The Fortifications of Damascus are among the oldest and most historic on the planet. Portions of its wall as well as some of its gates date back to Roman times, and the citadel that anchors the city’s northwestern defenses was expanded by Saladin and used as his headquarters in medieval times. The Damascus fortifications even made several appearances in the New Testament of the Bible, notably during the early ministry of the Apostle Paul. Although today much of the city’s defenses are crumbling ruins, there are large sections still intact, and these attract archaeologists, historians and religious pilgrims alike. The Fortifications of Damascus, including the citadel, are part of the Ancient City of Damascus UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city of Damascus has been around since pre-historic times, and has been a local power in the region since at least 1000 BC. The city’s earliest substantial wall was probably built around this time. This did not stop the city from being conquered on at least a half-dozen times before the arrival of the Romans. Throughout this period Damascus generally served as a regional capital, until the Seleucids built Antioch, and the importance of Damascus waned.
Under the Romans Damascus was rebuilt, though it still lagged in political importance in the region. The walls of Damascus during this period were famously mentioned in the Biblical Book of Acts. In the first of what would be many narrow escapes throughout his life, the Apostle Paul, who had been preaching Christianity in the city, escaped over the wall in a basket. According to local tradition, this event took place near the Kisan Gate on the south side of the city.
Damascus once again came into the spotlight in the 7th century, when the city was absorbed into the Islamic Caliphate and became the capital a vast empire under the Umayyads. For much of the rest of its history ever since Damascus has served as either a regional or national capital. Most of the city’s fortifications as they are currently laid out date from the medieval period, when the walls and citadel were rebuilt due to the threat of Christian Crusaders from Europe.
The city’s defenses have been put to the test many times throughout history, most notoriously by the Mongols, who wreaked havoc in Damascus in the early 15th century. The weakened city later fell prey to the Ottomans. Under the Ottomans the city’s fortifications were restored, although they have slowly fallen into disrepair ever since. However, sections have been restored, and are among the most popular tourism sites in modern Syria.
The surviving walls of Damascus run approximately three miles around the old city, with large gaps, notably along the western side. Seven of the city’s gates are still standing, though not all are still connected to the wall. The Sharqi Gate on the southeast side of the city is the oldest, and has been standing since Roman times. The Kisan Gate along the southern wall is believed to mark the location where Paul made his famous escape out of the city.
The Citadel of Damascus dominates the northwestern corner of Damascus. Built and rebuilt many times, most of the present structure dates from the Ottoman era. Although much of the citadel is now long gone, a series of daunting square towers interconnected by walls are still standing. The exterior is still impressive from a distance, though there is little remaining to be seen inside. It is still a mandatory photo stop for visitors.
The fortified Old City dominates the west side of the modern city of Damascus. The walls and gates of the city, as well as the exterior of the citadel, are an open site. As of this writing no other tourism information was available. Web: Not currently available due to ongoing problems in the region.
While walled cities once proliferated throughout the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, surviving walled cities and fortifications are now few and far between. Probably the best in Syria is the Citadel of Aleppo. Not too far away in northern Israel are the ruins of the Walls of Jericho, the world’s oldest known fortified city.