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Damascus has one of the longest and richest cities in the entire world. Perhaps its most important contribution was as the capital of the Caliphate in early Islamic history. While it has since been dominated by Islam, it continues to show Roman and Byzantine influence, even in early Islamic structures and art. This is one of the best places to see Roman-Byzantine influences on Islamic culture, though it is important to note that it is only a part of the rich tapestry of Islamic culture in terms of art and architecture.

Founded in the 3rd millennium B.C., Damascus was an important cultural and commercial centre, by virtue of its geographical position at an important crossroads between Africa and Asia. The old city of Damascus is considered to be among the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Excavations at Tell Ramad on the outskirts of the city have demonstrated that Damascus was inhabited as early as 8,000 to 10,000 BC. However, it is not documented as an important city until the arrival of the Aramaeans. In the Medieval period, it was the centre of a flourishing craft industry, with different areas of the city specializing in particular trades or crafts.

The city exhibits outstanding evidence of the civilizations which created it - Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic. In particular, the Umayyad Caliphate made Damascus its capital, setting the scene for the city's ongoing development as a living Muslim, Arab city, upon which each succeeding dynasty has left and continues to leave its mark.

In spite of Islam's prevailing influence, traces of earlier cultures particularly the Roman and Byzantine continue to be seen in the city. Thus the city today is based on a Roman plan and maintains the aspect and the orientation of the Greek city, in that all its streets are oriented north-south or east-west and is a key example of urban planning.

The earliest visible physical evidence dates to the Roman period - the extensive remains of the Temple of Jupiter, the remains of various gates and an impressive section of the Roman city walls. It was first converted into a church and then into a mosque. The city was the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate. However, apart from the incomparable Umayyad Mosque, built on the site of a Roman temple and over-laying a Christian basilica, there is little visible dating from this important era of the city's history. Within it are relics of John the Baptist. The present city walls, the Citadel, some mosques and tombs survive from the Middle Ages, but the greatest part of the built heritage of the city dates from after the Ottoman conquest of the early 16th century.

This was once an important Christian center with a strong connection to early Christianity, especially through St. Paul. St. Paul was famous converted on the road to Damascus. There are some sites connected to this story. First of all, there is the road itself, the Via Recta (the Straight Street). At the end of the street, one can find what has traditionally been considered to be the House of Saint Ananias, who baptized St. Paul. There is also the Chapel of St. Paul - a modern stone chapel in Damascus that incorporates materials from the Bab Kisan, the ancient city gate through which Paul was lowered out of a window. The Gate of Thomas (Bab Tuma) opens to the Christian quarters of the city of the same name. It is said to have been the resident of St. Thomas, St. Ananias and St. Paul.

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