URBAN AND RURAL LANDSCAPE
Excavations in Bosra (Syria)
European Archeology Exhibition 1 has been recently organized in
the prestigious Museum of Damasco, during wich results of recent archaeological
excavations in Syria have been exposed. Even if searches about prehistoric
and classical sites are surely many more, there are also interesting news
about syrian medieval sites, between which one of the most studied is
The city is a very interesting place especially for the continuity of
urban development between the hellenistic age and the omayyad age, and
the syrian-french archaeological mission, directed by R. al-Muqdad (DGAM)
and J.M. Dentzer (CNRS, Universite de Paris I), has studied this particular
problem. The continuity of life has been however cause of difficulty during
the investigation, because of since the nabatean age the city has never
been totally abandoned and consequently materials have been used every
time again, and this is the reason why the deciphering of the development
of the ancient city has been sometime particularly difficult. First discoveries
of the medieval age are dated in the IV-V century, when Bosra was completely
renewed and particularly a new floor in limestone was built, for example
in the arcades along the streets and in the near-by buildings, like the
In the same period monuments in the near-by of the corner of the north-south
road and the west-east road are changed, while later, at the end of the
omayyad age, the arcades along the north-south road are transformed in
souqs, as it is usual in Siria: materials of the imperial age, blocks
of walls and also drums of columns are reused in the walls that separate
the new shops. During the medieval age there is also an housing-invasion
on the streets, and a raising of the level of the buildings along the
sides of the street.
Life in the commercial district is an excellent example of the phenomenon
of continuity of life: medieval souqs built all around the Mosque of Omar
succeed to the roman and byzantin shops situated under the arcades , and
this situation last until the beginning of the XIX century.
The results of the excavation confirm a similar development also in the
east district, where the principal buildings keep the orientation of the
nabatean age, and in the important area of the South Spa.
The syrian-italian archaeological mission, directed by R.al-Muqdad (DGAM)
and R. Farioli-Campanati (University of Bologna), has chiefly investigated
the north-east district, where the Mosque of al-Mabrak, the Mosque of
Fatima and the so-called "complex of Bahira." are built.
The principal result of the searches is, once again, the continuity of
the occupation of the area, and it results from the archeological excavations
as from the objects of the Museum of the Citadel, that are still unpublished
(a catalogue will be published soon).
The monumental remains of the cathedral, which was consecrated in 512-513
to the saints Sergio, Bacco and Leonzio, are part of the complex
of Bahira. The church has a complex plan (tetraconco), but this
is not unusual in Syria.
The excavations have proved that the cathedral was built on roman structures
of the III century. The same archaeological situation appears in the area
of the Episcopal palace, which was correctly identified just recently
(formerly it was called palace of Traiano).
The italian archaeological mission will soon publish the topographical
map of the ancient and medieval city of Bosra, using the documentation
of the recent excavations.
was the chief town of the Provincia Arabia during the Roman age and also
the chief town of the Metropolis under Phillip the Arab.Christianism caught
on at the very first time and Bosras bishops had the title of metropoliti
of the Patriarchy of Antiochia since V century. An early adfirmation of
Islam has been realized in the city. There are many byzantine and islamic
legends about the presence of the young Muhammad beside the nestorian
monk Bahira, that would have announced to him his future mission, and
about the first copy of the Koran, that the camel of the Prophet would
have deposed in the place where the Mosque of al-Mabrak is lately built.
the remains of a monumental nabatean palace surrounded by arcades
are a clear example of the continuity of life in the east district.It
could be identified with a sanctuary, and Roman buildings of the II century
a.C were built on it. An inscription remembers a sanctuary dedicated to
Rome and August in the neighbourhood, and always on the same place a palace
with mosaics was built during the IV-V century, whose function has not
been still identified. It was transformed in a big church with central
plan in the V-VI century, and a small basilica adjoined the church in
south. Size and plan of the new building allow to identify it with the
cathedral of Bosra. For the same reason the "Palace of Traiano"
, wich adjoins the church, was recently identified with the Episcopal
built in the II century a.C. with an asymmetrical plan, it was changed
in simmetrical plan during the III century. The spa became larger during
the IV century and it occupies places formerly public. Changes continued
during the omayyad age, because customers were year after year many more.
Finally an industrial oven was installed in the central room and the north-east
rooms became the place where the flour was produced. The building is preserved
particularly well and a lot of materials have been found here, so the
searches in this area are extremely good.
the last discoveries of the syrian-italian mission have shown that
the big church has an absidal structure and that it has on the outside
two esedra, wich are probably the extremities of an arcade. The searches
have continued in the area of the presbyterium (closed with a wall until
1978 and consequently unknown until now), where the level of the VI century
has been found under the medieval floor (built with slabs of basalt),
together with the synthronon (five steps). There are also other discoveries:
the base of the ambone, carved fragments of marble and slabs of proconnesian
marble used for covering the wall, and a lot of mosaic tesseras in dough
of glass, in gold and silver, that document how precious the decoration
of the walls and of the presbyterium was.The prestigious church of the
VI century, after the collapse of the structures of the tetraconco, continued
the liturgical functions in the small basilical building with three naves,
wich was documented during the last century by De Vogue. This small basilica
was built according to the architectural canons of the Haruan region,
and it occupied the area of the ancient presbyterium and of the east esedra
of the tetraconco. The floor was later add, so that the first two steps
of the synthronon were covered. Frescoes were painted in the presbyterium
area during the medieval age and this is the reason why the windows were
closed. Today just traces of sacred imagery remain of the frescoes, and
they are painted in the absidal body of the wall. They were probably located
along the sides of the Virgo, observed by De Vogue at the end of the last
century. There are also narrative scenes painted on the presbyterium walls.
Unfortunately these frescoes have been seriously damaged during the modern
age. This area of the church has been transformed, and a series of transversal
arcades cover the wall and its frescoes. Today restorers are working on
these frescoes. In fact they are particularly important for two good reasons:
because frescoes are rare in Syria and because they prove the continuity
of the liturgical activity in the church and the pacific coexistence of
Christianism and Islam.