Bosra (also called Bozrah or Bostra; Arabic: Busra ash-Sham) is an ancient city 67 miles (108 km) south of Damascus. Once the capital of the Roman province of Arabia, Bosra was an important stopover on the ancient caravan route to Mecca.
Bosra's most impressive feature is its superbly well-preserved Roman theater, complete with tall stage buildings. And there are also early Christian ruins and several old mosques to be found within its great walls.
History of Bosra
Originally a Nabataean city, Bosra was conquered by the Roman emperor Trajan and made the capital of the Roman province of Arabia. It served as a key Roman fortress east of the Jordan River. The city eventually achieved the title "metropolis" under the Roman emperor Philip, who was a native of the city.
Bosra became a Christian bishopric early in the 4th century and ruins of two early churches can still be seen today. The city fell to the Muslims in 634/635; the ruins of ancient mosques can be seen from this period. As it was situated at the crossroads of trade routes, Bosra was a stop-off point for Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca and Medina.
The Crusaders captured Bosra in the 12th century but failed to hold it. In the same century earthquakes, together with Turkish misrule, hastened its decline.
What to See at Bosra
See our Bosra Photo Gallery for a virtual tour of the theater, ruins and churches of Bosra.
The monumental remains of temples, theatres, triumphal arches, aqueducts, reservoirs, churches, mosques, and a 13th-century citadel stretch over the modern site.
The famous-for-a-reason Roman theater of Bosra was built in the 2nd century AD and could seat up to 15,000 people. The acoustics were carefully designed so that even those in the cheap seats could hear the actors. The stage was 45 meters wide and 8 meters deep.
In its heyday, the theater was faced with marble and draped in silk hangings, and during performances a fine mist of perfumed water was sprayed over the patrons to keep them comfortable in the desert heart. A large area in front of the stage may have been used for circuses or gladiatorial shows.
A fortress was built around the theater during the Omayyad and Abbasid periods, which accounts for its excellent state of preservation. Unlike many other Roman theaters, which were built into a hillside, Bosra's theater is freestanding.
Other Roman sites at Bosra include the palatial Roman baths, monumental gates and some fine Corinthian columns.
The 13th-century wall still envelopes the theater today. When the Arabs conquered Bosra they immediately blocked all the doors and opening of the ancient theater with thick walls, transforming it into a citadel. But the new threats posed by the Crusaders rendered these early defences inadequate; so in the mid-11th century three towers were built, jutting out from the Roman building; nine other bigger ones followed, between 1202 and 1251.
From the theater a narrow road with ancient pavement runs alongside the southern baths before coming to the decumanus, near a triple arch known as Bab al Kandil (the Gate of the Lantern). It was built in the 3rd century in honour of the Third Cyrenaica Legion, stationed here at Bosra. A double-storied archway marks the western entrance to the city, Bab al Hawa, the Gate of the Wind.
Turning right along the decumanus, one encounters a group of slender columns. The first four, set at an angle to the street, are believed to the remains of a Nymphaeun. On the other side of the street, two columns 25 meters apart, one of which is joined to the neighbouring wall by a rich entablature, are said to have been part of a kalybea, a religious building unique to this region.
The eastern exit to the town was marked by an archway which, unlike the Gate of the Wind (to the west), is said to date from the first century, the Nabatean period. This is the only known Nabatean gateway outside of Petra in Jordan.
Outside of the Nabatean gate on the left are the ruins of the Sts. Sergius, Bacchus and Leontus Cathedral, built in 512. It was the first domed building to be built on a square ground plan. The cathedral is said to have been part of Emperor Justianian's inspiration for the Hagia Sophia.
About 30 meters to the north of the cathedral is a 3rd or 4th century basilica whose walls are intact up to roof level. This is the site of the famous encounter between Bahira and Mohammad. Bahira was a Nestorian Christian monk who is said to have met the Prophet Muhammad when he was 12 years of age. He noticed the seal of prophecy and foretold that the Prophet would have a great future.
The Mosque of Omar in the centre of the town began as a pagan temple. It is the only mosque surviving from the early Islamic period to preserve its original facades, and all its columns remain in place. Many bear inscriptions in Greek, Latin or Nabatean. Its fine square minaret dates from the 12th century.
The al Khidr mosque is one of Bosra's oldest Islamic structures. Built out of black basalt in 1134 on the site of an earlier mosque, its 12-meter-high minaret was built over a meter away from the mosque. Arabic inscriptions can be seen in the plaster above the mihrab.
The al Mabrak Mosque, which recalls a visit by the Prophet Mohammed to Bosra, is in the northeast outskirts of the city. Thousands of graves, with great steal of black basalt on them, keep watch at the foot of its walls. There is an enormous cistern which, at 120 meters by 150 meters is one of the largest the Romans ever built.
The Manjak Hammam, dating back to 1372, is a prototype of Mamluk architecture. Founded by Manjak Al Youssoufi (Governor of the Damascus province), this was the last Islamic structure to be built in Bosra. It shows how important this town was up until late in the Middle Ages.
Quick Facts on Bosra
|Categories:||city ruins; ruins|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||32.517778° N, 36.480278° E|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Bosra|
- "Bostra" - Encyclopædia Britannica (2006)
- "Ancient City of Bosra" - UNESCO World Heritage List
- "Bosra (Bosra Ash Sham)" - Homs Online (2006)
- Photos of Bosra - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Bosra, Syria
Below is a location map and aerial view of Bosra. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.