13 May 2011

The Pagan Sites of the Middle East Remembered: (2) The Temple of Jupiter at Damascus

It is almost a rule that any major religious centre of the monotheistic religions is founded on a previous pagan site. One of the most famous mosques in the Islamic world is the Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus.

Prior to the Islamic conquest of Syria in the 7th century, this site had been a Christian church, but before then, it was one of the most famous temples of Jupiter in the classical world. Large parts of this can still be seen in modern-day Damascus.

Damascus was a religious centre associated with the Aramaean sky god Hadad-Ramman. After the area came under Roman control in the 1st century BC, the cult of Hadad-Ramman was Romanized. As He was an important sky god, He was identified with the Roman sky god Jupiter under the name Jupiter Optimus Maximus Damascenus.

The temple complex covered a vast area of 117,000 square meters. This is almost as big as the temple of the Hebrew sky god at Jerusalem, which covered 140,000 meters. But unlike the temple at Jerusalem, the temple complex at Damascus is thought to have included the cults of many other gods and deities.

The remains of the temple inside the mosque are described in Ross Burns Damascus: A History (2005), page 67:
“Inside the present-day Mosque, there is little that reflects the Roman temple’s inner compound. Some of the superb marble cladding in the eastern vestibule may well be inspired by Rome. The rest of the present courtyard dates from the conversion of the temple-church to a mosque in the eighth century. Yet, not too much imagination is required to recreate how the inner compound looked to a Roman visitor. The outer walls of the Mosque courtyard are either Roman or reconstructed along the Roman alignment. The idea of colonnades running around the inner side of the temenos [holy precinct] has parallels elsewhere in the eastern Roman world (e.g. Palmyra). Some 26 of the columns and many of the capitals reused in the colonnade of the present courtyard date from the classical building though probably moved from their original positions. Like many temples stemming from the Semitic tradition, the Hadad-Zeus-Jupiter Temple acquired in the Roman period four towers, one at each corner of the temenos, remains of which can still be seen today.”
The most impressive ruins can be found at the entrance of Al-Hamidiyah Souk, where there is a Roman arch that was once part of the temple complex.


  1. Hasn't this mosque been destroyed by the monotheist's civil war to find out who's oppressive regime will subjugate these poor folks again?