Introduction of Damascus
Nation’s capital and principal city, located in the Ghouta oasis in the SW, at the E base of the Anti- Lebanon Mts, approximately 57 mi SE of Beirut, presently the administrative, financial, and communications center of Syria. Of uncertain origin, it is considered by some to be among the oldest continually inhabited cities in the Western world. A trading center was on the site before the time of Abraham, c. 2000 b.c. It was probably first inhabited by Aramaeans from the Syrian Desert.
Like much of the surrounding Middle Eastern region, through the centuries it has been invaded and absorbed by a succession of conquerors and their empires. Probably a part of the domain of Egypt before being taken by the Hittites in the second millennium b.c., it was then controlled by the Aramaeans and the Israelites. While part of Assyria under Tiglath Pileser III after 732 b.c., it was captured by Babylonia, then taken by Persia, which made it a provincial capital in the empire. Conquered by Alexand er the Great, it passed to the succeeding Seleucid dynasty, which was then threatened by the Greek Ptolemies of Egypt. Armenia under Tigranes next held Damascus until defeated by Rome under Pompey in 64 b.c. As one of the cities of the Decapolis, it remained under Roman influence until the division of the empire. the city accepted Christianity early in its history, the road to Damascus being famous as the site of the conversion of the Roman civil servant Paul. In a.d. 379 the Roman emperor Theodosius I ordered the construction of a Christian church on the foundations of a temple to Zeus. Following the division of the Roman Empire into eastern and western parts in a.d. 395, the city became a provincial capital of the Byzantine Empire. Shortly after the birth of Islam, it was captured by the Arabs and was slowly converted to the religion of Muhammad. It became the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate from 661 to 750. The Christian church of Theodosius was rebuilt in 705 as the Great Mosque. The city became a center of Islamic culture and of a naturalistic art heavily indebted to its Hellenistic past.
Damascus became less important in the Islamic world after 750, when the Abbasid Caliphate made Baghdad the Muslim center. It was subsequently taken by the Egyptians, Carmathians, and Seljuk Turks by 1076, and it was then threatened unsuccessfully in the 12th century by Christian crusaders during periods of Saracen weakness. The city flourished under Saracen rule, developing a renowned metalsmithing and swordmaking industry. Damascus steel has been famous in Europe since that time. Its cloth was widely exported to the West during the Middle Ages as cloth of Damascus, or Damask. In 1260 it was captured by the Mongols, and was subsequently ravaged by Tamerlane c. 1400 who carried away the expert armorers and swordmakers. Taken by the Ottoman Empire in 1516, it remained under the control of the Turks for 400 years, until the end of World War I. Early in this period Suleiman I, then Ottoman ruler of Damascus, constructed a notable mosque and the Tekkiya Inn to house pilgrims making the hajj or holy pilgrimage to Mecca.
During World War I Thomas Edward Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia,” was instrumental in preparations for the British capture of the city by Lord Allenby and Emir Faisal, later Faisal I of Iraq. Made a French mand ate under the League of Nations after the war, the city joined the Druse in a rebellion against the French in 1925–26. Nevertheless, it remained under nominal French control. During World War II the British and Free French entered it, but it was named the capital of an independent Syria in 1946. In 1958 it became the Syrian capital of the United Arab Republic, composed of Syria and Egypt, from which Syria withdrew in 1961 to form an independent Syrian Arab Republic.
Historic structures include the Great Mosque, one of the largest and most outstand ing in the Islamic world; a quadrangular citadel dating from Roman times and reconstructed in 1219; a Muslim monastery from the 16th century; and the Azm palace dating from 1749, now a museum and institute for the study of Islamic art and architecture. The ancient “street which is called Straight” in the book of Acts 9:11 runs E to W through the old city.