Bosra, an amazing Syrian heritage

Guest post by Alberto Di Gennaro – SANDS

Bosra, (meaning citadel in Aramaic) is an ancient town in southern Syria, close to the border with Jordan.

Bosra boasts a prestigious past: it was mentioned in the Egyptian documents 1400 years B.C and it was the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom and capital of the Arabia Province under the Roman Empire at the time of Trajan Emperor. It was the first Muslim city in Syria and the last and strategic major halt on the pilgrimage route, for the great caravans, between Syria and the Holy Places of Makkah and Al-Madinah.

The most important testimony of its glorious past is its famous Roman theater, built in the second century AD and that could accommodate something between 9000 and 15,000 spectators.

Bosra, Roman Theater

The theatre was converted into a Citadel, beginning in the 11th century, becoming an imposing fortress.

In the city, we can find the mosque al-Mabrak al-Nakra (1136), “the place where the camel kneeled”, one further building with a direct association with the pilgrimage,. It is said that the mosque was built in the place where the Prophet Muhammad let his camel kneel down during his visit to the city on trade.

The mihrab of the mosque is decorated with a spolia: a semicircular carved shell and two undecorated antique pillars. Below the shell, there is an inscription in kufic script, which describes the place as “the Mosque of the Prophet”.

The “kneeling spot” is an antique stone slab in front of the mihrab with several depressions, interpreted as the imprints of the camel. The date of the shrine itself remains unclear.

The mosque was described by Ibn Battuta and evidently re-enforced the religious historical associations of Bosra with Muhammad and Makkah.

Notable is the large cistern pool named Birket al-Hajj, large 120m by 150m, also known as the pool of the Pilgrimage, because served the pilgrims on their way to Makkah. It was also used to water men and animals that came and left for the desert.

Another heritage treasure in Bosra is the Al-Omari Mosque: completed in the early 8th century by Caliph Yazid II, one of the oldest mosques in Islamic history.

Its courtyard was originally used as a market and sleeping area for traveling caravans on the trade routes across Syria, especially on the annual pilgrimage roads to Makkah.

General view of the square minaret, Al-Omari Mosque

The mosque’s square minaret was one of the earliest examples of Umayyad-style minarets. Mosques in Damascus and Aleppo have similar style minarets from the same dynasty.

Ibn Battuta, narrating his participation in the pilgrimage from Damascus in 726/1326, gives a vivid description of Bosra as a pilgrim’s halt: “we traveled on to the town of Bosra; it too is a small place. It is the usual practice of the caravan on the road of Hajj to stop there for four nights”.

SANDS is a weekly newsletter written and curated by Alberto Di Gennaro, hosted by SquareKufic. You can subscribe to the newsletter via LinkedIn, or read the articles here, at SquareKufic.

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