Located north-east end of the historic centre of Bosra, the Mosque of Mabrak el-Naqa was built in 1136 AD and expanded in the 13th century. It has an usual egg-shaped white cupola over a black basalt structure, and a square black basalt minaret. It is believed to have been built on the spot where the Prophet Mohammed camped in a tent on his visit to Bosra with his uncle when he was 12 years old. The mosque's Mihrab also sits on top of the spot where years later a camel carrying the first copy of the Koran rested. The mosque also served as a madrassa (theological school) which was quite influential.
UPDATE: Based on a Youtube video posted in November 2012, this mosque suffered some damage from the shelling by the Syrian government forces. In the footage I've seen, there was a hole through one of the walls of the mosque.
At the north-east corner of the intersection between the decumanus maximus and the cardo rose another 2nd century AD monumental structure, the Kalybé. It faced the Nymphaeum on the opposite side, and consisted of an exedra with niches flanked by two Corinthian columns. Only the two columns and a fragment of the entablature above have survived, but if they are any indication, the structure must have the most exquisitely decorated in Bosra. A "kalybé" was a Nabataean/Semitic type of structure used for religious rituals, possibly mimicking the monumental rock-cut façade of the city of Petra. It is found in a few of the Roman cities of the Levant, such as Philippopolis (Shahba), but not anywhere else in the Roman Empire. Upon the arrival of the Romans to this area, the Kalybé took on a more Roman design, but with Semitic functionality. The remains of the Kalybé of Bosra were incorporated into a house, constructed in the last couple of centuries, as seen in the attached photographs.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Based on a Youtube video posted in October 2012, the exquisitely carved entablature of the Kalybé supported by the Corinthian column has collapsed and shattered into pieces as a result of the fighting between the Syrian government army and the Free Syrian Army. This is a tragic loss to say the least...
Dedicated to Fatima al-Zahra, the daughter of the prophet Mohammed, this mosque was built in the 11th century, during the Fatimid period. The Fatimid Empire, which extended from the Maghreb to the Levant, was ruled by a Shia dynasty who descended from the Prophet Mohammed through his daughter, Fatima, hence their name. This mosque is one of the rare examples of Fatimid architecture that have survived in Syria. A subsequent expansion of the mosque in 1306 saw the construction of the square 19-metre minaret. Recycled Roman period materials were used for both the initial construction as well as the later expansion. The mosque continues to be in use and is only open during prayer time, so the usual modest dress is probably expected when entering.
UPDATE: Based on a Youtube video posted in November 2012, the minaret of this mosque suffered some damage from the shelling by the Syrian government forces.
One of the best preserved theatres in the Roman world, that of Bosra is the crown jewel of archaeological interest in the city and a testament to its importance in ancient times. The majestic theatre was built in the middle of the 2nd century AD, within decades after the annexation of the Nabataean Kingdom by the Romans. A location immediately south of the ancient city was chosen for the 102-metre wide semi-circular structure, and the region's black basalt stone was utilised in its construction, except for the scaenae frons where pink granite Corinthian columns were used. Bosra's theatre could fit as many as 10,000 spectators, and was one of only a handful in the Empire that were freestanding structures, not leaning against a slope or a hill. It owes its amazing state of preservation to the fact that it was converted into a defensive citadel by the Arabs after they conquered Syria. Between 1947 and 1970, the Theatre underwent a careful restoration project that returned it as close as possible to its original form, including the replication of many of the Corinthian capitals of the bottom row of columns in the scaenae frons.
Different aspects of the Theatre are described separately below. For more photos, take a look at the travelogue: "Roman Theatre of Bosra - Architectural Details."
Located at the southern end of the city, Bosra's South Baths were the largest in the city. They were built in the 2nd century AD, on a T-shape plan with a colonnaded portico along the façade overlooking the decumanus maximus, the east-west axis of the Bosra. The interior consisted of five halls, a large octagonal apodyterium (changing room) led into the usual frigidarium, tepidarium and two caldariums. Despite its age, the structure has retained most of its walls and arches, plus one dome, which is deemed unstable and was under restoration when I visited in December 2010. Flanking the baths were two courtyards with a colonnade of Ionic columns wrapped around them (see next tip).
Soon after the Arabs conquered Bosra in the 7th century AD, they converted the city's disused Roman Theatre into a defensive Citadel surrounded by a moat. Successive empires and dynasties, from the Omayyads to the Fatimids, Seljuks and Ayyubids, continued to fortify the mighty walls which wrapped perfectly around the semi-circular theatre, thus inadvertently preserving it in the process. At first, the citadel was merely used to defend the Damascus-Mecca pilgrimage route, but it later played a role against growing Crusader and Mongol attacks. Although the Ayyubids made the greatest architectural contribution to the fortifications, the Mamlukes were the last to make use of the Citadel. However, it was abandoned along with the whole city soon after Tamerlane's invasion of Syria in 1402 AD. The actual structure consists of several square bastions and walls constructed over the centuries, and within them is a maze of dark vaulted passages, typical of mediaeval castles, that connect seamlessly with the inner galleries of the Roman Theatre. Passing through the winding obscure tunnels and into the order of the sun-drenched open-air Roman theatre within the citadel is an unforgettable sight. A small museum is nowadays housed in a section of these fortifications.
Completed in the Omayyad period in 720 AD, al-Omari Mosque is one of the oldest surviving mosques in the world. Historians are uncertain whether it was named after the second Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab, under whom Syria was conquered by the Moslems in 636 AD, or after the Omayyad Caliph Omar II who ruled from 717-720 AD. What is clear, however, is that the entire mosque was constructed using stones and columns from the ruined Roman buildings of the city, probably even from a pre-existing pagan temple on the same site. Along the eastern façade, where the entrance lies, a series of Ionic columns were used to support arches within the walls. Its interior also makes use of numerous recycled columns (see next tip). The mosque underwent a renovation and expansion under the Ayyubid dynasty in the late 12th century, during which the square minaret was constructed. Over time, al-Omari Mosque was abandoned and lay in ruins until it was restored in 1938 and reopened as a mosque.
Named after a pre-Islamic saint/prophet, Mosque of al-Khider was built in 1133 AD. It probably replaced an older mosque, which in turn may have replaced a pagan temple or a church. It has a 12-metre square minaret, probably erected in the 13th century. The mosque is located north of the Cryptoporticus, west of al-Omari Mosque.
Uncovered relatively recently, the first (South) Cathedral of Bosra was the largest Christian structure in the city. It was built in the 4th/5th century AD on the site of the great Nabataean Temple of Bosra, whose very stones were used to construct the cathedral. The vast pagan temple, probably dedicated to the primary Nabataean deity, Dùshara, is known to have been deliberately destroyed after the Christianisation of the region in an effort to eradicate paganism. The Temple's replacement, the South Cathedral, is believed to have been built over the inner enclosure. Its design, a circle within a square with exedrae topped by a large dome, was probably the prototype for Bosra's second Cathedral of Saints Sergius, Bacchus & Leontius, which in turn inspired numerous later churches in Christendom, including the first Hagia Sophia and the Church of Saints Sergius & Bacchus in Constantinople. It was probably the first building ever built with a round dome over a square structure. Archaeological studies have yet to draw full conclusions on the South Cathedral, but the outline is clearly visible with two tall Corinthian columns still standing next to some of the walls of the exedrae, which are partly below current ground level waiting to be fully excavated. The size of it is a testament to the importance of Bosra in the early Christian period.
Not far from the South Cathedral, just south of the Nabataean Arch, lie the ruins of the Palace of the Roman Governor of Provincia Arabia, sometime referred to as the Palace of Trajan. Much of the structure, with its two floors, has survived, albeit within dwellings of a more recent period. It is thought to have been built in the early 2nd century AD on the site of the palace of the Nabataean King Rabbel II, which may have been preserved in parts within the Roman construction. In the early Christian period, the Palace was used as the residence of the Bishop of the South Cathedral of Bosra.
Scattered around the archaeological site of Bosra are the remains of numerous other ancient structures. They are neither identified by a sign at the site, nor in any guidebook, probably because not enough research has been conducted to piece together their history. In some cases these ruins may have been churches or temples, but in others they were probably palaces or dwellings. Nevertheless, it is quite fun to wander through some of these ruins and to draw one's conclusions. Attached are a few photos.
The modern city of Bosra spreads around the historic centre in every direction. It is a rather sleepy town composed of low lying buildings and many modern detached houses, all surrounded by agricultural fields. Near the Roman Theatre is the beautiful modern mosque, which shown in the main photo and is probably the grand mosque of the city. Due to time constraints I had no time to wander around the town, but either way it seemed to offer little to visitors.
Completed in 512 AD by the Archbishop Julianus, the Cathedral of Bosra was dedicated to Saints Sergius, Bacchus and Leontius. It lies mostly in ruins nowadays, but its outline is discernible: a circle within a square separated by Corinthian columns and L-shaped pillars, with exedrae in the outer corners of the square. The Corinthian columns were arranged in semi-circles between the L-shaped pillars, giving the central section a quadrifoliate shape, rather than a circle, and was crowned by a 36-metre dome. The best preserved section of the structure is the deep apse facing east and its side sacristies. In mediaeval times, the apse by itself was used as a church and the frescoes that have survived on the walls are from this period (see next tip). This Cathedral is known to have played a major role in early Christian history when Bosra was an important city. The design of the Cathedral was also significant in the development of church architecture and is thought to have ultimately inspired other churches around the Roman Empire, including the Cathedral of St Helena in Aleppo, the first Hagia Sophia and the Church of Saints Sergius & Bacchus in Constantinople, and la Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna. Archaeologists, however, are now discovering that this Cathedral was modelled after the older, and larger, South Cathedral of Bosra, which is discussed in a separate tip. While studies continue, it is yet to be known why a second Cathedral was even necessary in the city. Was it perhaps because of the existence of different Christian sects, Nestorian and Orthodox? Or was the first Cathedral damaged before the construction of the second one?
Located just east of al-Omari Mosque, Hammam Manjak was built in 1372 AD mainly to enhance Bosra's role as a stopping point for pilgrims on their way from Damascus to Mecca for the Haj. It is named after Manjak Al Yussufi, the Mamluke governor of Damascus who commissioned the construction. The Hammam is a beautiful example of Mamluke-period Arab baths of Syria and is considered one of the last major structures to be built in Bosra before the city began its long decline. The main hall is missing its dome, but its walls, arches and decorative details are well-preserved. To gain a better understanding of what Hammam Manjak might have once looked like, a visit to any hammam in Damascus would help.
Flanking the South Roman Baths of Bosra are two open courtyards said to belong to the Baths complex. The courtyards are identical in size and were surrounded by a colonnaded portico with Ionic columns similar to those seen along the Decumanus Maximus of the city. Seen in the attached photos are the columns of the eastern portico, which are almost entirely complete and in perfect condition. The western portico is not as complete.