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Damascus ( , , commonly known as الشام ash-Shām also known as the "City of Jasmin" ) is the capital and largest city of Syriamarker as well as one of the country's 14 governorates. The Damascus Governoratemarker is ruled by a governor appointed by the Minister of Interior. In addition to being one of 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. Unofficial estimates often assume a much larger population. Located in southwestern Syria, it is the center of a large metropolitan area of four million people. Geographically embedded on the eastern foothills of the Anti-Lebanonmarker mountain range, Damascus experiences a semi-arid climate due to the rain shadow effect. The Barada Rivermarker flows through Damascus.

First settled in the 2nd millennium BCE, 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 Baghdadmarker. 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.


Damascus cityscape

The name of Damascus first appeared in the geographical list of Thutmose III as T-m-s'-q in the 15th century BC.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-Shām— , "land of the north"—in Arabic.) The etymology of the ancient name "Damascus" is uncertain, but it is suspected to be pre-Semitic. It is attested as in Akkadian, in Egyptian, ( ) in Old Aramaic and Dammeśeq ( ) in Biblical Hebrew. The Akkadian spelling is the earliest attestation, found in the Amarna letters, from the 14th century BC. Later Aramaic spellings of the name often include an intrusive resh (letter r), perhaps influenced by the root dr, meaning "dwelling". Thus, the Qumranicmarker Darmeśeq ( ), and Darmsûq ( ) in Syriac.


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 BCE, possibly around 6300 BCE. However, evidence of settlement in the wider Barada basin dating back to 9000 BCE exists, although no large-scale settlement was present within Damascus walls until the second millennium BCE. The city is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.

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, 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 BCE. The arrival of the Sea Peoples around 1200 BCE marked the end of the Bronze Age in the region and brought about new development of warfare. 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.

Damascus is mentioned in Genesis 14:15 as existing 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. 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. 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, 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. The Aramaeans initially turned Damascus into an outpost of a loose federation of Aramaean tribes, known as Aram-Zobah, based in the Beqaa Valley.

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 BCE. 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. Under Ezron's grandson, Ben-Hadad I (880-841 BCE), 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 BCE when Ben-Hadad II was captured by Israel after unsuccessfully besieging Samariamarker. As a result, he granted Israel trading rights in Damascus.

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 Mediterraneanmarker coast. In 853 BCE, 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 Qarqarmarker 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.

By the 8th century BCE, 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 BCE 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 Babylonmarker is relatively unknown.


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

In 64 BC, the Roman general Pompey annexed the western part of Syria. The Romans occupied Damascus and subsequently incorporated it into the league of ten cities known as the Decapolis 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. The Nabataean king Aretas IV Philopatris ruled Damascus from his capital Petramarker. 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, Palmyramarker, Petramarker, 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 by , 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 Tumamarker 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

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. 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. In August, the two powers met along the Yarmouk Rivermarker where they a fought a major battle which ended in a decisive Arab victory, solidifying the latter's rule in Syria and Palestine.

While Arabs administrated the city, the population of Damascus remained mostly Christian—Eastern Orthodox and Monophysite—with a growing community of Arab Muslims from Meccamarker, Medinamarker, and the Syrian Desert. 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. 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.

Abd al-Malik's successor, al-Walid initiated construction of the Grand Mosque of Damascusmarker (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. By 715, the mosque was complete. Al-Walid died that same year and he was succeeded by Suleiman ibn Abd al-Malik then 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 Ramlamarker as his residence and Hisham, Rusafamarker. Following the murder of the latter in 743, the Caliphate of the Umayyads—which by then stretched from Spainmarker to Indiamarker—was crumbling as a result of widespread revolts. During the reign of Marwan II in 744, the capital of the empire was relocated to Harranmarker in the northern Jazira region.

The dome of Damascus' treasury in the Umayyad Mosque

On August 25, 750, the Abbasids, having already beaten the Umayyads in the Battle of Siffin in Iraq, conquered Damascus after facing little resistance. With the heralding of the Abbasid Caliphate, Damascus became eclipsed and subordinated by Baghdadmarker, 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.

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.

Damascus Domes

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. 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.

Seljuk and Ayyubid rule

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 Nasr Duqaq starting in 1079. 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.

While the rulers of Damascus were preoccupied in conflict with their fellow Seljuks in Aleppo and Diyarbakirmarker, the Crusaders—who arrived in the Levant in 1097—conquered Jerusalemmarker, Mount Lebanonmarker 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 Himsmarker, the Beqaa Valley, Hauran, and the Golan Heights a part of its territories. With military support from Sharaf al-Din Mawdud of Mosulmarker, 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.

In who withstood a siege of the city during the Second Crusade in 1148. In 1154 Damascus was conquered from the Burids by the famous Zengid atabeg Nur ad-Din of Aleppomarker, the great foe of the Crusaders. He made it his capital, and following his death, it was acquired by Saladin, the ruler of Egypt, who also made it his capital. Saladin rebuilt the citadel, and it is reported that under his rule the suburbs were as extensive as the city itself.

In the years following Saladin's death in 1193, 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.

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 Mosquemarker was burnt and men and women taken into slavery. A huge number of the city's artisans were taken to Timur's capital at Samarkandmarker. 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

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-Salihiyahmarker. 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 Egyptmarker from 1832 to 1840 . Because of its importance as the point of departure for one of the two great Hajj caravans to Meccamarker, Damascus was treated with more attention by the Porte than its size might have warranted — for most of this period, Aleppomarker was more populous and commercially more important. In 1560 the Tekkiye al-Sulaimaniyahmarker, a mosque and khan for pilgrims on the road to Mecca, was completed to a design by the famous Ottoman architect Sinan, and soon afterwards a madrasamarker was built adjoining it.

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 Lebanonmarker 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.


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, the forces of the Arab revolt led by Prince Faysal entered Damascus. The same day, Major A.C.N. 'Harry' Olden DSO, of the 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment as part of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade vanguard from the British Yeomanry Mounted Division entered the city and accepted its surrender from the Turkish appointed Governor Emir Said (installed as Governor the previous afternoon by the retreating Turkish Commander). A military government under Shukri Pasha was named. Other British forces including T. E. Lawrence followed later that day, and Faisal ibn Hussein was proclaimed king of Syria. Political tension rose in November 1917, when the new Bolshevik government in Russiamarker 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 Francemarker 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 Souqmarker and Medhat Pasha Souqmarker was burned to the ground, with many deaths, and has since then been known as al-Hariqamarker ("the fire"). The old city was surrounded with barbed wire to prevent rebels infiltrating from the Ghoutamarker, 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. With the influx of Iraqi refugees beginning in 2003 and funds from the Persian Gulf, Damascus has been going through an economic boom ever since.


Damascus lies about inland from the Mediterranean Seamarker, sheltered by the Anti-Lebanonmarker Mountains. It lies on a plateau above sea-level.

The old city of Damascus, enclosed by the city walls, lies on the south bank of the river Baradamarker 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, Saroujamarker 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 Qasiounmarker, 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-Marjehmarker 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-Marjehmarker and al-Salihiyahmarker. 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 Yarmoukmarker 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 Mezzehmarker 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.

Damascus used to be surrounded by an oasis, the Ghoutamarker region (الغوطة ), 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.


Snow in Damascus
Damascus has a semi-arid climate, due to the rain shadow effect of the Anti-Lebanon mountains. Summers are dry and hot with less humidity. Winters are cool and rainy or snowy. January maximum and minimum temperatures are and , lowest ever recorded being . The summer August maximum and minimum temperature are and , with the highest ever recorded being . Annual rainfall is around 20 cm (8 in), occurring from November to March.


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. Most goods produced in Damascus, as well as in Syria, are distributed to Countries of the Arabian peninsula. Damascus also holds an annual international trade exposition in the fall since 1955.

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. Since the early 2000s, numerous boutique hotels and bustling cafes opened in the old city which attract plenty of European tourists and Damascenes alike.

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. 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.Damascus is home to a wide range of industrial activity, such as Textile, food processing, Cement and various Chemical industries. 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 .Traditional handcrafts and artisan copper engraving are still produced in the old city.

The Damascus stock exchange formally opened for trade in March 2009.


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. However, according to the 2007 estimates released by the CBS, the population of Damascus was estimated at 1,669,000 in 2007. 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, Harastamarker, Darayyamarker, Al-Tall and Jaramanamarker. 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.


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.


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 Mosquemarker. Christians-especially Syriac-Assyrians represent 15% of the population, and there a number of Christian districts, such as Bab Tumamarker, Kassaa, and Ghassani, with many churches, most notably the ancient Chapel of Saint Paulmarker. 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 to Roman times.

Historical sites

A quiet 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 below the modern level. The Citadel of Damascusmarker is located in the northwest corner of the Old City. The Street Called Straightmarker (referred to in the conversion of St. Paul in Acts 9:11), also known as the Via Rectamarker, was the decumanus (East-West main street) of Roman Damascus, and extended for over . Today, it consists of the street of Bab Sharqi and the Souk Medhat Pasha, a covered market. The Bab Sharqimarker street is filled with small shops and leads to the old Christian quarter of Bab Tumamarker (St. Thomas's Gate). Medhat Pasha Souqmarker 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 Ananiasmarker, an underground chapel that was the cellar of Ananias's house.The Umayyad Mosquemarker, also known as the Grand Mosque of Damascus, is one of the largest mosques in the world, and 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 Mosquemarker, 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 Mosquemarker, which is the tomb of Zaynab bint Ali.

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-Saghirmarker (The Small Gate)
  • Bab al-Faradismarker ("the gate of the orchards", or "of the paradise")
  • Bab al-Salammarker ("the gate of peace"), all on the north boundary of the Old City
  • Bab Tumamarker ("Touma" or "Thomas's Gate") in the north-east corner, leading into the Christian quarter of the same name,
  • Bab Sharqimarker ("eastern gate") in the east wall, the only one to retain its Roman plan
  • Bab Kisanmarker 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 chapelmarker marking the event has been built into the structure,
  • Bab al-Jabiyamarker 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

  • Virgin Mary's Cathedral.
  • House of Saint Ananiasmarker.
  • Chapel of Saint Paulmarker.
  • The Roman Catholic Cathedral in Zaitoon (Olive) Alley.
  • The Damascene Saint Johan church.
  • Saint Paul's Laura.
  • Saint George's Syriac Orthodox Church.
File:Damascus-Ananias chapel.jpg|House of Saint AnaniasmarkerFile:A church in damascus.jpg|A church in the old cityFile:St George Syriac orthodox church in Damascus.jpg|Saint George's Syriac Orthodox Church.

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 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 UNESCOmarker World Heritage Center:
  • 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 Tumamarker have been recognized by The World Monument Fund as one of the most endangered sites in the world.[1004]


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 Mezzehmarker
13 Midan
14 Muhajreen
15 Qanawat
16 Rukn Eddeen
17 Al-Salihiyahmarker
18 Saroujamarker
19 Sha'alan
20 Shaghoor
21 Tijara


Damascus is the main center of education in Syria. It is home to University of Damascusmarker, which is the oldest and by far the 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 Airportmarker, approximately 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

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 another train station in the south of the city which now functions as the main railway station.

In 2008, the government announced a plan to construct an underground system in Damascus with opening time for the green line scheduled for 2015. 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, 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.

Food and Drinks

Tea and Turkish coffee are the most common beverages in Damascus.


File:Damascus-National-Museum.JPG|National Museum of DamascusmarkerFile:October war panorama.jpg|October War Panorama Museum


Popular sports include football, basketball, swimming and table tennis. Damascus is home to many sports clubs, such as:

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

Leisure activities

A Damascus coffeehouse

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.

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' Ghoutamarker (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.

Nearby attractions

  • Madayamarker : a small mountainous town well known holiday resort.
  • Bloudanmarker : a town located 51 kilometers 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.
  • Zabadanimarker : 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.
  • Maaloulamarker : a town dominated by speakers of Western Neo-Aramaic.
  • Saidnayamarker : a city located in the mountains, 1500 metres (0.938 miles) above sea level, it was one of the episcopal cities of the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch.

Born in Damascus

International relations

Main article: List of twin towns and sister cities in Syria

Twin towns — Sister cities

Damascus is twinned with:


File:Ummayad Mosque at night.jpg|Umayyad Mosquemarker at nightFile:Spice shop in Damascus.jpg|Spice shop in Old DamascusFile:Umayyad square.jpg|Umayyad SquaremarkerFile:Umayyad Mosque-Minaret of the Bride.jpg|Umayyad MosqueFile:Azem Palace window.jpg|Window at Azem PalacemarkerFile:Bakdash2.JPG|Traditional Damascene ice creamFile:Cham Palace Hotel Damascus.jpg|Cham Palace HotelFile:Office Building Damascus.jpg|Office building in DamascusFile:Downtown Damascus.jpg|Downtown DamascusFile:Old-Arabic-Houses-Damascus.JPG|Old houses of DamascusFile:Carpet cleaning Damascus.jpg| Carpet Cleaning in the Umayyad Mosque's courtyardFile:Umayyad Mosque partial facade.jpg| Mosaic Work on the Umayyad Mosque's facadeFile:Old-Arabic-House-Damascus.jpg|Azem PalacemarkerFile:سوق-الحميدية.JPG|Al-Hamidiyah SouqmarkerFile:Sabe' bahrat-square.JPG|Sabe' Bahrat square in Damascus, Central Bank of Syriamarker can been seen in the backgroundFile:Damascene antique shop .JPG|Damascene antique shopFile:Western Temple gate Damascus.jpg| Western Temple gateFile:Damascus old car.jpg|It's very common to see old cars in DamascusFile:Traditional Damascene restaurant.jpg|Traditional Damascene home turned into a restaurantFile:Souq Medhat Pasha1.jpg|Souq Medhat Pasha



  2. List I, 13 in J. Simons, Handbook for the Study of Egyptian Topographical Lists relating to Western Asia, Leiden 1937. See also Y. AHARONI, The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography, London 1967, p147, No. 13.
  3. (in Book Reviews) Ancient Damascus: A Historical Study of the Syrian City-State from Earliest Times Until Its Fall to the Assyrians in 732 BC., Wayne T. Pitard. Review author: Paul E. Dion, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 270, Ancient Syria. (May, 1988), p. 98
  4. The Stele Dedicated to Melcarth by Ben-Hadad of Damascus, Frank Moore Cross. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 205. (Feb., 1972), p. 40.
  5. Moore, A.M.T. The Neolithic of the Levant. Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 1978. 192-198. Print.
  6. MacMillan, pp. 30–31
  7. Islamic city. Encyclopædia Britannica.
  8. Ellen Clare Miller, 'Eastern Sketches - notes of scenery, schools and tent life in Syria and Palestine'. Edinburgh: William Oliphant and Company. 1871. page 90. quoting Eli Jones, a Quaker from New England.
  9. subsequently mentioned in dispatches
  10. Central Bureau of Statistics General Census of Population and Housing
  11. Syrian News Agency: Syrian Population Estimated at 19,405 Million
  13. Beatties and Pepper, 2001, p. 102.
  15. Ross Burns, Damascus: A History‎ - Page 59
  16. K. Müller &c Fragmenta historicorum graecorum vol. 3 p.344.
  17. M. Walsh, ed. Butler's Lives of the Saints(HarperCollins Publishers: New York, 1991), pp. 403.
  18. Donald E. Wagner. Dying in the Land of Promise: Palestine and Palestinian Christianity from Pentecost to 2000
  19. Moubayed, Sami. Steel and Silk: Men and Women Who Shaped Syria, 1900-2005. Seatle, WA: Cune Press, 2005. Print.
  20. Moubayed, Sami. Steel and Silk: Men and Women Who Shaped Syria, 1900-2005. Seatle, WA: Cune Press, 2005. Print.
  21. Moubayed, Sami. Steel and Silk: Men and Women Who Shaped Syria, 1900-2005. Seatle, WA: Cune Press, 2005. Print.
  22. La Cooperación Directa en el Ayuntamiento de Córdoba - Córdoba City Council Web
  23. International Relations - São Paulo City Hall - Official Sister Cities
  24. International Relations - São Paulo City Hall - Official Sister Cities

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