The Ruins


Plan of the City
The Ruins
Colonnaded Streets
Nabataean Remains
Civic Bulidings
Ecclesiastical Architecture
Moslem Architecture
Bosra Today


The Ruins

Ancient Bostra , in its present condition, presents an aspect of ruin which, though impressive by reason of its scale and extent, is far from beautiful (I11. 199). The black


    Aerial View of the ruins


basalt of which it is composed produces an effect which is dull and lifeless, unrelieved by the green of trees and shrubs as in the ruins of Kanawat (Kanatha); while the crude and unsightly hovels which constitute the buildings of the modern village, hide from any general view much that would be beautiful if it could be seen. For, although the village occupies hardly a sixth of the area within the ancient walls, it is so placed as to cluster in all its squalor close about the walls and columns of the best preserved of the ancient buildings. The general effect of the ruins after one has entered the West Gate is far less striking than that of a distant view from far out on the Roman road that leads from Der'a. The prospect gives the illusion of a surging sea of broken basalt, with column shafts and capitals of the same material borne, like flotsam, upon its surface, or half concealed beneath its waves. The forbidding and sombre walls of the Arabic fortress appear to guard a promontory to the southeast, and a poor village of basalt and mud, clinging about the bases of a few ancient columns, and pressing close to the grim black walls and tall square minarets of half a dozen mosques, seems to rise from a low-lying shore. The West Gate which introduces most travellers to the city is a fine and imposing monument; for its high arch and ornamented façade stand to almost their original height. But one must traverse a wide area of the basalt sea before encountering another object of interest. This next monument I have called the Central Arch; it stands parallel to the main street, facing north; one face is well preserved, the other is in complete ruins. A little farther towards the east, and on the left as one approaches, are four Corinthian columns of large scale, set diagonally upon a square formed by the meeting of two streets; they are bereft of an entablature, but compose the most beautiful of the monuments of Bosra. A step farther on, across the street which opens out to the north, is a Corinthian column of striking height and slenderness joined to a lofty wall with niches in it. Due north, about 24 metres away, stands a similar column, but no corresponding wall. The two belonged, without doubt, to the same building. The buildings just described are the only ancient ones in all Bosra that can be found without searching among the later buildings, save a few tall columns of the Corinthian order which tower above the fiat, mud covered, house tops. The Theatre is completely hidden by the mighty walls of the Arabic castle, for the construction of which the fine draughted ashlar of the city walls was purloined, the East Arch is more than half hidden by houses, the Palace to the southeast of it is visible from one side only; while the great building, or buildings, on the "akropolis", which are represented by standing columns of the Roman and Nabataean periods are impossible to measure, or to plot out, owing to the congested state of the modern village around them. The large Baths which lie to the south of the great columns are packed full and closely crowded all around by dwellings and stables. In the opposite direction the broken vaults and massive walls of a large edifice stand up well above the roofs of a group of houses. This ruinous conglomeration of heavy Roman constructions which goes by the name of Khan id-Dibs — the honey Khan - is so thickly beset by native buildings that its various parts seem to be disconnected until the whole is surveyed and put upon paper. Northward from this great structure is a group of houses in the court-yards of which the pavement and several columns of a colonnaded street are to be found, in connection with long walls, well built of highly finished masonry with many doorways in them, which originally constitued the fronts of shops. When the plan of these remains has been extricated from the mass of later buildings, it appears that this spot was the meeting place, or crossing, of two important streets. Following the line of one of these streets eastward along a narrow modern alley with ancient columns built into, a wall on the left, one emerges upon an open space bounded on the east by the ruins of the Cathedral, the front wall of which still preserves a part of its lower storey, though its interior is filled with a heap of rubbish. Behind the Cathedral is a group of ancient residential buildings part of which probably belonged to the Episcopal Palace. These residences are still inhabited, and have been altered within to meet the requirements of the present occupants. One wall preserves three storeys of windows. To the north the well finished walls and gable ends of Dêr Bohêra stand out as the;best preserved of the buildings of Bosra, and , a little further along in the same direction, one encounters the curved walls of two apsidal constructions which are quite hidden by modern buildings. Between this point and the North Gate is another building with two apposed apses lying north and south. The North Gate itself is visible only in foundations which give a plan like that of the West Gate. Near the north wall of the city are the scant ruins of another large bath. Westward from the North Gate is a copious spring with steps descending on all sides. This is still the chief water supply of the town and the meeting place of all the inhabitants. It was undoubtedly dignified in ancient times by a more symmetrical setting, with steps like the seats of a theatre leading down to the water on all four sides, and was surrounded with columns. The principal remains of Christian architecture, outside the Cathedral group, are found in the southeast quarter of the city. These consist of three churches no one of which preserves more of its original structure than is just sufficient to mark it as a basilica of the Christian period. All three were poorly constructed. Church No. I is the best preserved of all. It lies southwest of the Palace. Its entire plan is to be traced in walls and column bases. Church No. 2 consists only of an apse and side chambers, but the foundations of its west wall are traceable in the ruins. The largest of these churches is No. 3 which stood between the South Baths and the „Kalybe" ; it is represented by its north wall, one side chamber, and one compound pier of its apse. In addition to these more strictly architectural monuments of the Roman and Christian periods just described, the ruins of Bosra embrace several great public works of construction that lie just within, or just outside, the city walls. These are first, two great reservoirs which are believed by some writers to belong to the mediaeval period. One of them lies to the east of the city, and is not shown upon the map. It is almost completely ruined, having been preyed upon for building stones. The other, which lies in the southeast quarter of the town is quite intact, and often contains water; although its importance as a birkeh has greatly diminished since the old hadjdj route through Bosra has been abandoned for one farther west. The ancient Hippodrome on the south side of the city is difficult to see, because it has been divided within and hidden without by a maze of garden walls. It is possible, however, to measure the entire outline of its outer curve and long sides; while its tiers of stone seats are visible at two points on the inside where they have been incorporated with garden walls. A complex of heavy walls, one of which curves at its northern end, is to be seen to the west of the Castle, near a section of the Roman wall of the city which was joined on to a very ancient wall of bowlders. The term Naumachia has been applied to a huge depression in the northwest quarter, which certainly has every appearance of having been artificially excavated. Its sides and west end are cut down in straight slopes. Although its east end is uneven, and looks like a natural slope, this is perhaps only buried in debris, and may be like the other sides. A few seats, like those of a Roman theatre, are to be seen lying on the north side. Two springs at the bottom of the depression supplied a means of flooding the place, and naturally suggested the name which has been given to it. The remains of Mohammedan architecture outside the Castle are chiefly the mosques which are scattered well over the area within the walls, suggesting that the Arab city was almost, if not quite, as large as the city of Roman days. Five of these mosques remain, in addition to one in the Castle, and another which is known to have existed near the Central Arch, but which has been wholly destroyed. Only one of them is in use to-day — Djami il-Fatmeh —; another, the Djami il-Khidr, is in good preservation but disused, the others stand partly ruined, their walls and minarets being preserved, while their roofs have fallen in. Like the Castle, the mosques were built out of the ruins of Christian and Pagan buildings, most of them having been constructed on the principles of architecture peculiar to the earlier styles employed in the Haurân.


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