In 1860 Damascus was a sleepy provincial capital of the weakening Ottoman Empire, a city defined in terms of its relationship to the holy places of Islam in the Arabian Hijaz and its legacy of Islamic knowledge. Yet, within a couple of generations the city changed from little more than a way-station on the Islamic pilgrimage routes that had defined the city's place for over a millennium, to become a seat of Arab nationalism and a would-be modern state capital. How can this metamorphosis be explained?Here Leila Hudson chronicles the transformation of the classical city of Damascus between two episodes of violent upheaval- the massacres of 1860 and World War I. The process by which a society transforms itself is neither simple nor linear. Hudson examines the city's metamorphosis by analyzing how the flows of monetary capital and cultural capital changed social structures and spaces. Data culled from the detailed inheritance records of the Islamic court archives are examined to track changes in the scale and direction of flows of money, goods, people, books, technology and political power The urban spaces and systems of Damascus spun on their axes. Its citizens and notables now seized the opportunities made available through transport technology on the eastern Mediterranean coast and in the European economy. Shifts in marriage patterns, class, education, and power practices ensued. But, just when the city's destiny seemed linked irrevocably to the western world and economy, the Ottoman Empire was drawn into World War I. This watershed experience literally starved the urban centre of Damascus, empowering its Bedouin hinterland of southern Syria and the Arabian Hijaz-as witnessed by the Hashemite Arab revolt in 1915. This move away from European-centered systems at a time of crisis contributed to a dysfunctional and ambivalent base for future Arab nationalism, the consequences of which shaped Syria for the rest of the twentieth century and beyond. 'Transforming Damascus' is an important contribution to our historical and cultural understanding of Syria, a poorly understood country at the centre of the current Middle East maelstrom.
Space and Modernity in an Islamic City