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Damascus (dəmăsˈkəs), 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.


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 B.C.) of Abraham. Damascus was probably held by the Egyptians before the Hittite period (2d millennium B.C.) and was later ruled by the Israelites and Aram. Tiglathpileser III made it (732 B.C.) a part of the Assyrian Empire. From the 6th to the 4th cent. B.C. it was a provincial capital of the Persian Empire until it passed (332 B.C.) 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 B.C.) 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 (A.D. 379) on the foundations of the Roman temple of Zeus (1st cent. A.D.).

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 until 2018, but Damascus itself remained largely under control of government forces.


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

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Arabic, Dimashq), capital of the Syrian Arab Republic. Chief commercial, industrial, financial, transportation, and cultural center of the country. Located in the Barada valley in the foothills of the Anti-Lebanons at the foot of Mount Kasiun at an altitude of 690 m. Subtropical climate. Average January temperature, 7°-8° C; average July temperature, 26°-27° C. Annual precipitation, 227 mm. Population, 835,000 (1970; in 1950, 303,000). Most of the inhabitants are Arabs, but Kurds, Armenians, and other peoples also live in the city.

The first information on Damascus dates to the 16th century B.C. From the end of the 11th and beginning of the tenth century B.C. to 732 B.C. the city was the center of the Kingdom of Damascus. Later it became part of Assyria, the New Babylonian Kingdom, the Achaemenid Empire, the empire of Alexander the Great, the dominion of the Seleucids, and the Roman Empire. From the end of the fourth century A.D. the city was under the power of Byzantium. Damascus was conquered in 635 by the Arabs. From 661 to 750 it was the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate. Damascus expanded considerably during this period and became one of the most important centers of Muslim culture and Eastern Christianity. After the establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate and the transfer of the capital first to Anbar and then in 762 to Baghdad, Damascus remained the principal city of the province of the same name. The city came under the sway of the Tulunids in the ninth century, the Fatimids from the tenth to the mid-11th centuries, the Seljuks in the second half of the 11th century, and the Ayyubids in the 12th and 13th centuries. It was seized in 1260 by the Mamluks and captured in 1401 by Timur. During the Mamluk period (the 13th through the beginning of the 16th century) Damascus was a center for the caravan trade and handicrafts (fabrics, cold weapons, and jewelry), and it was a stronghold of Islam.

From 1516 to the end of World War I (1914–18) the city was part of the Ottoman Empire. From 1920 to 1943 it was the administrative center of the French mandated territory of Syria. Damascus was one of the centers of the Syrian National Uprising of 1925–27 and the national liberation movement in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It has been the capital of independent Syria since 1943.

Damascus has a well-developed food-processing industry (a sugar refinery near the city and a brewery in Adhra, as well as chocolate, pasteurized milk, and tobacco-processing factories). There are also textile mills, a large glass plant, and cement, electric cable, drug, and television assembly plants. The city is a handicrafts center (articles made of gold, silver, copper, wood, and leather, as well as brocades and carpet weaving). Damascus has electric power plants. It is connected by railroad and by automobile highways with Beirut (Lebanon), Amman (Jordan), and the cities of Horns, Hama, and Aleppo. The city has an international airport.

Monuments of ancient and medieval architecture have been preserved in Damascus. Some quarters have rectangularly laid out streets that date to the Seleucid era (364–312 B.C.). Surviving from the Roman period are a line of city walls (completed in the 12th century), gates, ruins of a monumental arch, and remains of the shrine of Jupiter the Damascene, with a high Corinthian colonnade. Examples of medieval architecture include the Umayyad Mosque (705–15, completed later), the Nural-Din Hospital (after 1154), the Madrasa al-Nuriyah (1171), the mausoleum of Saladin (12th century), and the Adiliyah Madrasa (1222). Other major medieval architectural monuments include the Zahiriyah Madrasa (1277), fortress towers and gates from the 12th to 15th centuries, Azm’s Palace (1749), the Takiyah Sulaymaniyah Mosque (1554; architect, Sinan), and Dar-wishiyah Mosque (1574). Nineteenth-century roofed markets have also been preserved (Suq al-Arwam and Suq al-Hamidiyah), as well as baths. Twentieth-century Damascus is expanding north and west. Important buildings include the main building of the university, the Orion Palace Hotel (1932; architect A. Thabit); the Ministry of Defense, the State Bank, and the university dormitory (all built in 1968 and 1969).

Damascus has a university, agricultural and polytechnic institutes, the Oriental Institute of Music, a higher industrial school, Damascus Academy, and the Arab Academy (the Adiliyah Madrasa). Located in the city are the National Library (Zahiriyah Madrasa, more than 63,000 volumes), the university library (more than 60,000 volumes), the National Museum, Azm’s Palace (National Museum of Art), and the Military Museum. The city has the Arab National Dramatic Theater, the Puppet Theater, two motion picture studios that produce documentary films, and the private studio of Nazih Sikhabnur.


“Dimashk.” In Encyclopedic de I’Islam, 2nd ed., vol. 2. Leiden-Paris, 1965. Pages 286–99.
Herzfeld, E. “Damascus: Studies in Architecture.” Ars Islamica, 1942–48, ’nos. 9–14.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the capital of Syria, in the southwest: reputedly the oldest city in the world, having been inhabited continuously since before 2000 bc Pop.: 2 317 000 (2005 est.)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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