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Bosra

About - City History - Gallery - Tourism Guide


ituated in the vast Hawran plain, some 145 km south of Damascus. It is an extremely ancient city mentioned in the lists of Tutmose III and Akhenaten in the fourteenth century B.C.The first Nabatean city in the second century B.C., it bore the name Buhora, but during the Hellenistic period, it was known by the name of Bustra.Later the Romans took an active interest in the city, and at the time of the Eperor Trajan it was made the capital of the Province of Arabia (in 106 B.C) and was called Neatrajana Bustra.The city saw its greatest period of prosperity and expansion then, became a crossroads on the caravan routes and the official seat and residence of the Imperial Legate.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, Bosra played a significant role in the history of early Christianity.It was also linked to the rise of Islam, when a Nestorian monk called Bahira, who lived in the city, met the young Muhammad when his caravan stopped at Bosra, and predicted his prophetic vocation and the faith he was going to initiate.

The most interesting part of the city today is the famous Roman theatre built in the second century A.C.,which seats 15 thousand spectators, and is considered one of the most beautiful and well preserved of Roman amphitheatres in the world.

Every summer, it hosts Arab and international performers who entertain audiences during the Bosra Art Festival against a majestic background of Roman columns and arches.

It has been one of the first Nabatean cities in the second century B.C. named <<Bohara>> whereas in the Hellenistic period it bore the name <<Bostra>>. Then the Romans arrived and the King Trajan made it a capital of the state of the Djezire under the name of <<<Nova Trajana Bostra>>. At that time the city underwent a great housing development being and important center for caravans as well as the seat of the imperial ruler.

Even after the Roman Domination, Bosra maintained its role during the early Christianity as well as at the rise of Islam. In this place lived a Nestorian Monk name << Buheira>>. One day he met a young man named "Mohammed ben Abdullah", who was passing with his caravan and predicted his prophecy, and his call for Islam. The most spectacular site of Bosra, most certainly, would be its famous Roman theater that dates back to the 2nd century, and is considered to be one of the most intact and the most beautiful Romans theaters known to us.

It seats fifteen thousands spectators. Its stage in 45m long and attains 8m. in depth. An annual festival is held in which local entertainment as well as pan Arab and international ones are shown. The town has many other vestiges such as Nabatean ruins, Roman ones, Byzantine traces and finally some Islamic vestiges such as the Mabrok and the Arous Mosques, the Citadel and the pool.

Prime attractions of this ancient (4000 BC) city are its 2nd-century Roman and Arab ruins. These include a well-preserved classical theater, a medieval Arab citadel, the 3rd-century Bab (gate) al-Qandil, Roman baths, the Umayyad Mosque of Omar, the Mosque of Fatima and the House of Monk Bohaira monastery. Busra is well worth a long day's visit from Damascus. If time permits, take the trip 15 mi/24 km east to Salkhad to see the 12th century fortress (offering an outstanding view of the region from atop a volcanic mountain) and then on to Sweida or the ruins at Kanawat (see separate paragraphs for the last two). 70 mi/113 km south of Damascus.


City History

Mentioned in the lists of Tutmose III and in the letters of Al-Amarna (in the archives of the Pharaoh Ahkenhaton, 1334 B.C.), also referred to in the Bible, became one of the leading Nabatean cities (1st Cent.) before being made the capital of the Province of Arabia by its Roman conquerors (106 AD). As the seat of an archbishop, Bosra played an important role in the history of early Christianity as well as having links with the beginnings of Islam.

The significance of the city as an important halt on the way to Mecca, and the prosperity that this city brought, lasted until the 17th century. In Bosra one can find the most extraordinary monuments in all the Middle East - the fortress-theater, recently and beautifully restored, where the best ballet, theater and folklore companies give performances every summer. This remarkable building is gradually bringing new life to Bosra. From the theater-fortress a narrow road with ancient paving stones leads into the decumanus, near a triple arch known as the Gate of Lantern. It was built in the 3rd Century, in honor of the Third Legion, garrisoned here at Bosra.

A short history:

At the beginning of the first millennium A.D., the region around Bosra was developed for agricultural purposes.

At the end of the Hellenistic period, Bosra had become the northern capital of the Nabateans, a sedentary Arab tribe which controlled the caravan trade (incense, herbs, dies, precious stones) between Arabia and the Mediterranean Basin. Its property was then at its zenith.

In 106 A.D., when Trajan gave in to the Nabateans and Petra, the Nabatean capital, declined at the expense of Palmyre, Bosra was encompassed by the Provincia Arabia, of which it became the capital city.

When the Roman Empire was divided in 395, Bosra became part of the Byzantine Empire. Although political and religious difficulties endured until the 7th century, its maritime trade flourished. Bosra played the role of an important border market for the Arab caravans the trade activities of which had been developing since between the 4th and 6th century B.C.

It was in the city of Bosra that the prophet Mohammed received the calling that informed him of his destiny to found Islam.

In the 8th century, at the time of the Crusades, the Ayubides - a dynasty founded by Saladin - transformed Bosra's famous Roman theatre into a fortress to prevent the Crusaders from reaching Damascus and from gaining access to the Hauran plain.

Bosra was the first city in Syria to become Muslim. Her square minarets are no doubt the oldest, still standing, in whole of Islam. The significance of the city as an important halt on the way to Mecca, and the prosperity that this brought, lasted until the 17th century. By then the region was becoming unsafe and the pilgrims began to take a less dangerous route further west.

Today, the international highway to Amman and Arabia crosses the Syria frontier at Dara'a; Bosra, forty kilometers away, is now merely the terminus of a narrow-gauge railway with a little old-fashioned train which runs twice a week. But this ancient train comes to a halt at the foot of one of the most extraordinary monuments in all the Middle East - the fortress-theater recently and beautifully restored, where the best ballet, theater and folklore companies give performances every summer. This remarkable building is gradually bringing new life to Bosra through tourism.


Tourism Guide

A Roman theater in an Arab citadel

From outside it could be an Arab fortress similar to many others. On a semi-circular front, great square towers built of enormous blocks of stone (some of the corner ones are more than five meters high), project from the blind ramparts. A deep ditch, the first line of defense, is crossed on a six-arched bridge. An iron-bound gate, series of vaulted rooms, twisting passages, rampart walks, and all kinds of defensive works, given an impression of the military quality of the castle, but nothing prepares us for the discovery that right at its heart lies a splendid ancient theater!

The two structures, both equally fine, are closely engrafted into each other. The 13th-enclosing wall completely encircles the cavea of the theater. When the Arabs entered into Bosra they immediately blocked all the doors and opening of the ancient theater with thick walls, thus transforming it into an easily-defensible citadel. But the new threats posed by the Crusaders rendered these early defenses inadequate; so in the mid-11th century three towers were built, jutting out from the Roman building; nine other bigger ones followed, between 1202 and 1251. Later accretions overlaid the interior of the theater and its ranges of seats, but at the same time preserved them. This interior has now been fully uncovered and restored in all its majestic entirety by the Department of Antiquities, which began its work here shortly after Syria became independent.

There is room for fifteen thousand spectators to face a stage 45 meters long and 8.5 meters deep, and a stage wall whose base is emphasize by a series of Corinthian columns. Many details of its architecture proclaim the perfection of its construction and the concern of its 2nd century builders for the comfort of the audience.

Furthermore, sources reveal that the whole amphitheater was draped with silk hangings that protected audience from both the summer sun and the winter rain. Perfumed water was also evaporated in the theater - the ultimate touch of style and refinement.

The open-air popular art museum

A cafeteria has been installed in the largest tower - the one to the west. On the terrace leading to it, a selection of classical sculptures have been arranged to form an open-air museum. There are some fine female figures similar to those at Soueida carved in hard lava stone reddish in the brilliant sunshine.

Bosra’s ancient remains lie scattered in all directions and over wide area.

From the theatre-fortress a narrow road with ancient paving stones runs alongside the southern baths before coming to the decumanus, near a triple arch known as Bab al Kandil (the Gate of the Lantern). It was built in the 3rd century, in honor of the Third Cyrenaica Legion, garrisoned here at Bosra.

In the vicinity of the Nabatean gateway

Beyond the Nabatean gateway a network of streets leads, on the right, to a large double-storied house which may have been an imperial palace at the time of Trajan. Near to Birkat al Hajj (south-east of the town), the Madrassa A.D. Dabbagha, otherwise known as the Madrassa Abu El-Fida, is a vast rectangular room whose roof is supported by six very fine arches resting on embedded columns. The minaret, which dates back to 1225, has neither a ceiling nor a stairway.

At a stone’s throw from the Madrassa lies the Yaqout mosque which dates from 1257. Beyond the walls lies the great southern reservoir, Birkat al Hajj, a pool 155 meters by 122, and 4 meters deep, although half filled up. From there it is easy to get back to the theatre-citadel. Leaving the Nabatean gate on the left we soon arrive at the ruins of a great building whose walls are pierced by many round-headed arches. This is the St. Serge, Bachus and Leontus Cathedral, built in 512, the first domed building to be built on a square ground plan. The Emperor Justinian was inspired by this cathedral in the building of St Sophia at Constantinople.

About thirty meters to the north of the cathedral there is a building whose walls, intact up to roof level, plainly indicate that it is a church. This is the 3rd-4th-century basilica, site of the famous encounter between Bahira and Muhammad.

Some delightful rustic mosque

All that remains of the Fatima Mosque (which stands between the cathedral and the church of Bahira) is its minaret, pathetic in its isolation but elegant nonetheless, with little twin openings high up on its wall.

The al Mabrak Mosque, which recalls another visit by the Prophet to Bosra is to be found outside the city, to the north-east. Thousands of graves, with great stelae of black basalt on them, keep watch at the foot of its walls, which rise unadorned like those of some isolated bastion.

The Mosque of Omar in the center of the town (called Jami-al Arouss, "the bridal mosque" by the Bosriots), was a pagan temple to begin with. It is the only mosque surviving from the early Islamic period to preserve its original facades. All its columns remain in place. Many bear inscriptions in Greek, Latin or Nabatean. Its fine square minaret dates only from the 12th century.

Mamluk architecture

The Manjak Hammam, dating back to 1372, is a prototype of Mamluk architecture. Founded by Manjak Al Youssoufi (Governor of the Damascus province), this was the last Islamic edifice to be built in Bosra. It shows how important this town was right up until a late date in the Middle Ages. As it was situated at the crossroads of trade routes, Bosra was also a stop-off point for Muslim pilgrims heading to the holy towns of Mecca and Medina.

The al khidr mosque, 200 meters south of the al Jahir spring, is considered to be one of Bosra’s oldest Islamic constructions. Built out of black basalt in 1134 on the site of an earlier seven meters long. Its twelve meter high minaret was built one and a half meters to the west of the mosque. Arabic inscriptions engraved in the plaster can be seen above the mihrab.

Visiting this prodigal town or venturing on into southernmost Syria where the little roads and small but drivable tracks lead to villages rich in historic vestiges, is no longer problematic as a modern hotel (the Bosra Cham Palace) has recently been built in Bosra.

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