Temple of Jupiter (Damascus)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Temple of Jupiter in Damascus (Latin: Iovis templum Damasci, Italian Il tempio di Giove a Damasco) was an ancient Roman temple to the god Jupiter, in what is now Damascus, Syria. Its ruins stand at the heart of the old city of Damascus.

See Subject Home > Middle East > Syria > Damascus > Temple of Jupiter

Overview

The construction on the temple began during the rule of Augustus (circa 80 BCE) and concluded during the reign of emperor Constantius II (circa 340 CE). By the fourth century CE, the temple was already renowned for its impressive scale and architectural splendor. It was situated outside the city and was protected by two concentric walls. The outer wall, peribolos, encompassed a broad area that incorporated a marketplace, while the inner wall enclosed the sanctuary dedicated to Jupiter. This temple stood as the largest of its kind in Roman Syria.

Brief History

circa 65 CE

The Temple of Hadad-Ramman, which previously occupied the site, retained its central importance in the city for a long time.

Following the Roman conquest of Damascus in 64 BCE, the Romans assimilated Hadad with their own deity of thunder, Jupiter. This led to a comprehensive renovation and expansion of the temple, overseen by the Damascus-born architect Apollodorus, who devised and implemented the new architectural plan. The local populace was particularly impressed by the symmetry and dimensions of the newly reconstructed Greco-Roman Temple of Jupiter. Despite significant enlargement, the temple largely preserved its original Semitic design, with the walled courtyard remaining largely intact to this day.

At the heart of the courtyard stood the cella, housing an image of the deity venerated by followers. Four towers were positioned at each corner of the courtyard, where rituals were conducted in accordance with ancient Semitic religious customs, including sacrificial rites performed at elevated sites.

The expansive size of the Roman period temple complex indicates that the religious hierarchy, supported by Roman patronage, held significant sway over the city's affairs. Initially dedicated to the assimilated Imperial cult of Jupiter, the Roman temple was a deliberate response to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Rather than honoring a single deity, the Roman temple followed the interpretatio graeca, incorporating all regional celestial gods like Hadad, Ba'al-Shamin, and Dushara into a composite "supreme-heavenly-astral Zeus".

Subsequently during the Roman period in Damascus, the Temple of Jupiter underwent further expansions, largely funded by contributions from affluent citizens and overseen by high priests. The inner precinct, or temenos, is thought to have been completed shortly after the end of Augustus' reign in 14 CE. This area was enclosed by an outer court, or peribolos, which included a market and was constructed in phases as financial resources allowed, reaching completion by the mid-first century CE. The eastern gateway, or propylaeum, was initially constructed during this period and later expanded under the reign of emperor Septimius Severus (193–211 CE).

Following the conversion of the Roman empire to Christianity and subsequent persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire, Theodosius I converted the temple of Jupiter to a church dedicated to John the Baptist. After the Muslim Arabs took over Damascus in 635 CE, the church was shared for some seventy years, but Caliph al-Walid I converted it into a dedicated mosque today known as the Umayyad Mosque.

Architecture

circa 65 CE

Temenos
The only surviving part of the large temple complex is the temenos or the inner walled courtyard which occupied an area of appoximately 380x310 meters. Today, the Umayyad Mosque occupies the same temenos enclosure. The temenos was most likely constructed during the reign of emperor Augustus in the first century BCE; the peribolos, however, was completed later, in the middle of the first century CE. One of the last major improvements and renovations was made during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus in the second century CE. The wall of the temenos was built from ashlar blocks, and still survive to a large extent on some sides. Every corner of the structure had a square tower, no longer extant. The construction of the towers might have been motivated by the dedication to Jupiter, with the high superstructures no longer needed for the religious purposes. There was an entrance on each side of the temple. The main entrance was placed at the east wall of the temenos which led to a cella.

circa 65 CE

Western Gate to the Temenos
The Bab al-Balid of the Umayyad mosque stands where once the western entrance to the temenos of the temple stood. The western wall of the mosque is largely from the Roman reconstruction of the inner courtyard.

circa 65 CE

Peribolos
The peribolos, serving as the outer precinct of the sanctuary, was accessible from both the east and west through the propylaeum, remnants of which can still be observed in the Miskya area, notably the imposing arch of the Gate of Jupiter and the adjacent tall columns. However, the primary entrance to the temple faced east, where crowds would proceed from the agora along the Via Sacra (modern Qaymariya Street) towards what is now known as Babn Jayrun. In addition to its religious function, the peribolos also served as a gathering place for pilgrims and merchants, functioning as a marketplace and fairground.

Gallery Want to use our images?

Notes

See Also

References

Let's bring some history to your inbox

Signup for our monthly newsletter / online magazine.
No spam, we promise.

Privacy Policy



Top