Geography and History of the City:
Bosra is a small city, 850 m above sea level, south of Syria, at a distance of 140 km from Damascus and 12 km from the Jordanian borders. The area of the ancient city is about 120 hectares. It is located in the fertile plain of Al-Nuqra, at the southern edge of the Lajat, near Al-Zedi valley at the north and al-Batem large agricultural valley at the south, which is full of water sources throughout the year.
The word “Bosra” in the old Semitic writings means “the fort”. Its distinguished location has its big impact on its high status among cities of the ancient orient, where it played important role in commerce and civilization.
Bosra was a religious capital, a significant commercial center, and passage on the Silk Road, which expanded to China. It was lighthouse of civilization for many ages for thousands of years. The Generous Prophet Muḥammad ibn ʿAbdullāh, through his commercial trips to Damascus (al-Sham), had passed with Bosra twice and met the Nestorian Monk Baheira, who predicted his prophet ship.
The Nabataean Gate in the Ancient City of Bosra
Many civilizations had inhabited the old city, and left the most important archaeological witnessed in the world. The city was also called also “Bustra” and “Niaranjana”.
It is distinguished for the deeply-rooted history of the civilizations, from the middle Bronze Age 2000-1500 BC. It witnessed the civilizations of the Canaanites, the Amorites and Aramaics, then the Classic ages which began in 323 BC with the Hellenistic Seleucid civilization, till it became the capital of the Nabataeans in the first century AD; after that it was the capital of the Arab Roman State in 106 AD. During the Byzantine age, Bosra was turned into a center for the Christian Episcopate.
Khālid ibn al-Walīd conquered Bosra after he had made peace with its people and he gave them the reassurance on their lives, property and children as long as they paid the tribute.
Bosra witnessed the peak of its expansion and civilization during the Ayyubid piriod. It was military headquarters for the Ayyubid kings. But during the Mamluk and Ottoman epochs, the role of Bosra decreased, but it remained an important stop, for the caravans of the pilgrims, from which they collected provisions; then the caravans of the Bedouins engaged in hostile actions against the caravans of pilgrims, so the place was transported to Mzereb and the inhabitance of Bosra left their city.
Snapshot of the Cistern Pool – Birket al-Hajj towards madrasa Abû al-Fidâ
Bosra flourished during the Nabataean period in the first century BC, and it became in mutual contact with the Hellenistic civilization. At that time the city expanded, and the population multiplied, trade and industry prospered. The temples and buildings increased in numbers, new streets were planned, and new palaces were constructed. On the near mount, big reservoir was built in order to support the city with water all over the year. The city witnessed rapid growth due to the movement of the commercial caravans that made Bosra an exchange passage for the products.
During the Roman period, the movement of construction became very active and continuous. Therefore, bathes, temples and theaters were built, and there was a re-planning of main streets. The Ionic porticos and the triumph arches were decorated, and when peace spread, they began to build a wide and organized camp at the north of the city, the squares and water reservoirs outside the walls, and later the civil houses and palaces.
During the Byzantine period, the main lines for organizing the city remained the same as they were during the Roman period, but they were expanded toward the eastern north and many important churches were built in the eastern part of the city.During the Umayyad period, the big mosque “al-Omari”, one of the oldest surviving mosques in Islamic history, was built on the borders of the main street, between the north and the south, on the ruins of a pagan temple.
As for the period of the Crusade wars, it was characterized by constructing the castle and civil and religious buildings, including madrassas and mosques all over the city on the ruins of the previous buildings which were destroyed by the earthquakes during the 11th century, which caused the development of a new organization consistent with the lifestyle and military status of the city at the time.
One of the most important monuments in Bosra is the Jâmi’ Mabrak an-Nâqua, which is one of the oldest and most well-known madrassa in Islam, and the Cathedral of Bosra, which is a building of great importance that had an important influence on the development of Christian architecture, and to a certain degree in the forms of Islamic architecture as well. It dates back to the year 512-513 AD and was endowed to the saints Sergius, Bacchus and Titus. It was the first church built in the form of an almost square topped by a dome. Its dimensions are 49 meters long x 27 meters wide, and it is decorated on the inside and outside with niches. Its structure consists of three archways, and on its walls are colorful pictures representing drawings of the Virgin and three saints surrounding her. The Church, built in the 6th century, showing the early development of the church, it is the first Christian building of this magnitude and size to be completely covered with a dome that even it is said that the Church of Saint Hagia Sophia in Constantinople has taken the architects designing the same design of this church. The Omari Mosque (Which was restored in 1950) is one of the rare installations that have been preserved in Syria from the first Hijri century, which was designed on the model of the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina with the Mosque of ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ in Fustat in Egypt.
Outstanding Universal Value
The name of Bosra occurs in the precious Tell el-Amarna tablets in Egypt, which date from the 14th century B.C. and represent royal correspondence between the Pharaohs and the Phoenician and Amorite kings. It became the northern capital of the Nabataean kingdom. In the year of 106 A.D, a new era began for Bosra when it was incorporated into the Roman Empire. Alexander Severus gave it the title Colonian Bostra and Philip the Arab minted currency especially for it. During Byzantine times, Bosra was a major frontier market where Arab caravans came to stock up and its bishops took part in the Council of Antioch. Bosra was the first Byzantine city which the Arabs entered in 634 in the phase of Islamic expansion.
Today, Bosra is a major archaeological site, containing ruins from Roman, Byzantine, and Muslim times. Further, Nabataean and Roman monuments, Christian churches, mosques and Madrasas are present within the city.
Its main feature is the second century Roman Theatre, constructed probably under Trajan, which has been integrally preserved. It was fortified between 481 and 1251 AD.
Amphitheatre of the Ancient City of Bosra
Bosra survived about 2500 years inhabited and almost intact. The Nabataeans, Romans, Byzantines and Umayyad, all left traces in the city, which is an open museum associated with significant episodes in the history of ideas and beliefs.
Registration Criterions to the UNESCO WHL (1980)Criterion
(i): The incorporation of the exceptionally intact 2nd century Roman theatre, complete with its upper gallery, into later fortifications to create a strong citadel guarding the road to Damascus represents a unique architectural achievement. The remains of the 6th century basilica of the martyrs Sergios, Bacchos and Leontios, the cathedral of Bosra, represent an extremely significant example of the centrally planned churches in terms of the evolution of early church architectural forms. The Mosque of Omari, restored in 1950, is one of the rare constructions of the 1st century of the Hegira preserved in Syria. The Madrasa Jâmi’ Mabrak an-Nâqua is one of the oldest and most celebrated of Islam.Criterion (iii): Of the city which once counted 80,000 inhabitants there remain today extensive ruins of Nabataean, Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad buildings. These ruins, including the major monuments mentioned under Criterion (i) above bear exceptional testimony to the past civilizations that created them.Criterion (vi): In Islam, Bosra is associated with a significant episode in the life of the Prophet Mohammed, who is believed to have visited Bosra twice. At the end of his first visit, it is said that Monk Baheira indicated that Muhammad was to become a prophet.
Arch. Lina Kutiefan
Jamous, B. & kutiefan, L., “Sites of the World Cultural Heritage in Syria”, DGAM, Damascus, 2012
General view of the Roman baths towards the Kalybe / Cradle of the king’s daughter
The Cryptoporticus in the Ancient City of Bosra
General view of the Street East-west in the Ancient City of Bosra
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