mosque.
- Madhat Basha Souq: reminds one with the Biblical story of St. Paul, St. Hananya and the Straight road.
- Al-Buzurieh Souq: Famous for its eastern spices and the local confectionaries.
- The Handicradts Souq: in the small Al-Takya building, contains all of Syria’s most famous handicrafts: Glass-blowing, wood carving, carpet and textile weaving, articles made from Damascene silk, and hand made silver and gold jewelleries.
- Al-Salihieh Souq.
CAFES & BATHS
Avariety of small cafes dot the city of Damascus. In Nawfara square east of Omayyad Mosque, there are many popular cafes to satisfy the tourist’s need for relaxation and fun. They are famous for offering delicious and aromatic tea and coffe, soft drinks and the Nargileh (Water pipe) for smoking.
Nureddin popular bath is one of the most famous in Damascus. Many other baths are scattered in different areas ( Hammam al-Ward, Hammam Al-Malek al-Dhaher, etc..)
HISTORICAL & ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES
- The Ayoubite Citadel of Damascus: The strength and silence of the Citadel generate a feeling of the epics of steadfastness against the tatars, the Crusaders and the Mongols.
- The Wall of Damascus and its Ramparts: Ancient Damascus was surrounded completely by the city wall; parts of which can still be seen near Bab Sharqi, Bab Tuma and Bab Kissan. Glimpses of the ramparts that supported the city wall can also be seen.
- Bab Sharqi: This was the most important Bab (gate) of the ancient Damascus and it is characterized by its beautiful architecture.
- Tetrapil Archway: This Archway is midway between Bab Sharqi and Bab Jabieh, near Al-Maryamyah Church.
- Ancient Damascus Palaces: Al-Azem Palace, Khaled Al-Azem House, Al-Siba’i House, Jabri House, Emile Kabawat House, Nizam House and Naasan Palace are all fine examples which indicate that ancient Syrians considered one’s home, one’s paradise. The desire to create a personal paradise inspired them to build beautiful homes embellished with drawings, decorations, water fountains, larg yards, trees and flowers. These lovely homes are made visually more attractive by entering from narrow lanes into open, sunny, green court yards.
The Umayyad Mosque of Damascus: This wonder of architecture which dates back to Al-walid Ibn Abdel Malek (705-715), is characterized by its width, high walls and the beauty of its three minarets and dome. The mosaic panels, one of the treasures of the building, are made of colored and gilded glass rather than stone. Set between two pillars is the Tomb of St. John the Baptist, a domed shrine. The visitor can also visit the Umayyad Mosque Museum and have a look at the relics of the temple of Jupiter the Damascene and the tomb of saladin that lies north to the mosque.
- Al Takya Al Sulaymanya: This building is especially famous for the beauty of its dome, symmetry of its two graceful minarets, the organization of its floors, the width of its pool and the multitude of flowers.
- Hanania Chapel: This ancient church is particularly fascinating to visitors because of its connection with the story of St. Paul and his conversion to christianity through the help of Hanania.
- St. Paul’s Church: Bab Kissan, near Bab Shrqi, was changed into a church in memory of St. Paul’s leaving Damascus through this gate.
- Al-Maryamyah Cathedral: (The Cathedral of Virgin Mary), located near the Tetrapil Archway on Straight Street, this is one of the most beautiful and ancient churches of Damascus. Many people enjoy listening to its lovely hymns and taking a quiet time for prayer.
- Other Locations of Intrest: The mosque of Al-Sheik Muhiddin Pasha in Salihiyeh; Darwish Pasha Mosque, noted for its wonderful marbel; Al-Sinanieh mosque, distinguished for its minaret covered with green marble; Al-Tayrouzi mosque in Bab Srijeh, with marble decorated walles; Murad Pasha mosque, located in suwaiqa on Midan Road, featuring a beautiful dome and Saiyida Raqiya mosque; located in Al-Amara.
QUARTERS OF ANCIENT DAMASCUS
Located within the old city Wall, this area is characterized by relatively narrow lanes and locally beautiful architecture. Strolling down these lanes adds a new dimension to the visitor’s enjoyment of the Old City.
Through the centuries, visitors have described Damascus in many different ways. Whatever words one chooses to describe her, there is little doubt that it leaves an indelible mark on the heart and imagination. Damascus becomes more than just another city visited, she becomes a friend.