Dozens of people, including children, were killed this past weekend by an alleged chemical weapons attack in the eastern Ghouta city of Douma. The attack is the latest reminder that Ghouta, the one-time oasis of Damascus, is being destroyed. Every day brings with it news of renewed bombing, deadly gassing and starved or crushed bodies, accompanied by desperate scenes of mass exodus.
Located a mere seven miles from Bashar Al Assad’s palace, Ghouta is the last surviving rebel enclave close to Syria’s capital, where the Assad family’s dictatorial regime has ruled for 47 years.
The Syrian revolution that began seven years ago has failed, and the death rattles out of Eastern Ghouta are among its tragic dying gasps. But the political facts, while somber and tragic, fail to tell the full story of Ghouta — the story of its history and beauty.
I am a scholar of Islamic cartography who studies the depiction of geographical places in history. I have visited Ghouta, which now contains suburbs of Damascus as well as agricultural land. I have met its people and enjoyed its sights, sounds, smells and tastes. As the world watches the daily news of the destruction of the once majestic city, it is important to remember this city’s exalted past, when it was hailed as the green halo of Damascus.
An abundant oasis