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DAMASCUS 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 mosque.

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 Omayyad mosque.

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 there.

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 (1921)MPI; J. Sauvaget, Les monuments historiques de Damas (1932)P; id., “Le plan antique de Damas,” Syria 26 (1949)PI; K.A.C. Cresswell, Early Muslim Architecture (1932)PI; 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 de l'Islam II (2d ed. 1962).


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