Roman theatre in Bosra, one of the most brilliant Roman sites in Syria

My guidebook, from 2010, calls Bosra the second-best preserved Roman city, after Palmyra. ISIS has seen to it that it is now the best preserved Roman city. With as absolute highlight its Roman theatre.

It is about two hours’ drive from Damascus, and we break the trip at a sweets factory, to see the production process – a conveyor belt, but then with people carrying out the individual different steps in the process. As part of the visit we taste the various sweets, as well. And they are good! This particular company, according to our guides the best in Syria, exports all over the world; in order to circumvent sanctions, they have a second outfit in Jordan – which is not subject to sanctions. It is that easy! I buy a large box, to see if I manage to take it out of Syria and into Europe without being caught sanctions busting.

part of the human conveyor belt

manually cutting the individual rools of sweets

this one, too – impossible not to pinch a piece!

a box of sweets like the one I bought, in the shop of the sweets factory

cost of the box some 25 US$, in local currency 400,000 Syrian pounds; paying is a challenge, with largest bills no more than 5000 pounds (photy Constanza Fernandez/

To get to Bosra, we actually need to transfer to rebel territory, this corner of Syria is held by the Free Syrian Army. Obviously the rebels have come to some agreement with the government. We pass another check point, to me no different from the others, but this one manned by rebels – if you can still call them so. The only difference? The portraits of Bashir have disappeared.

apparently perfectly normal here: sheep in large flocks on the motorway

effortlessly moving against the traffic!

the agricultural motorized fleet is rather dated

but still in full use, also for other than agricultural activities – like moving house, perhaps?

the Roman city of Bosra, built from basalt

bits and pieces have been restored, it looks

carpets for sale at Bosra – sadly, the people here have seen their business dry up almost completely, as a result of the civil war

Bosra featured in old – 14th C BC – Egyptian archives, was held by one of Alexander’s generals, and then became an important town for the Nabateans, those of Petra-fame in Jordan. The Nabateans were subsequently conquered by the Romans in 106 AD, after which emperor Trajan made Bosra the capital of its Province Arabia. The resulting Roman town, largely built from black basalt found on the plains around here, is an impressive collections of buildings. A colonnaded main street runs between several hammams – bath houses. To one side is a monumental arch that provided access to the town, on the other side is the large cathedral and the basilica, as well as several mosques which probably have been churches before. Their minarets look remarkably like church bell towers. At the side of the cathedral we decipher frescos which, according to our guide, date from the 6th Century – and why not, after this date the Muslims reigned, forbidding this type of decoration.

one of the large cathedrals, or what is left

with very old – 6th C – frescos on one of the walls

another church, no doubt

built from basalt, including the pillars

impressive interior of another ancient church

and, as in every Roman town, columns

columns as far as the eye can see!

tje arch at the entrance of the city – one of the arches, to be precise

But the absolute highlight is the black-basalt Ayyubid fort, attractive in itself, but especially interesting because it has been built around the large Roman theatre inside. It is because of the fort that the theatre is so well preserved. Initially, as part of the fort it was maintained. Later, when the fort fell in disuse, sand blew into the theatre which protected it further, not only from the elements, but especially from people wanting to use the stones for their own buildings. The approach is spectacular: you wander through the fort, in between high walls, to ultimately emerge at the top, with your sudden, brilliant view over the entire theatre, in an almost perfect state. A fabulous sight!

these are the vaults of the Arab fort that has been built around the Roman theatre

through which you walk, to get to the uppar ranges of the theatre itself

which then provides you with a most splendid view of the stage, the building and the theatre seats around

the building is almost perfectly intact, undameged over the years – note the seats in front

another row of honourary seats, with even the backrests still standing

the stairs up and down the seating area

lots of decorated columns at the stage

view from the top of the Arab castle, over the city of Bosra

and the same in a bit more detail

and even further detail

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