Damascus: Pearl of the Desert

Assiut Training College, Assiut, Egypt
The Biblical World, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Mar., 1909)

Among the Arabs Damascus is known by several picturesque names, each derived from some characteristic of the city itself. Its inhabitants assert that it is the oldest city in the world, hence it is quite frequently called the “Immortal City.” As to the truth of this we are not prepared to say. Its foundation is lost in the shadowy mists of the world’s twilight, and in the absence of historic facts no positive statements can be made. Yet there is not a fallen city today but Damascus was old when it was built, and still flourishes long after it has passed away. Amid the growth and decay, the rise and fall of races and dynasties, of civilizations and religions which have thronged the world for four thousand years Damascus has remained the one perennially great world-city. So we may in all truth claim that if it be not the oldest then it is assuredly among the oldest cities of the earth, older by ages than the “Eternal City,” as Rome proudly boasts herself to be. Another title which shows the poetry of oriental imagination is “The Pearl Set in Emeralds.” The appropriateness of this name is easily appreciated when the city is viewed from the top of one of the neighboring hills whence its oval shape is best seen. The color of the city is pearl gray and it is surrounded on all sides by gardens composed of shrubbery and verdure without number and trees uncountable, giving to the “pearl” the “emerald setting.”

full article:  Pearl of the Desert

This article is romantic and perhaps a bit orientalist but still interesting. At the time this was written the Arabs were chafing under Ottoman rule, and would eventually revolt in 1916. The movement was led by Sharif Hussein of Mecca, but Damascus was a key node, until the Turks hung scores of the plotters. After the war the Syrian National Congress convened in Damascus and on March 8, 1920 proclaimed the Arab Kingdom of Greater Syria, with Faisal, Hussein’s son, as King.

“Greater Syria” meant Ottoman Syria, including Palestine, parts of Mesopotamia (later Iraq), parts of modern Turkey, and Lebanon. The Allies awarded France a Mandate for Syria and Lebanon at the San Remo conference in April. Faisal surrendered to the French but his war minister, General Yusuf al-‘Azma,  resisted, and was defeated at Maysalun in July, followed by the capture of Damascus the next day. This, the British occupation of the rest of historic Syria,  and the later annexation by Turkey of Iskenderun province, with support from France and a fraudulent referendum, sealed Syria’s division, the original Nakba.

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