Famous for its black, volcanic basalt ruins and enormous amphitheater, the ancient regional hub at Bosra houses some of the most fascinating structures and stories from the region. The city’s history stretches back as far as the Early Bronze Age, but Bosra began to play a more central role in local affairs at the end of the first century CE when it became the capital of the Nabataean kingdom. Due to regional tensions of the period, however, the city did not maintain this status for long; in 106 CE, the Romans made their headquarters for their new Provincia Arabia in Bosra, bringing thousands of soldiers to be based there. Shortly thereafter, Trajan built his Via Nova Traiana, a major route connecting Damascus to the Gulf of Aqaba via Bosra and Philadelphia (present-day Amman). Bosra’s position along this international passage furthered the city’s role as a central hub in the area. Some years later, Bosra became an official Roman colony; and it remained an integral part of the region through the beginnings of the Christian era, though its heavily Monophysite population often placed Bosra at theological odds with Constantinople.
Bosra was taken by Arab forces in 634 and continued to prosper. Regional conflict in later centuries, though – with the Crusaders in the 11th century and between damascus and Cairo in the 12th century – threatened the city; and as these instabilities proved an ongoing threat to traffic through the region, trade routes began to move westward, avoiding Bosra and leaving the city to fall into relative insignificance.
Historians have learned much about Bosra’s history from the site’s extensive ruins. Perhaps one of the most famous legends associated with Bosra is attached to the remains of the large basilica near the city’s center. Here, tradition holds that Muhammad met and conversed with the Christian monk Bahira when passing through with a trade caravan before the beginning of Islam.
Also of historical significance is the Mosque of Umar. Though named for and traditionally attributed to the Caliph Umar, the first mosque to stand on the spot was probably actually built by Yazid II in the early eighth century. Reconstructed by Seljuks in the 12th century, expanded by Ayyubids in the 13th century, and restored by historians in the 20th century, the structure is nevertheless one of the few mosques built in the earliest days of Islam that still resembles its original form.
Bosra’s cathedral, dedicated in 512-3 by Julianos, archbishop of Bosra at the time, honors Saints Sergius, Leontius, and Bacchus, three of the most famous Syrian Christian martyrs.
Finally, local legend claims that the Mabrak Mosque, located at the northeastern corner of the city, stands on the site where the first Qur’an ever brought to Syria rested as it made its journey on camelback through the region.