The Birth Of Damascus

It is universally acknowledged that Damascus is the oldest inhabited city in the world. Arab references attribute it to (Domashq son of Qani son of Malek son of Arfakhshad son of Sam son of Noah) or to (Geron son of Sa’ad son of A’ad), while other western sources attribute it to the Greek mythological heroes and gods (Ascus or Damas). Modern scientific references refer to our modern sources which say that it was first built in the first millennium BC. (The Aramaic Period).

Some archaeological studies spoke about the start of Damascus and the early stages of its formation. Some theories refer to a Canaanite-Amorite wall (3000 BC.) which encircled the Canaanite city (18 acres at that time) with seven gates ,the original gates of the Aramaic wall which was supported later by thousands of columns.

The wall was encircled by River Banias one of the branches of the main River Barada. In later times the city grew larger and a Roman wall was built. River Barada used to run to the major Damascus Lake (now the city of Damascus) which later dried up and receded to be divided into the two present lakes of al Utaibe and al Heijaneh. Barzeh was the major connecting point in a communication net that extended from Saidnaya and Ma’aloula in the east to Dummar and al Hameh in the west. In the Roman period the region of Damascus was known as (Abela ) and was administratively considered a state, with Souk Wadi Brada as its capital. This state had to be ended after the Islamic conquest. That is why it is said that Barzeh is the mother of Damascus. Man Inhabited Damascus at different stages of history:

The first stage: Humans (Neanderthals and Chromanions and later Homo Sapiens) 50-10 thousand years BC. Inhabited caves spread in Yabroud, Ras al Ma’arra, al Nabk, Ein al Tineh and Ma’aloula.

The second stage: 10-7 thousand BC. habitation extended to Juba’adin, Isal al Ward, Saidnaya and Ma’arat Saidnaya.

The third stage: 7-6 thousand BC. Habitation reached the regions of al Tall, Barzeh, Dummar, al Hameh and Souk Wadi Barada, al Takieh, Qatana, and al Sahara plain. In this stage Barzeh became the center of habitation and the origin of the city of Damascus.

The fourth stage: 6-3.5 BC. This is the stage when man moved from the caves to start the agricultural period which ended by the drying up of the Lake of Damascus. In this period man developed his ways of living and started living in houses. He settled several regions that can be identified from the remains discovered in Tall Aswad (near Jdaidet al Khass) in al Ghouta between al Utaibe lake and al Heijaneh, Tall al Ramad in Qatana and Tall al Khawarizmieh …..etc.

The fifth stage: Started by the migration of the Amorites-Canaanites who replaced the caveman and started building the Canaanite city of Damascus on one of the heights of the city beginning with the temple of Hadad and its surroundings.

Caves and Grottos of Yabroud.

Yabroud is an Aramaic word mentioned on the clay boards of Mesopotamia depicting the assault of the Assyrian king Ashur Baniba’al 668-626 BC. This proves that Damascus was an Aramaic kingdom at that time. Yabroud Caves were first discovered by the German archaeologist Alfred Roust (1900-1983) who started his searches when he was making a journey from Germany on a bicycle .During his stay in Syria he had Dysentery and was hospitalized in the Danish Hospital of al Nabk, where he heard of the ancient caves for the first time. Being curious, he ceased his journey and started excavating the region for three years (1930-1933).

In Wadi Eskafta there are three caves; the first of which has the influence of the Yabroud civilization, Mar Saba cave or the Temple of the sun (because the sun rays enter it once every year, in the 22nd of February. The cave is frequently visited and shows signs of the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages /45-40/ thousand years BC. There is a similar chain of caves in al Nabk, Qara and al Sahl ). In Ma’aloula, and on the slopes of its mountain, there are many caves , some of which are large (enough to accommodate a family) with air outlets. Ma’aloula was a connecting point between the old man of Yabroud and the man of the caves of Damascus ,things that confirm the line of relations between the old caves of (Yabroud, Barzeh and Damascus). In the age of Barada, the old stone age,10- 8 thousand years BC. man started living in Damascus region (Barzeh, Za’afaranieh, al A’attara and the surroundings) in the west until the Source of River Barada, the Hermon planes, the Mt. Qassyoun planes in an uninterrupted line of caves stretching from Mt. Qassyoun, al Rabweh, al Ma’azeh, Bassimeh, Ein al Khadra, Ein al Fijeh, A’azta Fort Cave, the caves of al Takieh, the caves village, al Husainieh, Abel’s Tomb, and the caves of Madaya, Saraghaya and Zabadani. The line goes on to reach Barzeh, bound Harasta, al Tall, Mnin and Saidnaya. This line ,in fact, separates the civilization of north Syria from the Natouphi civilization in the south. After the Damascus Lake had dried up and its remains; lake al Utaibe and Lake al Heijaneh, were formed, man descended from the heights to the fertile land to start agriculture, and to live on the slopes of Mt. Qassyoun, where many sacred and legendary places still exist: the Cave of the Forties, the Cave of Hunger, the Martyrs tombs, the Blood Cave and Eve’s Tears Cave, al Ma’azeh cave, Bachar and Sayyar caves, Barzeh cave, and the Nativity of Abraham cave.

The Formation of Damascus: According to archaeological estimates ,the cave man started settling the old city of Damascus between 6250-5000 BC. with some variations about the exact start of the city. It was said that Geron Bin A’ad built it, and the first temple founded in it (the temple of Hadad, presently the Umayyad Mosque) contained Greek statues, but the shapes, sizes, stones and walls of the city prove that it belonged to the bronze age 3000 BC. In a later time houses started to appear around the temple and the Canaanite built a wall around it. Gradually the city expanded and the Aramites built a new wall, but the continuously growing number of its population obliged its inhabitants to build new walls, the Roman one ,then the Islamic one. The city, as was the case in many cities, had the houses of the rich dwellers inside the wall, while the poor lived outside it.

The first wave of Arab Acadian immigration from the Arabian Peninsula started in 3500 BC. And settled Iraq. One thousand year later an Amorite-Canaanite wave settled north of natural Syria (the Levant) and spread west (the Phoenicians) and then reached Damascus.

Damascus was mentioned in the cuneiform boards of the Amorites as Di-Mash- Qa and later became the largest Canaanite city (440 m long X 396 m wide) with a moat filled with water from River Banias, and had seven gates. The palace was the most prominent monument of the city at that time known as the Maqslat (near Medanet al Shahem now) while the eastern part of the city had the royal residence with the citadel ,as the main center of activity of the city).

After the Aramites settled Damascus and started enlarging it, they built the Aramaic Wall mentioned on the boards of the Assyrian invaders. When the city fell to the Assyrians 720 BC., the wall was destroyed by the Assyrian king Sargon II.

Later the Romans occupied Damascus 64 BC. and finished building the Roman wall in 41 BC. Many places still carry their original Aramaic names up to this date.

Researchers estimate the number of the Population of Damascus in the early stages of its settlement of 2000 people who lived in 170-200 caves spread on an area of 25 Sq km. When the Romans occupied Damascus in 60 AD it had around 45-50 thousand people and the number decreased during the Islamic Rashidi period to 40 000 people. At the end of the eighth century AD Damascus still had about 30-40 thousand people, a number that started to increase during the Seljuks, the Atabeghs, and during the reign of Saladin, Damascus had about 100 000 people .This figure was reduced during the invasions of Hulagu and Tamerlain to rise again during the Memlouk period. Under the Ottoman occupation the city prospered and its population increased, and is still growing, that the city had around 5 millions nowadays.

Haifaa Mafalani

Share