Al- Raḳḳa الرقة


(5,473 words)

, a mediaeval Islamic town on the left bank of the Middle Euphrates, at the junction of its tributary the Nahr al-Balīk̲h̲. Today it is the administrative centre of the alRaḳḳa governorate of the Arab Republic of Syria; in mediaeval Islamic historic topography it was considered to be the capital of Diyār Muḍar [q.v.] in al-D̲j̲azīra/Northern Mesopotamia.

The origin of settlement on opposite sides of the Nahr al-Balīk̲h̲ is attested by the Tall Zaydān and the Tall al-Bīʿa, the latter identified with the Babylonian city of Tuṭṭūl (excavated since 1980; reports published in MDOG, cxiii [1981] and later). To the south of the Tall al-Bīʿa, on the border of the Euphrates, Seleucus I Nikator (301-281 B. C.) founded the Hellenistic city of Nikephorion, later probably enlarged by Seleucos II Kallinikos (246-226 B. C.) and named Kallinikos/Callinicum after him. Destroyed in A. D. 542 by the Sāsānid K̲h̲usraw I Anūs̲h̲irwān [q.v.], the emperor Justinian (527-65) soon after rebuilt the town in the course of an extensive fortification programme at the Byzantine border alongside the Euphrates (on the pre-Islamic city, see the article by M. al-K̲h̲alaf and K. Kohlmeyer in Damaszener Mitteilungen , ii [1985], 133-62).

The classical city was conquered in 18/639 or 19/640 by the Muslim army under ʿIyāḍ b. G̲h̲anm, who became the first governor of the D̲j̲azīra (in this connection, see W. E. Kaegi, Byzantium and the early Islamic conquests, Cambridge 1992). Renamed alRaḳḳa, the Muslim faith was heralded by a congregational mosque, founded by the succeeding governor Saʿīd b. ʿĀmir b. Ḥid̲h̲yam, which was subsequently enlarged to monumental dimensions of c. 73 × 108 m. Recorded by the German scholar Ernst Herzfeld in 1907, the mosque, together with the square brick minaret (Pl. XXVI, 1), supposedly a later addition from the mid-4th/10th century, has since vanished completely.

In 36/656 ʿAlī crossed the Euphrates at alRaḳḳa on his way to Ṣiffīn [q.v.], the place of the battle with Muʿāwiya b. Abī Sufyān, the governor of Damascus and founder of the Umayyad dynasty. Located near the village of Abū Hurayra opposite the mediaeval citadel of Ḳalʿat D̲j̲aʿbar [q.v.] ca. 45 km/28 miles west of alRaḳḳa, the burials of ʿAlī’s followers remained venerated places of S̲h̲īʿī pilgrimage (listed extensively in al-Harawī’s Kitāb al-Ziyārāt ). The last of those tombs located in the Muslim cemetery on the western fringes of the early Islamic city of alRaḳḳa, the mausoleum of Uways al-Ḳaranī, recently had to give way to a huge pilgrimage centre. Another witness from the early days of Islam, a stone column supposedly depicting an autograph of ʿAlī from the Mas̲h̲had quarter of alRaḳḳa, was already in the 6th/12th century transferred to Aleppo, where it was incorporated in the Masd̲j̲id G̲h̲awt̲h̲ (E. Herzfeld, CIA, part ii, Northern Syria, Inscriptions et monuments d’Alep , i, Cairo 1955-6, 271-2 no. 142).

Throughout the Umayyad period alRaḳḳa remained an important fortified stronghold protected by a garrison, occasionally involved in revolts and internal fighting over supremacy in the D̲j̲azīra, as described by al-Ṭabarī. Opposite alRaḳḳa, near the ¶ south bank of the Euphrates, the Umayyad caliph His̲h̲ām b. ʿAbd al-Malik (105-25/724-43), residing mainly at al-Ruṣāfa [q.v.] ca. 50 km/31 miles further to the southwest in the Syrian desert, created the agricultural estate of Wāsiṭ alRaḳḳa, irrigated by two canals named al-Hanī wa ’l-Marī . Further north, at a distance of ca. 72 km/45 miles, near the river al-Balīk̲h̲, another member of the Umayyad family, the famous military commander Maslama b. ʿAbd al-Malik (d. ca. 121/739 [q.v.]), a half-brother of the caliph His̲h̲ām, founded the residential estate of Ḥiṣn Maslama, which served as an advanced outpost towards the Byzantine frontier (on the ruins of Madīnat al-Fār, probably to be identified with Ḥiṣn Maslama, see the report by C.-P. Haase in Bilād al-Shām during the Abbasid period. Proceedings of the fifth International conference on the History of Bilād al-Shām , ed. Muḥammad ʿAdnān al-Bak̲h̲īt and R. Schick, Amman 1991, 206-13).

Though the treaty between the inhabitants of alRaḳḳa and the victorious Muslim general ʿIyāḍ b. G̲h̲anm, as quoted by al-Balād̲h̲urī, 173-4, stipulated that the Christians should retain their places of worship but were not allowed to build new churches, the non-Muslim community is recorded to have thrived well into the Middle Ages. Till the 6th/12th century a bishop is attested to have resided there, and at least four monasteries are frequently mentioned in the sources, the most famous of which, the Dayr Zakkā, can be identified with recently excavated ruins on the Tall al-Bīʿa (on the Christian sources and the newly-detected remains, see M. Krebernik, in MDOG, cxxiii [1991], 41-57). To this monastery belonged the estate of al-Ṣāliḥiyya, a favourite halting place for hunting expeditions (described by al-Bakrī, iii, 582, and Yāḳūt, ii, 644-5), possibly to be associated with the ruins of al-Ṣuwayla near the river al-Balīk̲h̲, ca. 4 km/2.5 miles to the northeast of alRaḳḳa (recently investigated archaeologically and recorded in Damaszener Mitteilungen, ii [1985], 98-9). There also existed a large Jewish community maintaining an ancient synagogue, still operating during the visit of Benjamin of Tudela in about 1167 (see his Travels , tr. M. N. Adler, London 1907, 32).

The early ʿAbbāsid period. Early in the ʿAbbāsid period the programme of border fortifications in all of the Muslim empire resulted in the construction of an entire new city about 200 m/660 feet west of alRaḳḳa. Named al-Rāfiḳa, “the companion (of alRaḳḳa)”, the city, according to al-Yaʿḳūbī (Taʾrīk̲h̲ , i, 238) was already conceived in the time of the first ʿAbbāsid caliph al-Ṣaffāḥ (132-6/749-54); nevertheless, al-Ṭabarī attributes the foundation of al-Rāfiḳa to his brother and successor al-Manṣūr (136-58/754-75), who in 154/770-1 decided on the construction of the city, which was eventually implemented by his son and heir-apparent al-Mahdī from 155/771-2 onwards. Construction work was still continuing when, in 158/775, al-Mahdī was summoned to Bag̲h̲dād to be invested as caliph upon the sudden death of his father. Purposely modelled after the only recently completed residential city of Bag̲h̲dād, the partly surviving city fortifications testify to the military might of the ʿAbbāsid empire. In the form of a parallelogram surmounted by a half circle with a width of ca. 1300 m/4,265 feet, the city was protected by a massive wall of almost 5000 m/16,400 feet in length (Pl. XXV, 1). Fortified by 132 round projecting towers, an advance wall and a moat further improved the defence system (see Murhaf al-Khalaf, in Damaszener Mitteilungen, ii [1985], 123-31). Originally accessible by three axial entrances, the recently excavated ¶northern gate (Pl. XXV, 2) has revealed stately dimensions, with a portal opening of four metres/13 feet. Remains of iron door posts attest the existence of massive or metal-plated doors, which attracted special praise in the Arabic chronicles. One of the doors, according to the mediaeval tradition, is identified with spoils from the Byzantine city of Amorion or ʿAmmūriya [q.v.] in Asia Minor, transported by al-Muʿtaṣim (218-27/833-42) in 223/838 to his newlyfounded residence at Sāmarrāʾ in central Mesopotamia, from where it supposedly reached alRaḳḳa towards the end of the 3rd/9th century. Only about half-a-century later, the door was again dismantled in 353/964 on behalf of the Ḥamdānid Sayf al-Dawla ʿAlī (333-56/945-67), to be later incorporated in the Bāb al-Ḳinnasrīn at Aleppo (E. Herzfeld, CIA, part ii, Northern Syria,Inscriptions et monuments d’Alep , i, 60).

In the centre of al-Rāfīḳa another Great Mosque was constructed with monumental proportions of 108 × 93 m/354 × 305 feet in order to serve the garrison of soldiers from K̲h̲urāsān (Pl. XXVI, 3). Built with massive mud brick walls, strengthened by burnt brick facing and encircled by a chain of round towers, the plan layout is characterised by triple aisles on brick piers in the prayer hall and by double arcades on the three other sides of the interior courtyard (see Creswell, Early Muslim architecture , ii, Oxford 1940, 45-8, and recent project reports). This first pillar mosque in Islamic architecture obviously served as a model for later Friday mosques at Bag̲h̲dād (enlarged from 192/808 till 193/809 by Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd), Sāmarrāʾ (both mosques of al-Mutawakkil, inaugurated in 237/852 and 247/861 respectively) and at Cairo (Mosque of Aḥmad b. Ṭūlūn, completed in 265/879).

AlRaḳḳa as capital of the ʿAbbāsid empire. The new city al-Rāfiḳa alone almost matches the traditional Syrian capital Damascus in size; but the two sister cities of alRaḳḳa and al-Rāfiḳa together formed the largest urban entity in Syria and northern Mesopotamia, probably only surpassed by the ʿAbbāsid centre of power, Bag̲h̲dād, in central Mesopotamia. Therefore, it was a logical choice that the caliph Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd (170-93/786-809), when searching for an alternative residence in 180/796, settled on alRaḳḳa/al-Rāfiḳa, which remained his base for a dozen years till 192/808. This resulted not only in additions to the city fortification (inscription on the eastern gate of al-Rāfiḳa, the Bāb al-Sibāl, quoted by Ibn S̲h̲addād, iii/1, 71), but more importantly, in the construction of an extensive palatial quarter to the north of the twin cities. This caliphal residence of almost 10 km2, as attested by aerial photographs, includes about twenty large-size complexes, of which the most monumental of ca. 350 × 300 m/1,148 × 984 feet in a central position obviously served as the main residence of Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd (Pl. XXVII, 1), probably to be identified with the Ḳaṣr al-Salām mentioned by Yāḳūt. The other structures were evidently used for housing the family members and court officials residing with Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd at alRaḳḳa, or else were devoted to service functions.

The huge area of ruins outside the twin cities has since 1944 attracted archaeological investigations. First trial soundings were conducted by the Syrian Antiquities Service at the Main Palace, but were soon discontinued due to the poor state of preservation. Instead, another major complex of ca. 120 × 150 m/393 × 492 feet, only 400 m/1,312 feet north of the city wall of al-Rāfiḳa, named Palace A, was partly excavated. Excavations eventually continued at three other complexes to the east of the Main Palace: Palace ¶ B (1950-52), Palace C (1953), and Palace D (1954 and 1958), all of rather monumental dimensions measuring ca. 170 × 75 m/557 × 246 feet, 150 × 110 m/492 × 360 feet and 100 × 100 m/328 × 328 feet respectively; (see the series of reports by Nassib Saliby in Les Annales Archéologiques de Syrie , iv-v [1954-5], 205-12, Arabic part 69-76; vi [1956], Arabic part 25-40). Additionally, further soundings in the vicinity of and at Palace A were implemented between 1966 and 1970 (summarised by Kassem Toueir in the excavation review by P. H. E. Voûte [ed.], in Anatolica , iv [1971-2], 122-3). Since the modern town development caused the overbuilding of most of the palace city, the German Archaeological Institute in Damascus has conducted ten seasons of rescue excavations from 1982 till 1992. At the eastern fringes of the site, four larger buildings bordering on a public square were investigated: the so-called Western Palace of ca. 110 × 90 m/360 × 295 feet divided into representative, living and infrastructural units; the North Complex of ca. 150 × 150 m/492 × 492 feet, probably the barracks of the imperial guards; the East Complex of ca. 75×50 m/246 × 164 feet, mostly of recreational functions; and the Eastern Palace of ca. 70 × 40 m/230 × 131 feet, reserved entirely for representative purposes. On the northeastern limits of the palace area, another large-size complex with an extension of ca. 300 × 400 m/984 × 1,312 feet was also partly excavated, revealing an elongated double courtyard structure encircled by round towers, which was obviously left unfinished (see the reports by J.-Chr. Heusch and M. Meinecke).

All the investigated buildings depended on mud as the major construction material, either in the form of sun-dried bricks or of stamped mud, only occasionally strengthened by burnt bricks. The ground plans, on the other hand, are generally characterised by precisely calculated geometrical subdivisions, indicating the careful laying-out of the built fabric. The publicly visible parts, on the exterior as well as in the interior, received a coating of white plaster, masking and protecting the mud core of the walls. On the representative units the buildings were decorated by stucco friezes in deep relief (Pl. XXVII, 2-3), depicting mostly vine ornament in numerous variations (partly documented by Meinecke, in Rezeption in der islamischen Kunst , ed. B. Finster, forthcoming). Genetically, these patterns are only vaguely related to Umayyad predecessors; instead, the dependence on classical models indicates an intended revival of the ornamental corpus of the monuments from the 2nd and 3rd centuries A. D. at Palmyra (see Meinecke and A. Schmidt-Colinet, in the exhibition catalogue by E. M. Ruprechtsberger [ed.], Syrien . Von den Aposteln zu den Kalifen , Linz 1993, 352-9). Selections of excavation finds and decorative elements from the Raḳḳa palaces are exhibited at the Damascus National Museum and at the archaeological museum at alRaḳḳa.

Though the investigated complexes lack building inscriptions pointing to their original function or to the patron, their history can be clearly defined by the numismatic evidence. Among the coins collected during the recent excavations on the eastern border structures of the palace belt, examples minted at al-Rāfiḳa in the year 189/804-5 in the name of Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd are especially numerous, while only individual items minted at al-Rāfiḳa in the reigns of the succeeding sons al-Maʾmūn (208/823-4 and 210/825-6) and al-Muʿtaṣim (226/840-1) have been recorded (on the ʿAbbāsid mint at al-Rāfiḳa, see now L. Ilisch, in Numismatics-witness to history. IAPN publication, viii [1986], 101-21). Consequently, those structures ¶ investigated recently must have been in use towards the end of Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd’s tenure of power at alRaḳḳa. After the removal of the court back to Bag̲h̲dād on the death of Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd in 193/809, the palaces were obviously in use only briefly and occasionally.

This extensive residential city was evidently founded in 180/796 by Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd and continuously further enlarged for over a decade. These buildings formed the backstage of the political events of this period, described in great detail by al-Ṭabarī and others. From there, the yearly raids ( ṣawāʾif , sing.ṣāʾifa [q.v.]) into the Byzantine empire and the frequent pilgrimages to the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina were organised. In these palaces lived the family of the caliph, including his wife Zubayda and his heirs apparent, al-Amīn, al-Maʾmūn and al-Ḳāsim, and also al-Muʿtaṣim, for much of their youth (as described by N. Abbott, Two queens of Baghdad , Chicago 1946). Here was the military centre with the army command and the administrative centre of the vast ʿAbbāsid empire, where the treasuries and the material wealth of the caliph were safeguarded (al-Ṭabarī, iii, 654). Here the members of the Barmakid family managed the affairs of the state until they were executed or imprisoned in 187/803 [see al-barāmika ].

For his periodic centre of administration, Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd also improved the infrastructure decisively. For the irrigation of the palace city, two canals were laid out: one channelling the water of the Euphrates from about 15 km/9 miles further west, and another of over 100 km/62 miles collecting water from the Anatolian mountains to the north. According to Yāḳūt, one of these (probably the Euphrates canal) was named Nahr al-Nīl (described by Kassem Toueir, inTechniques et pratiques hydro-agricoles traditionelles en domaine irrigué. Actes du Colloque de Damas , ed. B. Geyer, Paris 1990, 217-20).

About 8 km/5 miles to the west of the city, the Euphrates canal passes by another monument to be associated with Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd. Surrounded by a circular enclosure wall of 500 m/1,640 feet in diameter, with round buttresses and four portals on the cardinal points, the centre is occupied by a massive square building of ca. 100 m/328 feet for each side. Accessible on the ground level only are four vaulted stately halls on the main axis, from where ramps lead to the upper storey, which was not, however, completed. This curious stone structure, recently also investigated archaeologically, with the traditional name of Hiraḳla obviously alluding to the conquest of the Byzantine city of Heraclea by Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd in 190/806, can be interpreted as a victory monument. The stone material used seems to have originated from churches of the frontier region whose dismantling was ordered in 191/806-7 by the caliph (Ibn S̲h̲addād, iii/1, 342). Obviously, due to the departure of the imperial patron to K̲h̲urāsān in 192/808 and his death shortly thereafter, the building was left unfinished (see Toueir, in World Archaeology , xiv/3 [1983], 296-303, and in La Syrie de Byzance à l’Islam , VII e -VIII e siècles ,Actes du Colloque International , ed. P. Canivet and J.-P. Rey-Coquais, Damascus 1992, 179-86).

The extensive construction programme at alRaḳḳa was accompanied by accelerated industrial activities; these are attested by a string of mounds with large piles of ashes outside the northern wall of the city of alRaḳḳa/Nikephorion. Recently investigated archaeologically at two points, workshops for pottery and glass production have been detected, for which the numismatic evidence points to their use in the time of Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd. The expertly-potted ¶ ceramics with incised or moulded decoration, as well as the fragile glass vessels featuring incised, relief or lustre decoration, which are known from the inventories of the excavated palaces, were thus evidently for the most part fabricated locally.

The later ʿAbbāsid period. Shortly after the sudden death of Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd, his widow Zubayda in 193/809 organised the transfer of the vast state treasures to Bag̲h̲dād, where her son al-Amīn (193-8/809-13) was enthroned as ruler of the ʿAbbāsid empire (al-Ṭabarī, iii, 775). While this marks the reinstallation of Bag̲h̲dād as the administrative centre of the Muslim world, the city of alRaḳḳa remained of regional importance as seat of the governor of the D̲j̲azīra province until the mid-4th/10th century.

In opposition to al-Maʾmūn (198-218/813-33), who succeeded in capturing Bag̲h̲dād from his brother al-Amīn, a revolt caused the destruction by fire of the market quarter between the sister cities of alRaḳḳa and al-Rāfiḳa in 198/813 (Michael Syrus, ed. J.-B. Chabot, iii, 26). To police the situation, al-Maʾmūn sent the general Ṭāhir b. al-Ḥusayn [q.v.] as governor of the D̲j̲azīra to alRaḳḳa, followed by his son ʿAbd Allāh b. Ṭāhir [q.v.] until 210/825-6, when he was nominated governor of Egypt. In the time of the Ṭāhirids, the palace belt outside the city walls was already evidently falling into disrepair. Nevertheless, a last reactivation is attested for the time of al-Muʿtaṣim on the basis of fresco inscriptions with his name found at the Palace B to the east of Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd’s central residence (A. Grohmann, Arabische Paläographie , ii, Vienna 1971, pl. 18). This is to be connected with the last military campaign into the Byzantine empire conducted from alRaḳḳa, which resulted in the conquest of the city of ʿAmmūriyya/Amorium in 223/838 (Ibn S̲h̲addād, ii/1, 341). From there, the caliph carried off the famous iron doors to his newly-founded capital of Sāmarrāʾ, to be set up at the main entrance, the Bāb al-ʿĀmma, of his residential palace, then under construction.

Instead of utilising the palace city of Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd, new structures were built up on top of the suburb between the sister cities; soundings conducted by the Syrian Service of Antiquities (1953 and 1969) have revealed stucco decorations in the bevelled style of Sāmarrāʾ from the mid-3rd/9th century. About the same time also, the prayer-niche of the Great Mosque at al-Rāfiḳa received a new stucco decoration with similar features. A series of stone capitals, now scattered to many museum collections, featuring the characteristic slant cut and related ornamental patterns, bear witness to continuous building activities (M. S. Dimand, in Ars Islamica , iv [1937], 308-24; Meinecke, in Bilād al-Shām during the Abbasid period, in Proceedings of the fifth International Conference on the History of Bilād al-Shām , 232-5).

Though the size of the inhabited area became drastically diminished, the city of alRaḳḳa remained the only real antipode to Bag̲h̲dād. Therefore, it was the obvious alternative for caliphs in exile or seeking refuge, as it was the case with al-Mustaʿīn in 251/865, al-Muʿtamid in 269/882, al-Muʿtaḍid in 286/899 and 287/900, and finally with al-Muttaḳī in 332-3/944, as recorded by al-Ṭabarī and other historians. But the fame of the city at that period did not result from political might or artistic achievements but from the scholars living and teaching at alRaḳḳa, for instance the famous astronomer Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad al-Battānī (d. 317/929 [q.v.]), or Muḥammad b. Saʿīd al-Ḳus̲h̲ayrī (d. 334/945), the author of a Taʾrīk̲h̲ alRaḳḳa , ed. Ṭāhir al-Naʿsānī, Ḥamā 1959.

The first period of decline. The decline of the

1. City walls of al-Rāfiḳa (photo German Archaeological Institute Damascus: P. Grunwald 1985).

2. North Gate of al-Rāfiḳa (photo German Archaeological Institute Damascus: M. Meinecke 1984).

1. Great Mosque of alRaḳḳa/Nikephorion, minaret (photo G. L. Bell 1909; courtesy Gertrude Bell Photographic Archive: Department of Archaeology, The University of Newcastle upon Tyne).

2. Great Mosque of al-Rāfiḳa, minaret (photo German Archaeological Institute Damascus: P. Grunwald 1984).

3. Great Mosque of al-Rāfiḳa, aerial view ca. 1930 (reproduced from M. Dunand, De l’Amanus au Sinai , 1953).

1. Palace City of Hārūn al-Ras̲h̲īd, main palace and neighbouring structures on the southeast, aerial view ca. 1930 (reproduced from M. Dunand, De l’Amanus au Sinai, 1953); for identification see map.

2. Western Palace, stucco frieze (photo German Archaeological Institute Damascus: P. Grunwald 1985).

3. Western Palace, stucco frieze (photo German Archaeological Institute Damascus: P. Grunwald 1985).

1. Bāb Bag̲h̲dād (photo German Archaeological Institute Damascus: K. Anger 1983).

2. Palace of Ḏj̲amāl al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Iṣfahānī/Ḳaṣr al-Banāt, domed corner room (photo German Archaeological Institute Damascus: K. Anger 1983).

¶central administration of the ʿAbbāsid caliphate affected also the city of alRaḳḳa. Since the conquest by the Ḥamdānids in 330/942, the urban centre on the Euphrates was contested between the rulers of Mawṣil and Aleppo, as being the gate for supremacy in Northern Mesopotamia. The founder of the Aleppo branch of the Ḥamdānid dynasty, Sayf al-Dawla ʿAlī, (333-356/945-967) is blamed by Ibn Ḥawḳal and Ibn S̲h̲addād for the devastation of the D̲j̲azīra and the former capital alRaḳḳa. Political instability caused, for instance, the destruction by fire of part of the city of alRaḳḳa/Nikephorion in 332/944, resulting in a gradual depopulation of the initial urban settlement. The dismantling in 353/964 of the iron doors from an entrance gate to the city is another proof for a marked reduction of the population (on the history of this period in general, see M. Canard, Histoire de la dynastie des H’amdânides de Jazîra et de Syrie , i, Algiers-Paris 1951). This development is also mirrored by the Umayyad Great Mosque, which, according to the position of the minaret in the interior courtyard, only remained in use with part of the initial prayer hall.

After the Ḥamdānids there followed a century of turmoil, when the governorship of alRaḳḳa was fought over by the Arab tribal dynasties of the Numayrīds, the Mirdāsids and the ʿUḳaylids (described in great detail by Ibn S̲h̲addād, iii/1, 74-8). Nothing is attested as having been added to the urban fabric; on the contrary, the shrinking population retreated increasingly from the initial city alRaḳḳa to the ʿAbbāsid foundation of al-Rāfiḳa, which according to Yāḳūt, followed by al-Dimas̲h̲ḳī, eventually also took over the name of the sister city.

The revival of alRaḳḳa in the Zangid and Ayyūbid periods. The fate of the city only changed with the appearance of the Zangids in the region (on the history of that period, see C. Alptekin, The reign of Zangi (521-541/1127-1146), Erzurum 1978). Conquered by ʿImād al-Dīn Zangī in 529/1135, alRaḳḳa was soon to regain importance, as attested by building activities (listed partly by Ibn S̲h̲addād, iii/1, 71). When Zangī was murdered in 541/1146 whilst besieging Ḳalʿat D̲j̲aʿbar further up the Euphrates, he was first buried at Ṣiffīn, but soon afterwards his corpse was transferred to a domed mausoleum constructed for this purpose in the Mas̲h̲had quarter of alRaḳḳa (Ibn al-ʿAdīm, ii, 285). Following the death of Zangī, his wazīr D̲j̲amāl al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Iṣfahānī organised from alRaḳḳa the succession of Zangī’s son, Nūr al-Dīn Maḥmūd (N. Elisséeff, Nūr ad-Dīn , Damascus 1967, 390-2). In this connection a palace is mentioned, which may eventually be identified with the Ḳaṣr al-Banāt (Pl. XXVIII, 2), a ruined structure from that period (on the archaeological investigation since 1977, see Toueir, in Damaszener Mitteilungen , ii [1985], 297-319). Ibn S̲h̲addād in addition also mentions a k̲h̲ānḳāh of the same patron, as well as another commissioned by Nūr al-Dīn Maḥmūd, together with a hospital ( bīmāristān ) and twomadrasa s, one for S̲h̲āfiʿīs and the other for Ḥanafīs, presumably all erected by or in the time of the same ruler. Most indicative for the reactivation of the city during this period is the ʿAbbāsid Great Mosque of al-Rāfiḳa, which already attracted minor construction and decoration activities in 541/1146-7 and 553/1158, as recorded on re-used inscription fragments (photographed by G. L. Bell in 1909) and on newly-discovered inscription panels (excavated in 1986, now on display at the Raḳḳa Museum). The surviving parts of the mosque, the façade or the ḳibla riwāḳ and the cylindrical minaret (Pl. XXVI, 1), are due to the reconstruction programme of Nūr al-Dīn Maḥmūd, completed in 561/1165-6. ¶ The reduced size of the reactivated mosque, limited to the former prayer hall, mirrors the comparatively modest population of the town, which only occupied the eastern half of the ʿAbbāsid city, where evidently most of the lost other religious buildings mentioned were also located. As the main entrance to the mediaeval city, there functioned the Bāb Bag̲h̲dād at the southeast corner of the ʿAbbāsid city walls, according to the brick decoration erected at this time (Pl. XXVIII, 1) (re-dated by J. Warren, in Art andArchaeology Research Papers , xiii [1978], 22-3; and R. Hillenbrand, in The art of Syria and the Jazira 1100-1250, ed. J. Raby, Oxford 1985, 27-36).

With the conquest by Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn in 578/1182, the city passed into the control of the Ayyūbids. As one of the chief towns of the principality of Diyār Muḍar, alRaḳḳa was especially favoured by the Ayyūbid prince al-Malik al-ʿĀdil Abū Bakr, who took up residence at the city between 597/1201 and 625/1128. He is attested to have constructed palaces and bath complexes, and laid out many gardens with extensive plantations (Ibn S̲h̲addād, iii/1, 71-2). Of these Ayyūbid additions to the town, nothing has survived. But in this period, alRaḳḳa emerged as a major production centre for glazed ceramics of high artistic perfection, which were exported widely. Most frequent among these are figural or vegetal designs in black under a transparent turquoise glaze, but other variations with lustre on turquoise and purple glazes, or coloured designs, including red, under a colourless glaze, are also recorded (see the detailed studies by E. J. Grube, in Kunst des Orients , iv [1963], 42-78; V. Porter,Medieval Syrian pottery ( Raqqa ware ), Oxford 1981; and also the extensive bibliography by Cr. Tonghini and Grube, in Islamic Art , iii [1989], 59-93). The pottery workshops were located in the immediate vicinity of the urban settlement, even partly within the ʿAbbāsid city walls to the south of the Great Mosque (on a kiln excavated in 1924 immediately outside the east wall of the city, see J. Sauvaget in Ars Islamica , xiii-xiv [1948], 31-45).

The Ayyūbids successfully repulsed occasional attacks on the city by the Sald̲j̲ūḳs of Asia Minor and the K̲h̲wārazmians, but finally had to yield to the Mongol forces, who invaded northern Mesopotamia in 657/1259 (on the history of that period, see R. S. Humphreys, From Saladin to the Mongols , Albany 1977). Urban settlement at Diyār Muḍar ceased in the early years of the Mamlūk era, when in 663/1265 all the fortified cities on the middle Euphrates were destroyed for tactical reasons, including alRaḳḳa (L. Ilisch,Geschichte der Artuqidenherrschaft von Mardin zwischen Mamluken und Mongolen 1260-1410 AD, Münster 1984, 51-2).

The Ottoman period. Throughout the Mamlūk period, alRaḳḳa remained practically deserted, as certified by Abu ’l-Fidāʾ. Only after the Syrian campaign of the Ottoman sultan Selīm I (918-26/1512-20), which resulted in the downfall of the entire Mamlūk empire in 923/1517, was it reactivated as a military outpost. In the time of sultan Süleymān II Ḳānūnī (926-74/1520-66), alRaḳḳa was the nominal capital of a province of the Ottoman empire, probably in memory of its past glory. A building inscription commemorating the restoration of a castle and a sacred building ( ḥaram ) by Sultan Süleymān b. Selīm K̲h̲ān remains the only testimony to this limited reactivation as a military and administrative centre (originally located at the Mausoleum of Uways al-Ḳaranī, now on display in the archaeological museum of the modern city). Due to destruction by Türkmen and Kurdish tribes, the governorship was transferred ¶ to the city of al-Ruhā/Urfa ca. 135 km/84 miles further north (according to Ewliyā Čelebi, Seyāḥat-nāme , tr. J. von Hammer, i/1, London 1834, 95, 101, 104, 110; tr. Danişman, v, Istanbul 1970, 41, 52-3). On the visit of Ewliyā Čelebi in winter 1059/1649, the place was deserted following recent raids, though the ruins of the glorious past and formerly-irrigated gardens still remained visible.

The site was only repopulated in the late 19th century, when the Turkish government settled there a group of Circassians in order to police the region. Initially a village of only a few houses near the southwest corner of the ʿAbbāsid city, the population grew slowly but steadily, counting somewhat less than 5,000 inhabitants by the middle of the 20th century. Since then, due to the agricultural revival of the region, the settlement has reached a population of nearly 90,000 inhabitants in 1981 (Syrian … Central Bureau of Statistics (ed.), Statistical abstract, xxxvii, Damascus 1984). Now the capital of a province administered by a governor, and an active commercial and industrial centre, the city has reached a size larger than ever in its history, consequently submerging most of the historic fabric. This in turn has motivated an extensive programme of archaeological research and architectural conservation for the monuments from the Islamic past.


(in addition to the references in the text): Arabic texts. For Yaʿḳūbī, Ibn al-Faḳīh, Muḳaddasī, Ibn Ḥawḳal, Yāḳūt, and other geographical works, see the convenient index by C. Corun, Atlas du monde arabo-islamique à l’époque classique, IX e -X e siècles, Leiden 1985, 21-2, s.v. Rāfiqa and Raqqa. In addition see Balād̲h̲urī, Futūḥ, 173-4, 178-80, 297

Ṭabarī (tr. in 39 vols, with annotation and index in progress)

Bakrī, Muʿd̲j̲am mā istaʿd̲j̲am, ed. Muṣṭafā al-Saḳḳā, Cairo 1945-51

Harawī, K. al-Ziyārāt, ed. J. Sourdel-Thomine, Damascus 1953, 63 (tr. eadem, Damascus 1957, 141-2)

Ibn al-ʿAdīm, Zubdat al-Ḥalab, ed. Sāmī al-Dahhān, 3 vols., Damascus 1951, 1954, 1968

Muḥammad Ibn S̲h̲addād, al-Aʿlāḳ al-k̲h̲aṭīra, ii/1, ed. A.-M. Eddé in B. Ét. Or., xxxii-xxxiii (1980-1)

ed. Yaḥyā ʿAbbāra, 2 vols., Damascus 1878, 69-82

Dimas̲h̲ḳī, Nuk̲h̲bat al-dahr, ed. A. F. Mehren, St. Petersburg 1866

Abu ’l-Fidāʾ, Taḳwīm, 277.

General works and publications on the monuments of alRaḳḳa. E. Sachau, Reise in Syrien und Mesopotamien, Leipzig 1883, 241-6

G. Le Strange, Palestine under the Moslems, London 1890, 518

idem, Lands of the Eastern Caliphate, London 1905, 101-2

H. Violet, Description du Palais de al-Moutasim, fils d’Haroun-al-Raschid à Samara et de quelques monuments arabes peu connus de la Mésopotamie, in Mémoires présentés par divers savants à l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, xii/2 (1909), 568-71

G. L. Bell, Amurath to Amurath, London 1911, 54-60

F. Sarre and E. Herzfeld, Archäologische Reise im Euphrat- und Tigris-Gebiet, i, Berlin 1911, 3-6 (M. van Berchem), 156-61

ii, Berlin 1920, 349-64

iv, Berlin 1920, 20-5

A. Musil, The Middle Euphrates, New York 1927, 91, 325-31

K. A. C. Creswell, Early Muslim Architecture, ii, Oxford 1940, 39-48, 165-6

M. Dunand, De l’Amanus au Sinai, Beirut 1953, 94-7

Creswell, A short account of early Muslim architecture, Harmondsworth 1958, 183-90

M. Abû-l-Faraj al-ʿUsh (ed.), Catalogue du Musée National de Damas, Damascus 1969, 166-76

Abdul-Kader Rihaoui, Aperçu sur la civilisation de al-Jazira et de la Vallée de l’Euphrate à l’époque arabe-musulmane, in Les Annales Archéologiques Arabes Syriennes, xix (1969), 84-7, Arabic part 56-9

D. Sturm, Zur Bedeutung der syrischen Stadt ar-Raqqa von der arabischen Eroberung bis zur Gegenwart, in Hallesche Beiträge zur Orientwissenschaft, i (1979), 35-72

M. Meinecke, Raqqa, in Land des Baal, ed. K. Kohlmeyer and E. Strommenger, Mainz 1982, 261-3, 274-84

H. G. Franz, Palast, Moschee und Wüstenschloβ. Das Werden der Islamischen Kunst, 7.-9. Jahrhundert, Graz 1984, 121-4, 126, 128

J.-C. Heusch und M. Meinecke, Grabungen im ʿabbāsidischen Palastareal von ar-Raqqa/ar-Rāfiqa 1982-1983, in Damaszener Mitteilungen, ii (1985), 85-105

idem, Die Residenz des Harun al-Raschid in Raqqa, Damascus 1989

Creswell, A short account of early Muslim architecture, revised and supplemented by J. W. Allen, Aldershot 1989, 243-8, 270-8

Meinecke, Raqqa on the Euphrates: recent excavations at the residence of Harun er-Rashid, in The Near East in Antiquity: German contributions to the archaeology of Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, ed. S. Kerner, ii, Amman 1991, 17-32.

Cite this page

Meinecke, M., “al-Raḳḳa”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 09 June 2017 <;

First published online: 2012
First print edition: ISBN: 9789004161214, 1960-2007

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