Ancient City of Damascus

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Ancient City of Damascus
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Ancient City of Damascus-107610.jpg
LocationDamascus, Syria
CriteriaCultural: (i), (ii), (iii), (iv), (vi)
Inscription1979 (3rd session)
Area86.12 ha (0.3325 sq mi)
Buffer zone42.60 ha (0.1645 sq mi)
Coordinates33°30′41″N 36°18′23″E / 33.51139°N 36.30639°E / 33.51139; 36.30639
Ancient City of Damascus is located in Syria
Ancient City of Damascus
Location of Ancient City of Damascus in Syria
Map of Damascus in 1855

The Ancient City of Damascus (Arabic: دِمَشْق ٱلْقَدِيمَة‎, romanizedDimašq al-Qadīmah) is the historic city centre of Damascus, Syria. The old city which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world,[1] contains numerous archaeological sites, including some historical churches and mosques. Many cultures have left their mark, especially Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic. In 1979, the historical center of the city, surrounded by walls of Roman era, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In June 2013, UNESCO included all Syrian sites on the list of World Heritage in Danger to warn of the risks to which they are exposed because of the Syrian Civil War.[2]

Origins and founding[edit]

Lying on the south bank of Barada River, the ancient city was founded in the 3rd millennium B.C. The horizontal diameter of the oval is about 1.5 km (0.9 mi) which is known as Damascus Straight Street, while the vertical diameter (Latin: Cardus Maximus) is about 1 km (0.6 mi). With an approximate area of 86.12 hectares (212.8 acres; 0.86 km2), the ancient city was enclosed within a historic wall of 4.5 km (2.8 mi) in circuit that was mainly built by the Romans, then fortified by the Ayyubids and Mamluks.[2]

The first mentioning of Damascus was as "Ta-ms-qu" in the second millennium BC, it was situated in an Amorite region in the middle of a conflict zone between the Hittites and Egyptians. The city exercised tributary until the emergence of the Sea Peoples in 1200 BC whose raids helped in weakening the arch rivals. Consequently, the Semitic Arameans managed to establish the independent state of Aram-Damascus (11th century – 733 BC), naming the main city as ‘Dimashqu’ or ‘Darmeseq’.[3]

Historical timeline[edit]

Throughout its history, Damascus has been part of the following states:

Main sights[edit]

Typical ancient Damascene street

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 2.4 m (8 ft) below the modern level. The Citadel of Damascus is located in the northwest corner of the Old City. The Damascus Straight Street (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 m (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 Midhat 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 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 youngest daughter of Husayn ibn Ali, can also be found near the Umayyad Mosque. The ancient district of Amara is also within a walking distance from these sites. Another heavily visited site is Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque, where the tomb of Zaynab bint Ali is located.

Souqs and Khans[edit]

Al-Hamidiyah Souq

Historic buildings[edit]

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


Places of worship[edit]



The Umayyad Mosque at night


The old part of the city is surrounded with 4.5-kilometre-long (2.8-mile) thick walls,[13] pierced by the seven historical gates, the eighth gate was added later by Muslims. These are, clockwise from the north-east side:


The presence of public baths (ḥammāms) in Damascus started during the Umayyad era, while some historians date them back to the Roman era. The Damascene baths were mentioned by a number of Damascus historians, such as Ibn 'Asakir (1106–1175 AD) in his famous book "The History of Damascus". In his book, Ibn 'Asakir named 77 of baths working at that time within the city. The historian Ibn Shaddad counted 114 baths located in Damascus in 1250 AD.

The number of these baths increased to 365 during the Ottoman era, then decreased drastically to reach 60 baths in the late nineteenth century AD. Today, however, the number of baths in full operation is barely 20, the most famous of them is the "Nour al-Din al-Shahid" bath in the Al-Buzuriyah Souq.[14]

Districts and subdivisions[edit]

Al-Amarah District in The old City of Damascus

Preservation of the ancient city[edit]

Threats to the future of the old City[edit]

Narrow alley in old Damascus

Due to the rapid decline of the population of Old Damascus (between 1995 and 2009 about 30,000 people moved out of the old city for more modern accommodation),[15] 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 m (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.[16][17] 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[edit]

In spite of the recommendations of the UNESCO World Heritage Center:[18]

  • Souq al-Atiq, 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.[19]

In October 2010, Global Heritage Fund named Damascus one of 12 cultural heritage sites most "on the verge" of irreparable loss and destruction.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Eldredge, Niles and Horenstein, Sidney (2014). Concrete Jungle: New York City and Our Last Best Hope for a Sustainable Future. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-520-27015-2.CS1 maint: ref duplicates default (link)
  2. ^ a b "Ancient City of Damascus". UNESCO. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  3. ^ Ross Burns (2005). Damascus: A History. Routledge. pp. 4–8. ISBN 0-203-93995-6.
  4. ^ a b c d سوق الحميدية - اكتشف سورية
  5. ^ Al-Hamidiyah Souk, main Damascus shopping centre - The Arab Weekly
  6. ^ Burns, 2005, p. 61.
  7. ^ Finegan, 1981, pp. 58–60.
  8. ^ Archnet, Maktab Anbar Restoration
  9. ^ "Saint Ananias Chapel". Archived from the original on 2008-10-11. Retrieved 2017-11-04.
  10. ^ Correspondent, a Times Special (2013-09-09). "Damascus residents fear a U.S. strike will bring rebel onslaught". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2016-11-24.
  11. ^ "Syria". Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  13. ^ "سور دمشق وأبوابها السبعة استخدمت في السابق لصد الغزاة ولاستقبال ضيوف الخلفاء والأمراء وتستثمر حاليا سياحيا حيث تجذب السياح والمهتمين بالآثار". الشرق الأوسط (in Arabic). 23 February 2003.
  14. ^ "Hammams of Old Damascus: Back from the Dead". Huffington Post. 11 January 2016.
  15. ^ Hendawi, Hamza (2009-02-01). "Old Damascus struggles to cope in the new Syria". The San Diego Union-Tribune. The Associated Press. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  16. ^ World Monuments Fund. "2008 World Monuments Watch List Of 100 Most Endangered Sites" (PDF). World Monuments Fund. World Monuments Fund. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 March 2013. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  17. ^ "2008 Panelists Bios" (PDF). World Monuments Fund. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 13, 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
  18. ^ "The British Syrian Society". The British Syrian Society. Archived from the original on 2007-06-23. Retrieved 29 May 2009. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  19. ^ "". Archived from the original on 30 September 2002. Retrieved 6 November 2011.
  20. ^ "GHF". Global Heritage Fund. Archived from the original on 15 May 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2011.