Damascus, the capital of Syria was founded in the 3rd millennium BC. It’s one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. Sitting at the crossroad of the Orient and the West, between Africa and Asia, the city became an important cultural and commercial centre. For centuries it’s been admired for its beauty and lavishness.
Many travellers ranked the city among the top four Earthly paradises. Even Mark Twain was enchanted with its ‘immortality’ as he once wrote while visiting the city. Why were they so fascinated? What were the things that caught their attention and made them fall in love? Here are 24 interesting facts about Damascus that lift the veil to show you the true city:
The city is called al-Shām, the dialect name of Syria, which means “the left” or “the north,” where the region is situated relative to the Arabian Peninsula as well as al-Fayḥāʾ, “the fragrant”, for the freshness of its surrounding orchards and gardens.
It is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.
The city perimeter for Damascus contains 41 square miles (105 square kilometres) and is the home to an estimated 2.4 million residents.
the Umayyad mosque, Damascus
Damascus’s fortunes often have been linked to those of distant capitals like Ashur, Antioch, Rome, Baghdad, Cairo, and Istanbul.
The story about the journey of the Prophet Muhammad to Syria describes that, upon seeing Damascus, he refused to go in, as a man should only enter paradise once.
The city has 125 monuments from different periods of its history. One of the most spectacular is the 8th-century Great Mosque of the Umayyads, built on the site of an Assyrian sanctuary.
The Umayyad Great Mosque also known as the Grand Mosque of Damascus is one of the largest mosques in the world.
In the Medieval period, Damascus was the centre of the flourishing craft industry, with different areas of the city specializing in particular trades or crafts.
After Alexander the Great’s conquest in 333 BCE, Damascus became part of the Hellenistic world for almost a thousand years.
Many civilizations created the city: Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic. In spite of Islam’s prevailing influence, traces of earlier cultures particularly the Roman and Byzantine continue to be seen in the city to this day.
While there are over 2,000 mosques in the city and most of the residents are Muslim, at least 10% are Christian and there is even a small Jewish community.
The prestigious Arabic Language Academy of Damascus (1919) is the stronghold of the Arabic language. The Academy preserves and modernizes the language.
The National Museum, established in 1936, has an extraordinary collection of artefacts from across the country, representing six millennia of civilization.
Since the final decades of the 20th century, Damascus has been the centre of an increasing artistic movement. The work of both Syrian and international artists is exhibited regularly.
Damascus also leads the country in book publication, an enterprise that involves the government as the leading publisher and ultimate censor. Al-Assad National Library was opened in 1984. Among other important materials, it contains the valuable collection of manuscripts and rare books of Damascus’s esteemed public library, al- Zāhiriyyah.
Sports are very popular among Damascenes. Soccer is the number one pastime, accompanied by swimming, basketball, wrestling, boxing, and tennis.
One little-known landmark in Damascus is the world’s largest restaurant: the Damascus Gate Restaurant. Including both indoor and outdoor seating, the Damascus Gate Restaurant has 6,014 seats and covers 215,277.4 square feet (20,000 square meters)!
Damascus reached its zenith at the beginning of the 7th century CE when it became the capital of the Umayyad caliphate.
Damascus, as the capital of the Umayyad caliphate, the first Islamic caliphate, was of key importance in the development of the succeeding Arab cities.
The line of the walls of the old city forms the boundary of the property. The heart of Damascus’s old city, which contains most of the city’s historical monuments, is Hellenistic in origin, with significant Roman additions and modifications.
Legal protection is provided by designating the walled city as part of the cultural and historical heritage of Syria.
In 1979, the historical centre of the city was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO. In June 2013, UNESCO included all Syrian sites on the list of world heritage in danger, to warn of the risks to which they are exposed to because of the Syrian civil war.
Damascus is home to the only stock exchange in the country of Syria called the “Damascus Stock Exchange”.
Based on The Economist’s Global Liveability Ranking, Damascus is the world’s least liveable city among 140 cities studied. In the study, Damascus scored poorly on key factors such as stability, health care, infrastructure, and education. Nevertheless, the city continues to be a major cultural centre of the Arab world and the Levant countries.
Do you have any interesting or fun facts about Damascus that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!