Islam: The Rashedeen Caliphate 632-661AD:
After the death of the prophet Muhammad, the Arab fighters began to
spread Islam through battles and faith preaching. Under the Caliph
Omar Bin Al Khattab, Syria was taken over form the Byzantines, in 636
the Muslims fought against the Byzantines in the battle of Yarmuk (on
the river Yarmuk).
Umayyad Caliphate 661 - 750AD:
Muawiya former governor of Syria, fought with the Caliph Ali Bin Abi
Talib along the Euphrates, and in 661 when Caliph Ali was assassinated
he took over and made Damascus capital of the Umayyad territory.
Damascus became the capital of a land extending from Spain in
Andalusia to the Indus River in India. The Umayyads showed tolerance
of the Christian faith and were very encouraging of education and the
sciences. In 750AD Damascus was taken over by Abu Al Abbas who founded
the Abbasid Dynasty in Baghdad, and the Muslim world - and,
indeed, the Christian one - seemed doomed, but the Mamluk General
Baybars in that year defeated the massive army of Hulagu at the Battle
of Goliath's Well, a victory which, in retrospect, must be seen as one
of the world's most decisive military engagements.
Abbasids Caliphate 750 - 1199AD:
Syria, was neglected greatly under the Abbasid Dynasty, this is
reflected by the lack of Abbasid architecture in Syria, which is only
evident in Raqqa. After the reign of Harun Al Rashid, the Fatimids in
978AD took over the South and Damascus, while
Aleppo was ruled by the Hamdanids in the 10th and 11th Centuries.
The Fatimids under the leadership of Caliph Hakim began to demolish
churches in the Holy Land. This coupled with the appeal for help by
the Byzantines against the Seljuks prompted the next phase of Syria?
Crusaders and Ayyubids 1098 - 1250:
Arriving to Syria in 1098, under Raymond de Saint Gilles, Count of
Toulouse, they took the route via the Orontes Valley (upper) then
through Hama and Sheizar to the site that is now
Krak Des Chevaliers. In December 1098 they massacred the Male
population of Maarat Al Numan. When Edessa, a Latin enclave, fell to
Zengi (a Muslim leader)? a second crusade arrived from France and
Germany. However they were unable to recapture Edessa and they
couldn't capture Damascus either. This dampened European enthusiasm.
Saladin, was very influential in the defeat of the Crusaders. He
managed to recapture Jerusalem, Acre, Sidon, and Beirut all in 1187.
He also had many battles against the leader of the third crusade,
Richard the Lionheart.
Mamelukes 1250 - 1516:
This period was not very positive for the Syria and the Syrians. Eight
years after the Burgi Mamelukes took power (from their capital in
Cairo), saw the attack of the Mongols who destroyed everything in
their way. Under Baybars the Mameluke commander, the Mongols were
defeated and the Krak, Safita, and Latakia were all taken back from
the Crusaders (1271 - 1289). In 1291 Tartous was taken back by his
successor Sultan Khalil. 1302, when the Crusade garrison in Arwad was
taken back, saw the end of the Crusader venture in the Middle East. A
second group of Mamelukes, the Burgis, took power in 1382. It took
decades of rivalries between them and their predecessors the Bahris
before they took power. This undermined their defense and in 1400
Damascus was hit by its biggest attacker yet, Tamerlane. He destroyed
most of Syria and with the rerouting of European trade around Africa,
Syria's trade dropped.
Ottoman Empire 1516-1918:
In 1516 Sultan Selim I, who defeated the Mamelukes in North Aleppo,
conquered Syria. He later went on to claim himself as the Caliph. It
was under his successor Suleyman the magnificent, that the Tekkiye
Mosque complex was built in Damascus. The Ottomans built many Khans in
the souks of both Aleppo and Damascus. Damascus, which was the last
stop for pilgrims bound towards Mecca, had many great Khans and souks
built for this cause. Aleppo's great Khans on the other hand were
built for the European Merchants after trade was opened up to Europe.
Aleppo once again became the leading city of the Middle East for East-West
trade. Under Ibrahim Pasha, the Son of Muhammad Ali, Damascus became
the centralized government of Syria. Ibrahim Pasha captured Damascus
in 1832 and founded schools, reorganized the judicial system, reformed
the taxation policies and encouraged education. He also put the
Christians and Jews on equal footing with the Muslims. During the
First World War the Ottomans massacred between 1 and 2 Million
Armenians, some in the Turkish run Belsen in Deir Ezzor. T.E. Lawrence
and the Arabs, who revolted against the Turks, arrived to Damascus led
by the forces of Emir Feisal, son of Hussein, the Sherif of Mecca in
In 1918 a parliamentary government was established in Damascus and in
1920 the Emir Feisal, was declared King of Syria. Syria at this point
of time was geographically defined by the natural boundaries,
beginning at the Taurus mountains in Turkey to Sinai in the South. The
Arabs thought Syria would be a self-governing country, or so it was
explained by the British. The secret Sykes-Picot agreement however
would put a stop to this. This agreement which was set up in 1916 was
put into action after the San Remo meeting. Syria was divided into 4
parts (Jordan, Israel and Lebanon as well as the area now known as
Syria), and shared by Britain and France. Current day Syria and
Lebanon went to the French, while Palestine and Jordan would go to the
King Feisal was made King of Iraq.
was then divided by the French into the separate provinces or states
of Aleppo, Damascus, Latakia, and the Hauran. Aleppo was later brought
into the state of Syria whose capital was Damascus. In 1925, the Druze
population in the Hauran revolted and moved towards the capital, which
prompted the heavy bombardment of Damascus by the French. In 1939 the
state of Iskanderoun (Antioch) was given to the Turks in order
to keep them neutral during the second world war. In 1942 Hauran and
Latakia were incorporated into the Syrian state. In 1945 Syria gained
independence and in 1946 the last of the French were seen.
Syria was granted full independence in 1946. Three years later the
country came under the first of a series of military dictatorships
which have governed the country for most of the subsequent period. As
in the rest of the Middle East, Arab nationalism became a major
political force during the 1950s; indeed, the influence of Nasser's
revolution in Egypt on the Syrians was so strong that, in 1958, Syria
joined Egypt in forming the United Arab Republic. The alliance was
short-lived, Syria seceding in 1961 to form the Syrian Arab Republic.
The most powerful political force in Syria since then has been the
Ba'ath Party (Arab Socialist Renaissance), which took control since