ultramarinus – beyond the sea

A MEDIEVAL ADAPTIVE REUSE PROJECT, Bosra, Syria

2006.05.15.

Near Damascus, Bosra is probably one of the most popular destinations for tourist excursion.  As a unique UNESCO World Heritage site, Bosra preserves one of the best example of a Medieval adaptive reuse project, which converted an ancient Roman theatre into a defensive citadel.  In the 2nd century BC, Borsa emerged as a Nabatean city.  After the Nabatean Kingdom was annexed by the Romans under Emperor Trajan in 106 AD, Borsa became the prosperous capital of the Roman province of Arabia Petraea.  By the 5th century, Bosra was turned into a Metropolitan archbishop’s seat for the Christian Byzantine.  The Islam Rashidun Caliphate captured Bosra from the Byzantine Christians in 634.  From then on, the city served as an outpost of Damascus, and a vital stop of hajj pilgrimage between Damascus and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.  After the Seljuks came in 1076, the thousand-year old city underwent a series of dramatic transformations, particularly the Roman theatre was converted into a fortress.  Then mosques and Muslim shrines were built to add some religious touches to the complex.  In the 13th century, the Ayyubid constructed eight towers at the Roman theatre to consolidate the city’s defense.  The various transformations of Bosra have given a unique character to the city, and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.  Just like many other archaeological sites in the country, Bosra’s Roman Theatre was partially damaged in the civil war.

From Baramke Station in Damascus, we hopped on a minibus for Bosra.  After arriving in Bosra’s Agora, we were approached by a local who claimed to be an assistant of a French archaeologist.  As a temporary guide, he took us for a quick tour of Bosra, and led us to visit his “aunt” at a domestic home.  We took a picture with his “aunt” and parted with our temporary guide at the entrance of the Roman Threater.  A bridge led us across the moat into a entry hall of the citadel.  Walking through the Islamic citadel to enter the theatre was like walking through a labyrinth of defensive tunnels.  It was quite possible to get lost in the underground section of the complex.  Steep stairs and dark corridors led to the entryways of the theatre.  Under the bright sun, dark volcanic basalt, one of the main construction materials of Bosra, was quite obvious.  We stayed at the theatre for about half an hour, found our way onto the stage, and hurried out of the labyrinth-like tunnel to exit the complex.  We made it on time to the bus station for the 14:00 bus back to Damascus.

streetscape 1Less than 20,000 residents were still living in Bosra back in 2006.

streetscape 3Dark basalt rocks were used to construct the city of Bosra.

streetscape 5The construction of Bosra was simple and practical.

06ME31-02We walked around the ruins of Bosra before entering the theatre.

streetscape 2There were many examples of incorporating ancient Nabatean and Roman structures into medieval houses.

06ME31-08Ancient Roman materials were either reused or incorporated into new structures.

06ME31-09The fusion came under the Muslim rule when the citadel with eight guard towers was built to defend against the Crusade.

06ME31-13Our temporary guide led us to his aunt’s home, one of the Medieval stone houses.

womanWe said hello to the guide’s aunt before heading to the theatre.

06ME31-16Once a city housing 80,000 in the ancient times, in 2006 Bosra was a small town with less than 20,000 residents living among the ruins.

06ME31-17Crossing the stone bridge on the moat, we finally entered the Citadel Theatre.

06ME31-18The Citadel Theatre is the best preserved remains in Bosra, and a one-of-a-kind adaptive reuse construction.  Efforts were made from 1946 onward to clear the 3 storey defensive structures in the theatre area, thus the Roman theatre reappeared once again.

citadel 2The theatre construction began in Trajan’s time when a 9000-15000 seat theatre was built.

06ME31-26In the Medieval times, the theatre was transformed into a citadel.  A maze of covered passageways were constructed to connect the inner theatre with the outer section of the citadel.

06ME31-28The three storey stage backdrop was once filled with marble details and statues.  These doors were used for actors to enter the stage.

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