Damascus Citadel

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Damascus Citadel, locally known as Qalaat Dimashq, lies in the center of the city of Damascus in Syria.

The first fortification probably at this site was built under the Roman Emperor Diocletian (284-305) but had dissappeared by the 10th century.

In 1076 the building of the first Damascus Citadel was started by the Seljuk warlord Atsiz bin Uvak. It was finished by his successsor Tutush I, brother of the Seljuk sultan Malik Shah I, before his death in 1095. He was succeeded by his son Duqaq. In 1096, the citadel was besieged but not captured by Duqaq’s brother Radwan and during the reign of Duqaq until 1104 additional work was carried out on the citadel.

During the rule of the Burid dynasty (1104-1154), Damascus was attacked multiple times by Crusader as well as Muslim armies, and some work was carried out on the citadel in response to these attacks. After unsuccessful attacks in 1150 and 1151 Nur ad-Din Zangi, ruler of Aleppo and the son of Zengi, finally captured Damascus in 1154. He took up residence in the citadel and rebuilt its residential structures. It is possible that he also strengthened the defences of the citadel.

After the death of Nur ad-Din in 1174, Damascus was taken by Saladin. He also took up residence in the citadel, added a tower to the citadel and also refurbished the residential buildings. After Saladin’s death in 1193 his eldest son Al-Afdil ruled Damascus. In 1196 the second eldest son of Saladin; Al-Aziz Uthman, and the brother of Saladin; Al-Adil, captured Damascus except for the citadel where Al-Afdal had taken refuge. After negotiations, Al-Afdal surrendered the citadel and his titles to his brother who gave Damascus to Al-Adil. Between 1203 and 1216 Al-Adil had Damascus Citadel completely rebuilt and adapted to the use of trebuchets.

In 1260 Damascus was taken by the Mongols under Hulaga Khan. In the process the citadel was severely damaged and afterwards largely torn down by the Mongols. Not long after, the Mongols were driven out by the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt; Qutuz. His successor Baibars rebuilt the citadel.

Around 1300 Damascus Citadel was again sieged by Mongols. In 1401 the citadel was yet again sieged by Mongols, this time under Timur. In 1405 Damascus was again under Mamluk rule and the citadel was rebuilt. In 1516 Damascus and the citadel surrendered peacefully to the Ottomans.

During the 18th century Damascus Citadel was badly damaged by earthquakes but rebuilt by the Ottoman Sultan Mustafa III. Afterwards the citadel lost its strategic function and fell into neglect. Later it was used as military barracks and a prison until 1984. Since then the citadel is undergoing restoration works and archeological excavations.

The present citadel is somewhat rectangular in shape with 13 large towers and several dilapidated gates. It had a moat circling it but this was filled in during the Ottoman era. The outside of the southern walls is largely obscured by the souq of Hamidiyeh which is built against it. Damascus Citadel is rather unique in Syria in that it is on the same level as the city around it and not on a higher location. I was able to visit part of its interior but I don’t know if the citadel can be visited at present. A formidable stronghold in a bustling city.