Global Fund for Women Maternal Health Ambassador

April 19, 2014

The Roman Theatre at Bosra.

Bosra (Arabic: بصرى Buṣrā) and officially known as Busra al-Sham (Arabic:  بصرى الشام) is a town in southern Syria. Today, Bosra is a major archaeological site, containing ruins from Nabataean, Roman, Byzantine, and Muslim times. Deep soundings have confirmed Middle Bronze (c. 2000- 1600 B.C) occupation at Bosra. The name of Bosra occurs in the Tell el-Amarna tablets. These documents were found in the palace of Amenophis IV (= Akhenaten, 1352- 1336 B.C.)  at the site of Tell el-Amarna in Egypt. The archive contains over 360 documents written in Akkadian on clay tablets.  It is part of the diplomatic correspondence of Akhenaten and his father Amenophis III. Bosra was the northern capital of the Nabataean kingdom of the Roman province of Arabia, referred to in the Bible, in AD 106. 

Successively it was an important religious metropolis of the Byzantine Empire and a caravan centre, in the role of a large frontier market on the pilgrim route to Mecca. Bosra was the first Byzantine city which the Arabs entered in 634 in the phase of Islamic expansion. In Islam, Bosra is associated with a significant episode in the life of the Prophet Mohammed, who is believed to have visited Bosra twice.

Its main feature is the second century Roman Theatre probably built under Trajan. The theatre is the only monument of his type with its upper gallery in the form of a covered portico that has been integrally preserved. 

Between 481 and 1231 the theatre was fortified by walls and towers. From outside it could be an Arab fortress similar to many others. 

The first line of defence is a deep ditch which can be crossed by a six-arched bridge. An iron-bound gate, a series of vaulted rooms, twisting passages, rampart walks, and all kinds of defensive works give an impression of the military quality of the castle. Walking towards the citadel one cannot expect to find at the heart of the castle a beautiful ancient theatre. The two structures are so closely integrated into one another that it is hard to distinguish the 13th-century wall from the cavea of the theatre.

The fortifications were added to create a strong citadel guarding the road to Damascus. When the Arabs entered Bosra they transformed it into an easily defensible citadel by blocking all the doors and openings of the ancient theatre with thick walls. The new threats posed by the Crusaders forced them to build in the mid-11th century three new towers. Nine other larger ones followed between 1202 and 1251. Later accretions overlaid the interior of the theatre and its ranges of seats, but at the same time preserved them.

There is room for 15,000 spectators to face a stage that is 45 m long and 8.5 m deep. Historic texts reveal that the whole theatre was draped with silk hangings to protect the audience  from both summer sun and winter rain. The interior has been fully uncovered and restored by the Department of Antiquities, which began its work here shortly after Syria became independent.

I took these pictures in 2008. I have no information about the current situation at Bosra.