Cities and Regions

Damascus is the capital of Syria and its most populous city with 2 million inhabitants. It is the seat of government of Damascus province which includes the districts of Dumar, Zabadani, Qatifa and Nabak. It is the commercial, industrial, cultural, agricultural center of the governorate.

Damascus lies in southwestern Syria northeast of Jebal al Sheikh on a large plateau about 80km inland. Surrounding the city is the Ghouta, a green oasis watered by the Barada River. The Ghouta is diminishing as housing and industry in the city expand. Overlooking Damascus on the north is Jebal Qasioun.

Damascus is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities. Some claim the name means “quick” (damshaq), because it was built quickly. Others claim it is named after Damashq bin Qani bin Malik bin Arfashakhd bin Sam bin Nouh, a descendant of Noah, or that it was named after one of its founders whose name was Dimashq. Some say that the fist wall built after the Flood is the wall of Damascus and Harran.

The Arameans in 940BC established the first canal irrigation system which is still the basis of the water system in the old city. Damaascus fell to the generals of Alexander the Great in 323BC; in 64BC it was occupied by the Romans. The eastern gate of the old city remains from Roman times.

The Apostle Paul received his vision on the road to Damascus according to the New Testament. In 636AD the city was captured by the Arabs who made it the capital of the Umayyad dynasty. In the Abbasid period beginning in 750AD Damascus was ruled from Baghdad and it was a destination for poets who were compensated for poems in praise of the caliphs. It fell to a succession of Muslim dynasties: the Tulunids (under the rule of Ahmad bin Tulun of Egypt), the Akhshids, the Fatimids, Ayyubids and Mamluks. In 1499 AD Tamerlane invaded and burned down the city. In 1516 it was occupied by the Ottomans then liberated by the Egyptians in 1832 under the leadership of Ibrahim bin Mohamed Ali Pasha.

Damascus has two airports: the old airport in Mezze west of the city; the new airport about 30km southeast of the city. On the road to the airport is a conference center, a women’s military academy, a cinema city and an opera house. Other large facilities are the presidential palace, and the Assad Library. The city has several large hotels. Damascus hosts an annual regionally important trade fair, and an annual International Flower Fair.

Damascus has a thriving industrial sector where chemicals, plastics, metals are produced. There is leather and shoe manufacturing, sweets and canned goods factories. Textiles are manufactured from local cotton.

Souk al- Hamidieh, souk Midhat Pasha and souk al-Buzurieh are some of the covered souks in the city. Each souk specialized in a type of merchandise: brocade, handicrafts, mosaics, damascene wood furniture with mother of pearl inlay, copper and brass, silver, gold, and spices. Immediately adjacent to Souk al Hamidieh is the Umayyad mosque. The souk is named after the Sultan Adbel Hamid who built it over a hundred years go.

The Umayyad Mosque, also called the Great Mosque, is one of the largest mosques in the world. Built on the site of an Assyrian sanctuary and a series of other religious buildings, it was begun by al Walid bin abd el Malik in 709 AD and took nine years to complete.

The ruins of Hanania Church are in the city in a stone cavern. Hanania is said to have converted the Apostle Paul to Christianity.

Damascus National Museum on Shoukry al-Quwatly Street is the region’s richest in antiquities. The treasures include clay tablets from Ras Shamra/Ugarit (1400BC), from the Bronze age, Greek pottery and Roman artifacts, Byzantine mosaics and Islamic objects (14th century medical works manuscript).

Azem Palace was built in the mid 18th century as a residence for Asaad Pasha Azem, the Ottoman governor. Water from the Barada was diverted for the palace’s gardens. Today it is a cultural history museum with each room depicting a typical damascene tradition.

The old city of Damascus on the south bank of the Barada, which is enclosed by walls, was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 based on the following criteria:

1) it represents a masterpiece of human creative genius;

2) it exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
3) it bears a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;

4) it is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;

5) it is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.

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