Bosra (World Heritage)

The Nabataean city of Bosra, located at the junction of the North Arabian caravan route, was developed into a provincial capital by the Romans in the 1st century. The main attraction is the well-preserved theater with excellent acoustics. The five-aisled basilica dates from the 6th century. After the conquest by the Arabs in 634, the city lost its importance. In 1157 an earthquake destroyed many buildings.

Bosra: facts

Official title: Amphitheater and old town of Bosra
Cultural monument: the former base of the Nabataeans and the former Colonia of the Romans with a Roman theater for 15,000 spectators and T-shaped thermal baths, north of the Kolonnadenstrasse the Byzantine center with the cathedral; Arab Citadel, Al-Khider Mosque and Medrese of Abu al-Fida
Continent: Asia
Country: Syria
Location: Bosra, south of Damascus
Appointment: 1980; In 2013 put on the red list of endangered UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to the ongoing civil war
Meaning: In the once important junction on the North Arabian caravan route, a combination of Roman, early Christian and Muslim architecture

Bosra: history

106 Conquest by Roman troops, capital of the Provincia Arabia
2nd / 3rd Century Construction of the Roman theater
at 300 Seat of a metropolitan
512/13 Construction of the Cathedral of Bosra
634 arab conquest
11th century Construction of an Arab fortress around the Roman theater
1112/13 Construction of the Friday Mosque of Bosra, Djami al-Umari
1134 Construction of the Al-Khider Mosque
1211-51 Expansion of the fortress
1225/26 Madrasah of Abu al-Fida
1947-70 Uncovering work in the interior of the Roman theater
1990 traces of an amphitheater or hippodrome discovered west of the theater

A city wears black

Bosra’s robe is black. A basalt black that also defines the surrounding volcanic landscape. Its slopes rise up to the height of the volcanic Jebel ad-Druz. Dark, but at the same time unique, this black makes Bosra’s cultural and historical legacies appear, to which Christianity contributed from the 3rd century with churches, and Islam from the 7th century with mosques and baths.

In ancient times, Bosra, then called Bostra, was the most important urban center south of Damascus. As the capital of the newly created Roman Provincia Arabia, it housed a legion of 5000 soldiers from the beginning of the 2nd century AD, who moved into their quarters in the north of the city. In those days the city had an excellent infrastructure, because five Roman roads converged here, including the Via Nova Traiana, the pavement of which reached the Red Sea.

It was no accident that Bosra became the metropolis of a province. The city had two natural advantages: enough water even in dry summers and an extensive, productive field. The history of this Arab granary did not begin with the Romans, but dates back to the 14th century BC. The Egyptian Amarna letters, in which a place called Busruna is mentioned, date from this time.

In the Roman theater, in the most important historical building in Bosra, 15,000 visitors once enjoyed themselves with bread and games. For centuries, the desert sand that was blown in and buried the inside of the theater prevented this ancient monument from being misused as a quarry. With two exposures, the interior between the three-story display wall of the stage building and the three-tier auditorium became visible and accessible again. The fact that the theater is so well preserved has another reason: the Islamic rulers used the building, as it was easiest to defend in the city, temporarily as a fortress with a five-arched bridge over the moat in front. Today nine medieval rectangular towers of different sizes encompass the ancient theater complex.

The ancient ruins of Bosra include colonnaded streets and gates, including the monumental Nabataean Gate in the east, behind which the desert people’s residential area and a temple were located. Thermal baths and a magnificent fountain with distinctive niche architecture were part of the leisure culture of the Roman city, a market square and an underground hall over a hundred meters long that served as a storage room were part of the design of the business center. A hippodrome and an amphitheater have only survived in traces of the ground. More striking in the southeast is the ruins of a palace-like building, in which one suspects the seat of the Roman governor. As early as the 3rd century, Bosra was the seat of a Christian bishop. The cathedral and bishop’s palace formed a closed district in the Byzantine city center, which unfortunately has been almost completely demolished. A Christian monk is said to have met the young Mohammed in the so-called Bahira basilica. This incident alludes to Bosra’s role in the Christianization of the Arab nomads and merchants. The city was not just a hub for goods from near and far, but also a place where different religious ideas came together.

After the victory of Islam, the Djami al-Umari was built in the early 8th century, a Friday mosque whose current shape dates back to the 12th century. A century later, the Manjaq bath opened its doors diagonally across the street. The Mabraq Mosque is said to be built on the place where a camel from Mecca lay down to rest with the first handwritten copy of the Koran. In the course of the Middle Ages, the economic and cultural importance of Bosra declined, although the pilgrim caravans still stopped here on their way to Mecca. A huge open cistern in the south, a Roman building, served to supply these pious pilgrims.

Bosra (World Heritage)