B. History of Raqqa


The site of Raqqa has a long history. It is located in Northern Syria, in Mesopotamia, on the north bank of the Euphrates River. There are two tells (or mounds signifying earlier settlement) in the vicinity, one of which has been identified as the Babylonian city of Tuttul. Also nearby is the Hellenistic city Nikephorion, founded by Seleucus I Nikator (301-281 BC) and enlarged by Seleucus II Kallinikos (246-226 BC), who changed the city's name to Kallinikos. This was destroyed in 542 AD by Khusraw I Anushirwan. A Byzantine city was built by Justinian, which was later conquered by Iyad ibn Ghanm in 639-640 AD, and he became the first Muslim governor in the region. It was renamed al-Raqqa and remained an important fortified stronghold throughout the Umayyad period.

In the ‘Abbasid period a new city on the model of Baghdad, al-Rafiqa, was built about 200 metres away. The city complex of al-Raqqa and al-Rafiqa was made capital of the Islamic Empire by Harun al-Rashid in 796: he added to the fortifications and built palaces and living quarters. It remained capital until 808 when Baghdad was re-instated as capital. Raqqa remained the seat of the Jazira province until the mid-tenth century, although much of the market quarter between Raqqa and al-Rafiqa was destroyed by fire during a revolt against the 'Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun in 813. The city was sparsely inhabited, but was apparently a place of refuge for Caliphs in exile, as well as the home of many renowned scholars.

The city suffered a decline from the mid-ninth century until the early twelfth century, mainly due to the break-up of the ‘Abbasid Empire, and was fought over by the Arab tribal dynasties of the Numayrids, Mirdasids and the Ukaylids for a century. The Zangid period (1127-1146) brought comparative stability and a cultural revival, as did the Ayyubid period, brought on by the conquest of Salah al-Din in 1182.

Under the Ayyubids, Raqqa was one of the chief towns of the principality of Diyar Mudar. Prince al-Malik al-Adil Abu Bakr lived there from 1201 to 1228, and according to historical sources constructed palace and bath complexes, gardens and plantations. Nothing of these architectural achievements remains, but it was during this relatively stable period that Raqqa once again flourished and became the major production centre for glazed luxury wares, including polychrome and monochrome underglaze and lustre designs. The evidence for this comes from the 1924 excavations by Sauvaget of a kiln which produced great quantities of sherds and wasters of these types, and the remains of large numbers of pottery workshops in the area. Although he claims to have excavated systematically, the site was so disturbed by brick-robbers that it was impossible to put anything in a chronology with archaeological evidence. Rather, a chronology was established by comparing the vessels found at Raqqa with lustreware from other sites, and it was deduced that production began in the late twelfth century. As noted above, it probably continued until 1259, when the Mongols sacked the city in their sweep across the Muslim world.

Note: If you are interested to read about excavations which are currently going on in Raqqa, go to the Raqqa Ancient Industry Project website, at: http://www.geog.nottingham.ac.uk/newgeog/research/projects/raqqa.htm. It is quite brief but gives you contact information for the Project organisers, if you are interested in knowing more.


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