The Straight Street
and the House of Judas
by Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land
...And the Lord said to Ananias: "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Sau..." (Acts 9,11).
Is there anything in Damascus nowadays, which reminds us of these two places?
1. The Straight Street
The Straight Street was the popular name for the Decumanus, the main thoroughfare crossing the city from East to West. In the times of St. Paul, Damascus was a Greco-Roman city built according to a rectangular plan, which can be traced back to the learned geometer Hippodamos of Miletus (5th century B.C.). The two main streets, the Decumanus and the Cardus Maximus, were perpendicular to each other, and crossed the whole city dividing it into 4 Quarters. All the other streets were parallel to these two. In this period, the most important cities of the East were built according to this plan, for example: Apamea, Aleppo, Lattakia, Palmira, Bosrašand Damascus.
The area of modern Damascus that lies within the city walls and is called 'Ancient Damascus', corresponds to the Roman city. Despite its labyrinth of narrow and winding streets, one can still see many points that reflect the original Roman plan. Just as the walls and its seven gates have kept precisely to the original outline, so also have the two most famous streets: Suq el Hamidyeh, which used to lead to the Temple of Jupiter and the Agora, and Suq et-Tawil continuing as Suq Madhat Pasha (originally the Straight Street) which used to join the Odeon, the theatre and the palace of the Governor.
The Straight Street begins at the Eastern Gate, Bab Charqui, which the Romans dedicated to the Sun. Dating from the time of the Emperor Augustus, it is the most ancient gate in the city and has kept its original form. Like other monumental gates, it is composed of a large central arch for vehicles and two smaller arches on either side for pedestrians. There is a minaret above the northern arch, which was built at the time of Nuri ed-Din, in the 13th century A.D.
Entering the city by the gate, one can still see several columns in their original position, the remains of a double colonnade that used to line the entire length of the street. The street was 26 metres wide and 1,570 metres long, and on both sides there was a line of covered porticos, flanked by shops. The present road, then, follows the same line as the Decumanus, starting at Bab Charqui in the East, crossing the whole width of the ancient city of Damascus, and coming out at the end of Suq Madhat Pasha, 20 metres to the North of Bab Jabyeh on the western side. It must be said that the present road is narrower than the ancient one, and about 4 metres above its original level. The street is basically straight and continuous, even though it has not been planned with great precision. After proceeding 675 metres to the West of Bab Charqui, one comes across a monumental arch that was excavated and rebuilt in 1947, by the Syrian Department of Antiquities. It is here that the intersection of the Decumanus and the Cardus Maximus has been located. On the right-hand side in ancient times stood a Byzantine church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and called Mariamyeh. Today, on the same site, stands a church which serves as the Seat of the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate. From the Bab Charqui gate to the monumental arch, the street is called Sharee al Mustaqueem, which is the Arabic word for 'straight', but it is also known as the Suq et-Tawil, which means 'the large market'. After the arch and all the way to the other end, the street is called Suq Madhat Pasha, and is lined by shops selling textiles, cotton, domestic articles, spices, imported objects and so on. It forms a part of the large commercial complex of Suq el Hamidyeh. Of all the ancient sites in Damascus, the Straight Street is the one that with greatest certainty we know St. Paul passed through.
2. The House of Judas
About 450 metres from the western entrance of Madhat Pasha Street, in a stretch covered with a large metal dome, there is a small mosque with a balcony in the form of a pulpit, which serves as a minaret. The mosque is called Jakmak or Sheikh Nabhan. It is here that the Christian tradition locates the house of Judas, the place where Saul remained for three days without eating or drinking (Acts 9,9). It is probable that here he was baptized at the hands of Ananias. The Christians of Damascus say that the mosque was built over the ruins of a very ancient church that commemorated the episode narrated in the Acts of Apostles.
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Created / Updated Saturday, April 28, 2001 at 23:55:23 by John Abela ofm
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