later DEMETRIAS (Damascus) Syria.
In the interior of S Syria, between the mountains
and the desert, in the midst of irrigated gardens, famous
for their produce. It was conquered by Alexander the
Great in 332 B.C. The Lagids and Seleucids wrangled
over it, and the latter gave it the name of Demetrias. It
was threatened by the Iturii and passed under Nabataean
control in 85 B.C. under Aretas III Philhellene. Conquered by Pompey in 64 B.C., Damascus flourished in the
Roman period. It was the birthplace of Apollodorus,
Trajan's architect, and became a Roman colony under
the Severans. Diocletian set up an arsenal here; Julian
visited the town, and Theodosius and Arcadius built a
church in honor of St. John the Baptist. Taken by the
Persians in 612, it was reconquered by Heraclius in 628
and in 635-36 by the Moslems.
The site has never been abandoned, but there are few
Greek or Roman remains: notably the Temple of Damascene Jupiter and the ancient plan of the city. The Street
called Straight, mentioned in The Acts of the Apostles,
can still be seen.
The sanctuary of Damascene Jupiter, now occupied by
the mosque of the Omayyads, was the largest of all Syrian sanctuaries. It consisted of a temple (completely destroyed in the Omayyad period) built in the middle of
two concentric courts. The inner one was 150 m E-W by
100 m N-S, and surrounded by a monumental peribolos
built in the first half of the 1st c. A.D. This has become
the enclosing wall of the mosque. The stone walls are 14
regular courses high, capped by stepped merlons. Towers
containing staircases stand at each corner; the S towers
serve as foundations for two of the minarets of the
The monumental entry was to the E, where propylaea
33 m long jutted out 15 m from the line of the walls.
The great stairway, which still has 15 steps, is buried to
over half of its original height. Three bays led to the
interior, with two small lateral rooms for the porters.
On the W was a single axial bay, with a large doorway
topped by an arch on each side, to admit carts and sacrificial animals. Spacious rooms (chambers and exedras)
extended right and left of the E and W gates up to the
towers. On both N and S sides was a triple bay adorned
with sculptures and, in the W part of the S side, a gate
topped by an arch. In Byzantine times three Christian
inscriptions were engraved over other words on the lintels of the S gates.
The outside enclosure consisted of a massive rampart.
The exterior was adorned with large pilasters and a portico was built against it on the interior. The remains of
the wall and colonnade are mainly visible to the E, where
a monumental gate with a triple bay lies exactly on the
axis of the large propylaea of the peribolos. The axial
arrangement on the W side can be seen in the souk which
leads to the W door of the mosque: a pediment supported by four large Corinthian columns framed by two
piers; beside these are pilasters which undoubtedly
matched the colonnade of the portico. An inscription of
A.D. 90-91 indicates that there was an entry for carts on
the W side, as well as a gamma-shaped annex which
stood against the enclosure and was supported by the
town ramparts on its N side.
The exact location of the Church of St. John the Baptist within the sanctuary of Damascene Jupiter is a matter of controversy; apparently it cannot have become the
On the axis of the E entry to the temple, a wide avenue, 240 m long and bordered with colonnades in the
Roman period, led to a spacious agora. The grid of the
ancient streets, which dates to Hellenistic times, has been
traced in the present plan of the E part of the old town,
E of the temple: the streets running N-S are spaced 45 m
apart, those running E-W 100 m apart. Some irregular
streets appear E of the agora, however, in a district whose
popular name suggests that it was the Nabataean quarter.
In the 1st c. A.D. there were so many Nabataeans in
Damascus that King Aretas IV maintained an ethnarch
The axis of the ancient town was the Street called
Straight, bordered with colonnades in Roman times. It
ran from the W gate to Bab Sharqi, the well-preserved E
gate with three bays with semicircular arches. The central pavement was more than 13 m wide, the lateral
porticos 6 m apiece. Actually the Street called Straight
had three sections with different axes, but two monumental arches masked the slight changes in orientation.
One arch can be seen 500 m W of Bab Sharqi; it has a
lateral bay with a semicircular vault and a sturdy masonry mole. The other was 250 m farther W. Not far from
the second arch, on the S side of the avenue, a hillock
often called a tell may cover the ruins of a palace. A tall
column bearing a huge imperial statue stood near it during the Late Empire. Farther W, S of the avenue, the
curving course of the streets suggests the existence of a
Roman theater. Its hemicycle opened to the N and must
have had a diameter of ca. 100 m.
The ramparts of the Moslem town follow the course
of the ancient walls only in a short stretch on either side
of the E Gate, where the line is strictly rectilinear and
perpendicular to the axis of the Street called Straight.
Even there, the ancient materials are all reused. Various
indications, however, have allowed a reconstruction of
the course of the ancient fortification. It was a huge
rectangle, and therefore must date to Roman times; the
mediaeval gates mark the sites of the ancient ones. The
remains of a Roman bridge over the river can be seen
some m from Bab Tuma, on the axis of the gate. The
citadel, XV of the temple, contains nothing ancient except
reused materials. On the inside, however, it preserves
part of the W front of the Roman ramparts.
J. L. Porter, Five Years in Damascus
(1855); C. Watzinger & K. Wulzinger, Damaskus
I, Die antike Stadt
; J. Sauvaget, Les monuments historiques de Damas
; id., “Le plan antique de Damas,” Syria
; K.A.C. Cresswell, Early Muslim Architecture
; E. Herzfeld, “Damaskus, Studies in Architecture,” Ars Islamica
13-14 (1948); H. Seyrig, “Eres de quelque villes
de Syrie: Damas . . . ,” Syria
27 (1950); N. Elisséeff, “Dimashk,” Encyclopédie
II (2d ed. 1962).