Al-Lajat Area in Daraa…Integrated Museum, Magnificent Nature Reserve

Al-Lajat area in Daraa Province, 101 km to the south of Damascus, embraces great archeological monuments as it constitutes an integrated museum and an important tourist destination.

Al-Lajat area is estimated at 1,000 km² as it expands from the east of Jordan to al-Arab Mountain, and it has a shape of equilateral triangle, each side of which is 45 km and it is 800 m above sea level.

It was called by the Romans (Trakhonites) which means a rugged area, while the Arabs called it Lajat due to using it as forts and shelters by revolutionists during the times of wars.

During its survey works in 2003, the Syrian-French Archeological Expedition unearthed an archeological site dating back to the Copper Stone Age (the Chalcolithic) which dates back to the 5th millennium BC.

Archeologists pointed out that al-Lajat archeological sites and cities had flourished during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD as it encompasses pagan temples, military headquarters and high towers.

Al-Lajat encompasses 70 villages that are rich in the archeological monuments dating back to the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic eras.

It is also a nature reserve which enjoys a great biological diversity as several tree species grow in it, and it constitutes a sanctuary for a huge number of birds and animals.

Aleppo's Beauty is Hard to Compare

Archaeologists believe that human beings settled on the hilltop that became Aleppo, some 350 km (225 miles )north of Damascus, around eight thousand years ago. Its Arabic name, Haleb, is said to derive from Haleb Ibrahim, Milk of Abraham, for the sheep’s milk the biblical patriarch offered to travelers in Aleppo’s environs.

 "It is an excellent city without equal for the beauty of its location, the grace of its construction and the size and symmetry of its marketplaces," wrote the great Arab Voyager Ibn Battota about this city when he visited it in 1348.

Aleppo was one of Islam’s most important cities like Damascus, Constantinople and Cairo. The modern Lebanese historian Antoine Abdel Nour praised it in his Introduction "à l’histoire urbaine de la Syrie ottoman".

"Its beauty reveals itself in the elegance of its stone architecture, redolent of historic links to Byzantium and Venice; and in the diversity of its cultures," wrote the editor Charles Glass.

 In the old part of Aleppo, a walled structure on what looks like a hill would strike your eye. As you reach the entrance, you can feel that it includes  rich  and diverse cultures. It is a marvelous example of Arab military architecture.

Aleppo citadel, which is listed by the UNESCO as a world heritage site, was built in the days of Sayf al-Dawla al-Hamadani , and lies in ruins of earlier civilizations. It has always been important – both strategically and military.

Its' designers did everything to make the fortification impossible to penetrate, and this becomes clear when you approach the entrance.

On the north and south sides, you can see great  tours rise above the moat, 20 m deep and 30 m wide. While walking inside, you would enter a small door and climb up to the Byzantine hall and the royal palace , and enter the museum containing relics uncovered during restoration and reconstruction. 

The main attraction of the citadel, 50 m over the city,  is a magnificent  view of Aleppo and its surroundings from  Ibrahim's Mosque whose square minaret is 21 m high.

The other attraction of the city is the high walls of ancient Aleppo with fortified doors (Hadid, Antakia, and Qinsrin) which are marvelous example of Islamic military architecture.

As one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world with its rich stories of the many ancient travelers and merchants who crossed the Silk Road, Aleppo's beauty is indeed  hard to compare.

Basma Qaddour

Bab Kisan

Bab Kisan is one of the eight ancient city-gates of Damascus. It is located on the southeastern side of the Old Damascus City as a witness on the Damascene architectural masterworks and great civilization. It was known as Saturn Gate in the Roman period or Saint Paul Gate.

On the history of Bab Kisan, the researcher Father Metri Haji said that It was believed to be built in the Roman Era. It constitutes the southern entrance to the main street from the north "bab al-Zahra" to the south "Bab Touma". It is a straight Roman road with corridors built on stone columns topped with Corinthian crowns. The visitors are able to see Bab Kisan straightly while standing at Bab Touma to the north-west.

He added that the gate centered between two elegant and modern Chi-Rho monograms adorn the fortified towers that stand on either side of a fictitious window.

According to Ibn Asakir, Damascus' seven gates symbolize the seven planets and each gate holds the symbol of each planet. Saturn is the only surviving symbol to date embellishing the wall of Bab Kisan which explains the reason for its other name "Saturn Gate".

Bab Kisan is also famous for its biblical association with St. Paul. It dates back to the 4th century AC. According to Christians, it was the escape route of St. Paul from the angry of its opponents having himself lowered in a basket from the gate.

Reviewing historic books, the present name of the gate honors one of Muawiyah Bin Abu Sufian's leaders named Kisan who has done well escaping the siege behind Saturn Gate which named later after his name.

Deir Ezzor

320 km south-east of Aleppo, Deir Ezzor is the most important urban centre in the east of Syria. Its river is the Euphrates, lifeline of the region and fount of civilization throughout the ages. With the formation of Lake al-Assad, it is now possible to regulate its once capricious flow and to make plans for new harvests.

85 km south of Deir Ezzor, on the western bank of the Euphrates, is the archaeological site of the birthplace of Seleucus, near the Arab village of Salihiyeh. This was the historic town built by Seleucus Nicator, Alexander's lieutenant, the fortified town of Doura Europos. This town was closely linked with Palmyra, serving as an important forward-line of Defence against the Persians.

•        Halabiya - Zalabiya

North-east of Deir Ezzor, there is a vast enclosing wall with 3 fortified gateways which enfolds within its towers a town that dates from Byzantine days. Both Halabiya and Zalabiya were forward-defense lines against Persian invasions. At Mayadin is the Rahbi Citadel, which was built by Assad al-Din Shirgoh, the uncle of Salah al-Din al-Ayoubi.

The Seven Gates of Damascus

Syria runs through me the way blood runs though my veins. Damascus the capital of this marvelous country has alone more than 125 monuments from different periods of its history, which, indeed,  makes me proud to be Syrian.

Unlike history of most western and gulf countries, a 10000-page book can not cover the great history of Syria which enjoys an important geographical position at the crossroads of the orient and the occident.

In this article, I will talk briefly about one chapter entitled "the seven gates of Damascus" which are leading to the city which is the cradle of civilizations.

Damascus, founded in the 3rd millennium BC, was surrounded by wall built in the Roman period with huge rounded rocks and stones, with seven gates and a paved network of roads that comes out of these gates in different ways.

In the north, you can see "Bab Toma" (Thomas Gate) whose name is related to one of Roma’s known great figures called Thomas. It's also mentioned that Caliph Amr Ibn Alas entered Damascus from this gate.

Next to "Bab Toma" to the west another gate called "Bab alsalam" (Peace Gate) , which was rebuilt in the time of Nour al Din Mahmod where he built a minaret over it.

The third gate is "Bab al-Faradis" which is named that way because in the Roman era it was surrounded by many groves and water and it was rebuilt in the time of King Al Saleh Ismail in 1241. It's also called "Bab Al-Amara" as it is located in Al-Amara ally, surrounded by shops and houses.

Moving towards the south side, near al-Baytara square, a fourth gate named "Bab Kissan" after Kissan the guardian of the Caliph Mo’awia. This gate was the entrance of a church built in the Byzantine era.

The fifth gate, "Bab al-Saghir" or the "Small Gate", is the smallest of all gates and it is now located near to Shaghor.

However, in the east of the city and according to the location, the sixth gate is named "Bab Sharki". This gate is formed of three vents in the form of arches, the biggest one is in the middle and behind it there’s a straight street, while the other two vents behind them are carried by columns. It's mentioned that Khaled ebn al waleed entered the city through this gate.

In the west side of the city, there is the seventh gate named "Bab al-Jabiya" which faces the eastern one and has the same structure. It 's name is related to Al Jabieh village because they used to pass out of it when going to that village. Obayda Ben Al Jarah entered Damascus through this gate.

These are the main gates of Damascus which are widely known as architectural  characteristics of the oldest continuously  inhabited city  in the world. They have witnessed a lot of events and every stone of them can tell us the story of this city throughout ages.


Basma Qaddour