Damascus (Heb. Dammesek; Gr. , ; Arab. Dimeshk; called by the present natives Esh-Sham), one of the most ancient cities of the world, formerly the capital of all Syria, and now of the Turkish vilayet of Syria. The population has been estimated as high as 200,-000, but probably it does not exceed 150,000, of whom about 130,000 are Mohammedans and Druses, 15,000 Christians, and 5,000 Jews. It is situated in lat. 33° 32' N, lon. 36° 20' E., 136 m. N N. E. of Jerusalem, 180 m. S. by W. of Aleppo, and about 45 m. E. of the Mediterranean, at an altitude of 2,344 ft. above sea level, in a very fertile plain, 80 m. in circumference, so remarkable for its beauty as to be called in oriental phrase one of the four terrestrial paradises. The streams from the adjacent high range of Anti-Libanus, the Barada or Chrysorrhoas and the Awadj, are supposed to be the Abana and Pharpar of Scripture (2 Kings v. 12). For many miles the city is surrounded by fertile fields and gardens, which are watered by rivulets and sparkling streams, giving to the vegetation a charming freshness and sweetness. It is nearly two miles in length and a mile in width.
The old city or nucleus of Damascus is on the S. bank of the Barada; it is of an oval form, measuring about one mile E. and W. and a mile and a half N. and S., and is encompassed by an old wall having the castle at the N. W. corner. In this part are the principal buildings, the castle, the mosque Abd el-Malek, 650 ft. in length by 150 ft. in breadth, which is the chief architectural monument in the city, the khan As'ad Pasha, and the principal Christian churches and Jewish synagogues. Here many of the Christians reside, mostly near the E. gate. On the south is the Jewish quarter, while the N. W. and the suburbs on the W. and N. bank of the river are occupied by the Moslems and the civil and military employees. In the suburbs W. of the city are the barracks, the beautiful mosque and hospital of Sultan Selim, and the palace.
These suburbs lead into the Meidan, another suburb running S., which terminates in Bawa-bet Illah (the gate of God), through which the caravans pass on their way to Mecca. Damascus is regular and cleanly for an oriental city; its streets are long and narrow, and tolerably paved with basalt, and many of its residences, though mean and unattractive without, are magnificent within. Almost every house has a fountain more or less decorated in the middle of the court. The market places are well constructed and adorned with numerous pillars. There are many fine baths with marble pavements. The bazaars are numerous. Each class of merchants and artisans has its own bazaar, some of them being very extensive, as those of the goldsmiths, the druggists, the butchers, traders in cotton stuffs, pipe makers, etc. The great khan is a large building filled with various commodities, and frequented by merchants from distant lands. Many of the khans are of great antiquity, and afford even in their present state a good idea of the manner in which business was conducted in ancient times. Besides the mosque Abd el-Malek, there are several others of much beauty, four Jewish synagogues, and Greek, Maronite, Syrian, and Armenian churches.
The most numerous Christian communion is the Non-united Greek church, of which the third highest dignitary, the patriarch of Antioch, has since the 16th century resided in Damascus. It is also the seat of the United Greek (Melchite) patriarch, and of a United Syrian and of a Maronite archbishop. The first Protestant congregation has been organized by Presbyterian missionaries from America. - Damascus is the centre of the coinmerce of Syria; and its trade is very much increased by its forming the meeting point of all the pilgrims to Mecca from the north of Asia. The number of pilgrims who make Damascus their place of rendezvous, with their attendants, amounts annually to several thousands. The city at such times presents the appearance of a vast fair, and every vacant place is filled with camels, horses, mules, and merchandise. Caravans proceed from Damascus also to Bagdad and Cairo. The principal imports by these various channels are broadcloths, different sorts of metals from the coasts of the Mediterranean, and shawls, muslins, and Indian stuffs, which are brought by way of England. Its own manufactures consist chiefly of silk and cotton fabrics, highly finished saddles and bridles fine cabinet work, jewelry, gold and silver trimming, and excellent soap, made of olive oil soda, and quicklime.
Large quantities of dried fruits and sweetmeats are exported to Constantinople. In former days Damascus was celebrated for the manufacture of sabres that would bend to the hilt without breaking, while the edge was so keen as to divide the firmest coat of mail. (See Damascus Blades.) - This very ancient city was built, according to some traditions, by Uz, the son of Aram; it is repeatedly mentioned in the history of Abraham. It was the residence of the kings of Syria during three centuries, and has experienced many and great changes in every period of its history. Hadad, who is called by Jo-sephus the first of its kings, was conquered by David, king of Israel, but its subjection was of short duration. In the reign of Ahaz it was taken by Tiglath-pileser, who slew its last king Rezin, and added its provinces to the Assyrian empire. The capture of Damascus figures among the lately discovered Assyrian sculptures. It subsequently came under the rule of Babylonia and Persia. After the battle of Issus (333 B. C.) it fell into the hands of Alexander the Great, and soon afterward became a part of the dominions of the SeleucidaB. Pompey attached it to the Roman empire in 64 B. C. At the time of Paul's visit to the city and conversion there, it was temporarily in possession of Aretas, king of Arabia Petraea and father-in-law of Herod the Great. Many Jews had settled in Damascus after its conquest by Alexander; and Christianity being early preached here, it became the seat of a bishop.
Under the emperors, Damascus was one of the principal Roman arsenals in Asia, and it was' denominated by Julian "the eye of the whole East." The Saracens took it shortly after the death of Mohammed, and made it the seat of the caliphate and the capital of the Mohammedan world. The Ommi-yades reigned at Damascus more than 90 years. On their fall the Abbassides, their successors, made Bagdad their capital. When the family of the Fatimites obtained the supremacy, Damascus fell under the sway of these Egyptian caliphs; but it was wrested from them by the Seljuk Turks, under whom it was in vain besieged by Louis VII. of France and Conrad III. of Germany, in 1148. Just at the beginning of the 15th century it was taken by Tamerlane, after a protracted resistance, which so enraged the conqueror that he put its inhabitants to the sword without mercy. The Mamelukes repaired it when they gained possession of Syria; but the Turks, under Selim I., took it from them in 1516, and it thus became part of the Turkish empire. In 1832 Ibrahim Pasha took it and added it to the pa-shalic of Egypt; but in 1840 it was restored to Turkey. In 1860 a massacre of the Christians in the Lebanon by the Druses took place, and many of the Christians in the villages round Damascus fled for refuge into the city.
Shortly afterward the Mohammedans there, at a given signal, rose in a body and commenced a general massacre of them. Hundreds who fled out of the city were overtaken and killed. The exact number of the victims of this massacre has never been ascertained, but it is estimated that about 3,000 adult male Christians were murdered, and many of the women and girls were reduced to slavery. Abd-el-Kader, the exiled chieftain of Algiers, then living in retirement at Damascus, distinguished himself by protecting several hundred Christians who had taken refuge in his mansion. After the massacre numbers of Christian merchants and artisans removed to Beyrout. The building of a macadamized road between Damascus and Beyrout was commenced in 1859 by a French company, and diligences now run daily between the two cities.