02 December 2011

Syria--Bosra, Shahba and Qanawat

Welcome back. In 1983, I returned to Syria to continue the UN agricultural monitoring project nine months after I’d departed. For the first two weeks of this stay, I worked alongside a scientist from Australia’s CSIRO. 
By the time I arrived, my new colleague had been valiantly collecting field data for weeks. I say valiantly because equipment and supplies I’d ordered hadn’t arrived, people I’d trained hadn’t been available, and…well, I’ll save all that.

In addition to his herculean effort at work, he’d successfully networked across the Commonwealth. On our first free day, I found myself in a car with Australians, following a car with Britons, en route from Damascus to three sites of Roman ruins that would astound me.

Flashing signs may now point the way and welcome visitors to the three sites. As I recall, we sort of made our way into nondescript villages or larger towns and, all of a sudden, they were there.

Roman theater at Shahba, Syria, 1983.

Our first stop was Shahba, some 54 miles south of Damascus. We had no difficulty identifying the theater, but our lack of archaeological expertise never took us much further. We walked, climbed, pointed, took photos and posited possible structures and functions.

Roman ruins at Shahba, Syria, 1983.
Drawing upon Wikipedia, I’ll share that Shaba was the birth place of Philip, emperor of Rome from 244 AD. He reportedly began building a replica of Rome at the site, which was renamed Philippopolis in his honor. Following his death in 249 AD, the site was abandoned until the Druze occupied the area centuries later.

Were we to visit the site today, we would see the theater as well as a forum, palace, temple, baths and more. Actually, we probably did see all that.

Roman ruins at Qanawat, Syria, 1983. A similar photo at
tomb, with a decorated sarcophagus, adjoining the
eastern basilica.

Stop 2 was Qanawat, about 7 miles from Shahba and just over 60 miles from Damascus. While my travel companions, who had planned the tour, were better prepared than I was, we again wandered and wondered.

Learning now that the site covers nearly 2500 feet by 5000 feet, encompassing a Roman bridge, theatre, nymphaeum, aqueduct and multiple temples from the 2nd century AD, I realize we didn’t wander far enough. I refer you to Wikipedia and to a Syrian Arab News Agency article (http://www.sana.sy/eng/35/2011/06/05/350871.htm). 
Roman ruins at Qanawat, Syria, 1983.

Qanawat is mentioned in the 1st century BC, however, occupancy traces to between 1200 and 4000 BC. From Pompey's time, roughly 60 BC, until Trajan's, Roman Emperor from 98 to 117 AD, Qanawat belonged to the Decapolis federation of cities. It was renamed Septimia Canatha in the 2nd century, captured by the Muslim Arabs in 637, and largely abandoned in the 9th century.

Entering Roman theater in Bosra, Syria, 1983.

Onward 20 miles our caravan rolled to Bosra, about 85 miles south of Damascus. We forgot how tired and overloaded with questions we already were the moment we walked into Bosra’s enormous Roman theater, built in the 2nd century AD to seat as many as 15,000 people. 
Roman theater in Bosra, Syria, 1983.

From the theater walls, we looked out at the columns and other ruins scattered over the village, which once housed 80,000 people.

Bosra was mentioned as early as the 14th century BC. It later became the northern capital of the Nabataean Kingdom, which was conquered by Rome in 106 AD.

Bosra served as a principal Roman fortress east of the Jordan River and was an important stopover on the caravan route to Mecca.
Stage of Roman theater in Bosra, Syria, 1983.
Bosra, Syria, with its Roman ruins, viewed from the Roman theater, 1983.

With ruins from Roman, Byzantine and Muslim times, Bosra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described online at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/22, Wikipedia as well as other websites.
Markers in different languages found at Bosra, Syria, 1983.

Wrap Up

We returned to Damascus in time for dinner, safe, sound and amazed by what we’d seen. My Australian colleague and I had little time to think about it, for the following day we drove north to collect field data.

Thanks for stopping by. I’ll write more about travel in Syria next week.

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