Syria

(Pictures taken in 1998)

Damascus

The Ancient City of Damascus is the historic city centre of Damascus, Syria. The old city which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, contains numerous archaeological sites, including some historical churches and mosques. Many cultures have left their mark, especially Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic. In 1979, the historical center of the city, surrounded by walls of Roman era, 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 because of the Syrian Civil War.

Palmyra

Palmyra is an ancient Semitic city in present-day Homs Governorate, Syria. Archaeological finds date back to the Neolithic period, and documents first mention the city in the early second millennium BC. Palmyra changed hands on a number of occasions between different empires before becoming a subject of the Roman Empire in the first century AD.

The city grew wealthy from trade caravans; the Palmyrenes became renowned as merchants who established colonies along the Silk Road and operated throughout the Roman Empire. Palmyra’s wealth enabled the construction of monumental projects, such as the Great Colonnade, the Temple of Bel, and the distinctive tower tombs. Ethnically, the Palmyrenes combined elements of Amorites, Arameans, and Arabs. The city’s social structure was tribal, and its inhabitants spoke Palmyrene (a dialect of Aramaic), while using Greek for commercial and diplomatic purposes. Greco-Roman culture influenced the culture of Palmyra, which produced distinctive art and architecture that combined eastern and western traditions. The city’s inhabitants worshiped local Semitic deities, Mesopotamian and Arab gods.

By the third century AD Palmyra had become a prosperous regional center. It reached the apex of its power in the 260s, when the Palmyrene King Odaenathus defeated Persian Emperor Shapur I. The king was succeeded by regent Queen Zenobia, who rebelled against Rome and established the Palmyrene Empire. In 273, Roman emperor Aurelian destroyed the city, which was later restored by Diocletian at a reduced size. The Palmyrenes converted to Christianity during the fourth century and to Islam in the centuries following the conquest by the 7th-century Rashidun Caliphate, after which the Palmyrene and Greek languages were replaced by Arabic.

Before AD 273, Palmyra enjoyed autonomy and was attached to the Roman province of Syria, having its political organization influenced by the Greek city-state model during the first two centuries AD. The city became a Roman colonia during the third century, leading to the incorporation of Roman governing institutions, before becoming a monarchy in 260. Following its destruction in 273, Palmyra became a minor center under the Byzantines and later empires. Its destruction by the Timurids in 1400 reduced it to a small village. Under French Mandatory rule in 1932, the inhabitants were moved into the new village of Tadmur, and the ancient site became available for excavations. During the Syrian Civil War in 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) destroyed large parts of the ancient city, which was recaptured by the Syrian Army on 2 March 2017.


Aleppo

The Ancient City of Aleppo is the historic city centre of Aleppo, Syria. Before the Syrian Civil War, many districts of the ancient city remained essentially unchanged since its construction during the 12th to the 16th century. Being subjected to constant invasions and political instability, the inhabitants of the city were forced to build cell-like quarters and districts that were socially and economically independent. Each district was characterized by the religious and ethnic characteristics of its inhabitants.

The Old City of Aleppo – composed of the ancient city within the walls and the old cell-like quarters outside the walls – has an approximate area of 350 hectares (860 acres; 3.5 km2), housing more than 120,000 residents.

Characterized by its large mansions, narrow alleys, covered souqs and ancient caravanserais, the Ancient City of Aleppo became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

Many sections in the Al-Madina Souq and other medieval buildings in the ancient city were destroyed and ruined or burnt as a result of clashes between the Syrian Arab Army and the rebel forces of Jabhat al-Nusra, in what is called the Battle of Aleppo, launched by the opposition JN armed groups on 25 September 2012. In February 2014, the opposition groups of the Islamic Front claimed responsibility for destroying a series of major historic buildings being used as fortified bases by the Syrian Army in the old city including the justice palace, the Carlton hotel and the old building of the city council.

30% of the Ancient City of Aleppo has been destroyed in the fighting.

The Citadel of Aleppo is a large medieval fortified palace in the centre of the old city of Aleppo, northern Syria. It is considered to be one of the oldest and largest castles in the world. Usage of the Citadel hill dates back at least to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. Subsequently, occupied by many civilizations including the Greeks, Byzantines, Ayyubids and Mamluks, the majority of the construction as it stands today is thought to originate from the Ayyubid period. An extensive conservation work took place in the 2000s by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in collaboration with Aleppo Archeological Society. Dominating the city, the Citadel is part of the Ancient City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. The Citadel received significant damage during the Battle of Aleppo. It was reopened to the public in early 2017 with repairs to damaged parts underway.


Crac des Chevaliers

Krak des Chevaliers, also Crac des Chevaliers, “Castle of the Kurds”, formerly Crac de l’Ospital is a Crusader castle in Syria and one of the most important preserved medieval castles in the world. The site was first inhabited in the 11th century by a settlement of Kurdish troops garrisoned there by the Mirdasids. As a result, it was known as Hisn al-Akrad, meaning the “Castle of the Kurds”. In 1142 it was given by Raymond II, Count of Tripoli, to the Knights Hospitaller. It remained in their possession until it fell in 1271. It became known as Crac de l’Ospital; the name Krak des Chevaliers was coined in the 19th century.

The Hospitallers began rebuilding the castle in the 1140s and were finished by 1170 when an earthquake damaged the castle. The order controlled a number of castles along the border of the County of Tripoli, a state founded after the First Crusade. Krak des Chevaliers was among the most important, and acted as a center of administration as well as a military base. After a second phase of building was undertaken in the 13th century, Krak des Chevaliers became a concentric castle. This phase created the outer wall and gave the castle its current appearance. The first half of the century has been described as Krak des Chevaliers’ “golden age”. At its peak, Krak des Chevaliers housed a garrison of around 2,000. Such a large garrison allowed the Hospitallers to exact tribute from a wide area. From the 1250s the fortunes of the Knights Hospitaller took a turn for the worse and in 1271 Mamluk Sultan Baibars captured Krak des Chevaliers after a siege lasting 36 days, supposedly by way of a forged letter purportedly from the Hospitallers’ Grand Master that caused the Knights to surrender.

Renewed interest in Crusader castles in the 19th century led to the investigation of Krak des Chevaliers, and architectural plans were drawn up. In the late 19th or early 20th century a settlement had been created within the castle, causing damage to its fabric. The 500 inhabitants were moved in 1933 and the castle was given over to the French state, which carried out a program of clearing and restoration. When Syria declared independence in 1946, it assumed control.

Today, a village called al-Husn exists around the castle and has a population of nearly 9,000. Krak des Chevaliers is located approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) west of the city of Homs, close to the border of Lebanon, and is administratively part of the Homs Governorate. Since 2006, the castles of Krak des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din have been recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. It was partially damaged in the Syrian civil war from shelling and recaptured by the Syrian government forces in 2014. Since then, reconstruction and conservation work on the site had begun. Reports by the UNESCO and the Syrian government on the state of the site are produced yearly.

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