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Damascus

DAMASCUS

Syria's capital and largest city.

Damascus is situated on the edge of an ancient oasis, al-Ghuta, where the Barada River runs along the eastern base of the Anti-Lebanon mountains. The city is mentioned by name as early as the fifteenth century b.c.e., when it was captured by the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmoses III. It was subsequently occupied by the Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Nabataeans before being conquered by Rome, whose governors constructed the network of streets, plazas, walls, and gates that continues to define the contours of the Old City. When the Byzantines took charge of Damascus around 395 c.e., they consecrated the massive temple to Jupiter in the center of the city as the Church of Saint John the Baptist. The largely Monophysite population remained hostile to the Melkite rulers of Byzantium and welcomed the Sassanid army that occupied the city in 612.

Byzantine forces retook Damascus around 627, but after a brief siege the city opened its gates to the Arab Muslims led by Khalid ibn al-Walid in September 635. Byzantium's counterattack was crushed on the banks of the Yarmuk River the following summer, and in December 636 an Arab/Muslim army commanded by Abu Ubayda ibn al-Jarra marched into the city once again. Upon the death of the governor Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan three years later, Yazid's brother Muʿawiya assumed command of the Arab Muslim forces based in Damascus. Muʿawiya succeeded Ali as caliph, or leader, of the Muslims after a series of confrontations in 658661 and designated the city as the capital of the new Umayyad dynasty.

During the Umayyad era from 661 to 750, Damascus constituted the center of a political and economic domain stretching from Spain in the west to Khorasan in the east. The third Umayyad ruler, al-Walid, transformed the comparatively modest mosque that had been built on the grounds of the Church of Saint John into a much grander structure, known as the Umayyad Mosque. This building and other monuments constructed by the Umayyads were ransacked when an Abbasid army occupied the city in the spring of 750. Damascus fell into relative obscurity after the Abbasid dynasty transferred the Muslim capital to Iraq; its inhabitants repeatedly rose in revolt, but Abbasid forces crushed each of these insurrections. The powerful governor of Egypt, Ahmad ibn Tulun, incorporated Damascus into his domain in 878, as did a powerful Turkic confederation, the Ikhshidids, sixty years later.

By the late tenth century, Damascus stood at the intersection of conflicts involving the Fatimid rulers of Egypt, the Hamdanids of Aleppo, the Byzantines to the west, various Turkoman tribes from the north, and the collapsing Abbasid Empire in the east. Continual raids and occupations severely disrupted the city's trade and destroyed whole commercial and residential districts. A series of Seljuk governors struggled to gain control of the city during the last quarter of the eleventh century, but it was only when the military commander (atabeg) Zahir al-Din Tughtaqin seized power in 1104 that a modicum of order returned. Tughtaqin's successors, the Burids, oversaw a marked recovery of the Damascene economy and the establishment of several new suburbs, although the dynasty faced a combination of internal challenges from the Batiniyya and external threats from the Crusaders and the Zangids of Aleppo until the last Burid ruler was supplanted by Nur al-Din Mahmud in 1154.

Nur al-Din reestablished Damascus as the capital of Syria. New fortifications were constructed; religious schools and foundations proliferated. The city fell into the hands of Nur al-Din's former lieutenant, Salah al-Din ibn al-Ayyubi, in 1176 and remained an important Ayyubid center for the next half century. During these decades, European merchants turned the silk brocade, copper wares, and leather goods manufactured in the city into lucrative items of international commerce. Profits generated by the burgeoning trade with Europe enabled the court to patronize large numbers of prominent scholars and artisans. This illustrious era ended only when the Mongols overran the city in the spring of 1260. In the wake of the Mongol defeat at Ayn Jalut, Damascus became subordinated to the Mamluk rulers of Egypt, for whom it served first as a forward base of operations against Mongol incursions and later as a provincial capital.

Damascus put up little resistance to the Ottomans, who occupied the city in September 1516. When Sultan Selim I died five years later, however, the long-standing governor Janbirdi al-Ghazali declared the city independent. Janissaries quickly suppressed the revolt, pillaging and burning whole neighborhoods. Thereafter, Damascus lost much of its political and economic importance and became the seat of one of three Ottoman governorates (vilayets) in Syria. The city's fortunes rose whenever local families captured the office of governor, most notably during the period of al-Azm rule in the early eighteenth century, but fell when such families relinquished power to outsiders. Throughout the Ottoman era, Damascus served as a key way station along the pilgrimage route between Anatolia and Mecca. The governor of the city assumed the office of commander of the pilgrimage (amir alhajj) for the arduous trip south across the Syrian desert, a position from which both his administration and his fellow Damascenes derived considerable revenue. The link to the Hijaz was reinforced with the opening of a railway line between Damascus and Medina in 1908.

By the first years of the twentieth century, Damascus had become a major center of agitation against the Ottoman regime. The reformist governor Midhat Paşa not only tolerated the growth of Arab nationalist sentiment, but also inaugurated improvements in the city's roads and commercial districts that strengthened the local bourgeoisie. The liberal atmosphere encouraged Damascenes to demonstrate in support of the 1908 revolution in Istanbul, but the outbreak of World War I brought a reassertion of Ottoman authority. The wartime governor Cemal Paşa cracked down on Arab nationalists, most famously by hanging twenty-one prominent leaders in the main squares of Damascus and Beirut on 6 May 1916. The Ottoman troops did not withdraw from Damascus until the end of September 1918, and on 1 October Arab forces led by Amir Faisal I ibn Hussein of the Hijaz marched into the city alongside British imperial units.

Faisal immediately set up a military government in Damascus then supervised the formation of a general Syrian congress, which on 7 March 1920 declared Syria a sovereign state with Faisal as king. When the establishment of the new civilian administration went unacknowledged by the European powers meeting in San Remo the following month, and France was given charge of the country's affairs by way of a mandate from the League of Nations to prepare the country for eventual independence, Damascus exploded in rioting; the general congress declared a state of emergency and ordered the formation of a militia to assist in restoring order. Despite the efforts of the Syrian authorities, popular unrest persisted, prompting the French army to occupy the city at the end of July 1920 and exile King Faisal. Strikes and demonstrations continued throughout the mandate period; the rebel Druze leader Sultan al-Atrash managed to gain a foothold in the southern suburbs during the revolt of 1925. French commanders responded by bombarding Damascus twice, in October 1925 and April 1926. Nineteen years later, on the eve of France's final evacuation and Syria's independence, the city was bombarded yet again.

With a population (2002) of 1,368,300, contemporary Damascus is not only the largest city and capital of the Syrian Arab Republic but also a major industrial and commercial center. Damascus University, founded in 1923, remains the country's most prestigious institution of higher education, and al-Asad Library houses Syria's largest collection of printed materials. An annual international trade fair, initiated in 1954, promotes a wide range of Syrian-made goods, while encouraging the city's influential business community to establish closer connections with the outside world.

See also Atrash, Sultan Pasha al-; Cemal Paşa; Damascus University; Faisal I ibn Hussein; Janissaries; Mamluks; Midhat Paşa; Umayyad Mosque.


Bibliography

Hinnebusch, Raymond A., Jr. A Political Organization in Syria: A Case of Mobilization Politics. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1975.

Hopwood, Derek. Syria 19451986: Politics and Society. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1988.

Keenan, Brigit, and Bedon, Tim (photographer). Damascus: Hidden Treaures of the Old City. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000.

Khoury, Philip S. Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Khoury, Philip S. Urban Notables and Arab Nationalism: The Politics of Damascus, 18601920. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

fred h. lawson

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"Damascus." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Damascus." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/damascus

Damascus

Damascus (dəmăs´kəs), Arabic Dimashq or ash-Sham, city (1995 est. pop. 1,500,000), capital of Syria and of its Damascus governorate, SW Syria, on the eastern edge of the Anti-Lebanon Mts. It is Syria's largest city and its administrative, financial, and communications center. Damascus stands in the oasis of Ghouta on the margins of the Syrian Desert, and is bisected by the Barada River. Manufactures include textiles, metalware, refined sugar, glass, furniture, cement, leather goods, preserves, confections, and matches. The city is served by a railroad, highways, and an international airport.

Points of Interest

Damascus Univ. (1923), Damascus Oriental Institute of Music (1950), a technological institute (1963), an industrial school (1964), and the national museum (1919) are in Damascus. The old city lies south of the Barada, and the new town (greatly extended since 1926) lies north of the river. Points of interest include the Great Mosque (one of the largest and most famous mosques in the Muslim world), the quadrangular citadel (originally Roman; rebuilt 1219), a 16th-century Muslim monastery, and Azm palace (1749; now a museum and center for the study of Islamic art and architecture). The biblical "street which is called Straight" still runs in the old city from the east to the west gate, flanked by bazaars.

History

Located in a strategic gap commanding the Barada River and transdesert routes, Damascus has been inhabited since prehistoric times and is reputedly the oldest continuously occupied city in the world. There was a city on its site even before the time (c.2000 BC) of Abraham. Damascus was probably held by the Egyptians before the Hittite period (2d millennium BC) and was later ruled by the Israelites and Aram. Tiglathpileser III made it (732 BC) a part of the Assyrian Empire. From the 6th to the 4th cent. BC it was a provincial capital of the Persian Empire until it passed (332 BC) without a struggle to the armies of Alexander the Great.

After Alexander's death the Seleucids (see Seleucia) gained control of the city, although the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt tried to wrest it from them. When Seleucid power waned, Tigranes of Armenia took Damascus; but after his surrender to the Romans, Damascus passed (64 BC) into the Roman Empire under Pompey. One of the cities of the Decapolis confederacy, it was generally under Roman influence until the breakup of the empire.

Damascus became a thriving commercial city, noted for its woolen cloth and grain, and was early converted to Christianity. It was on the road to Damascus that Paul (d. 67) experienced his dramatic conversion, and it was from Damascus that he escaped persecution by being lowered down the wall in a basket. The Roman emperor Theodosius I had a Christian church built there (AD 379) on the foundations of the Roman temple of Zeus (1st cent. AD).

After the permanent split (395) of the Roman Empire, Damascus became a provincial capital of the Byzantine Empire. The Arabs, who had attacked and sporadically held the city since before the time of Paul, occupied it permanently in 635. The city was then gradually converted to Islam, and the Christian church built by Theodosius was rebuilt (705) as the Great Mosque. Damascus was the seat of the caliphate under the Umayyads from 661 until 750, when the Abbasids made Baghdad the center of the Muslim world. Damascus thereafter fell prey to new conquerors—the Egyptians, the Karmathians, and the Seljuk Turks (1076).

Although the Christian Crusaders failed in several attempts to annex the city, they ravaged the rich alluvial plain several times while the Saracen rulers, notably Nur ad-Din (1118–74) and Saladin (1137?–1193), were absent on campaigns. Damascus continued to prosper under the Saracens; its bazaars sold brocades (damask), wool, furniture inlaid with mother of pearl, and the famous swords and other ware of the Damascene metalsmiths. In 1260 the city fell to the Mongols under Hulagu Khan, and it was sacked c.1400 by Timur, who took away the swordmakers and armorers.

In 1516, Damascus passed to the Ottoman Turks, and for 400 years it remained in the Ottoman Empire. There was a massacre of Christians by Muslims in 1860, and in 1893 a disastrous fire damaged the Great Mosque. In World War I, Col. T. E. Lawrence helped to prepare the British capture of Damascus; it was entered (1918) by British Field Marshal Allenby and Emir Faisal (later King Faisal I of Iraq).

Britain had promised that Arab lands would revert back to the Arabs if the Turks were defeated. However, once in Damascus, the British reneged on the promise. After the war the city became the capital of one of the French Levant States mandated under the League of Nations. Owing to broken promises about Arab control, Damascus in 1925–26 joined with the Druze in revolt against the French, who shelled and badly damaged the city.

During World War II, Free French and British forces entered Damascus, which became capital of independent Syria in 1941. When Syria and Egypt joined to form the United Arab Republic in 1958, Cairo was made the capital, with Damascus the capital of the Syrian region. Syria withdrew from the United Arab Republic in 1961. In the Syrian civil war that began in 2011 there was significant fighting in the city's suburbs, but Damascus itself remained largely under control of government forces.

Bibliography

See C. Thubron, Mirror to Damascus (1967, repr. 1986).

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Damascus

Damascus a city (now capital of Syria) which has existed for over 4,000 years (see also Damascene). In the Bible, it was while Saul of Tarsus was travelling to Damascus in pursuit of Christians that he experienced a vision from God, and was temporarily struck blind; when he recovered his sight, he became a convert (see St Paul1) to the cause which he had formerly persecuted.
Damascus steel steel made with a wavy surface pattern produced by hammer-welding strips of steel and iron followed by repeated heating and forging, used chiefly for knife and sword blades. Such items were often marketed, but not necessarily made, in Damascus during the medieval period.
road to Damascus a sudden and complete personal conversion to a cause or principle which one has formerly rejected.

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Damascus

Damascus or Dimashq. Capital of Syria, claimed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Saul was converted to Christianity on the way to Damascus (hence ‘a Damascus road experience’ for any life-changing event); and ‘the street called Straight’ (i.e. Via Recta, Acts 9. 11) still runs for about a mile E.–W., with Roman gates at each end. When the Umayyads came to power in 661 (AH 41), Damascus became their capital. The greatest monument is the Umayyad mosque, now restored after fire in 1893.

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"Damascus." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Damascus." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/damascus

"Damascus." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/damascus

Damascus

DamascusBacchus, Caracas, Gracchus •Damascus •Aristarchus, carcass, Hipparchus, Marcus •discus, hibiscus, meniscus, viscous •umbilicus • Copernicus •Ecclesiasticus • Leviticus • floccus •caucus, Dorcas, glaucous, raucous •Archilochus, Cocos, crocus, focus, hocus, hocus-pocus, locus •autofocus •fucus, Lucas, mucous, mucus, Ophiuchus, soukous •ruckus • fuscous • abacus •diplodocus • Telemachus •Callimachus • Caratacus • Spartacus •circus

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