Al Malek Faisal

Key facts

► One of the first suburbs of the old city and one of the first main streets parallel to the Barada river flow, Malek Faisal runned close to one of the seven canals that crossed the city now completely dry.

► Monuments in this street: the old wall of damascus city along the river, Al Manakhliya souq, Al-Moallaq mosque, somme small heritage like mills, and hand made industries.

► The whole zone (both river and streets) is in very bad conditions in architectural, urban and environmental terms.

Text from: Francesca de Chatel, Water Sheikhs and Dam Builders, Transaction Publishers, London, 2007.

Today greater Damascus is a capital of an estimated 5 million inhabitants. After 1948, when Damascus had a population of just 700.000, the population exploded. Not only did the city have to cope with a large influx of Palestinian refugees; over the years it has also attracted a growing population of
disillusioned farmers who abandon their land to seek a better life in the city.
Damascus is a legendary city and the source of its prosperity is the Barada River. Described by medieval writers as the Nile of Damascus, the seasonal Barada River springs forty kilometres from Damascus in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Before it dried out in 2000, it flowed from there through the narrow valleys of the Anti- Lebanon to the Damascus plain. Fifteen kilometres from its source it received the waters of the Ain el Fije spring. While this is more regular and abundant source, its water flow has also declined by 42 percent since 1947. At the foot of the Anti-Lebanon at the village of Rabwe, the river divides into seven channels that fan out over the plain and flow through the city to the
orchards and gardens around, to finally drain off in the Ateibeh and Hijaneh lakes.

The origin of the channels is unknown but it is certain that they date back to the pre- Christian, if not pre-Roman times. The oldest written manuscript recording their existence comes from the Gallic bishop Arculf, who traveled to the Holy Land in 670 AD and recorded “IV magna flumina”,
four large rivers, in Damascus. Situated in a zone of low rainfall on the edge of the Syrian Desert and sheltered from coastal rains by the Lebanon Range,
Damascus would never have become such a prosperous city without the constant flow of the waters of the Barada River. Simple gravity and the creation of seven canals with their countless side-channels allowed for the development of the most fertile and productive agricultural region in the Near East. (…) I crossed one of the seven canals of the Barada, the Banias. Today its riverbed, which winds between and beneath the medieval town and skirts the thick city walls, is little more than an open sewer. A thin sliver of water trickles between garbage and rotting vegetables, and a foul stench rises up from the river.
When the canals were still the main source of water for Damascus they were regularly cleaned. Each canal was managed by an elected committee of users who organized the yearly cleaning session. (…) Clearly this tradition has disappeared today: the canals are not only filthy, there is also hardly any water flowing in them for fish to survive in. The abundance that the city was once famous for is now a myth of the past.
Today only untreated sewage water flows through the canals to irrigate the remains of the Ghuta oasis.

Text from: Francesca de Chatel, Water Sheikhs and Dam Builders, Transaction Publishers, London, 2007.

Loss in water
flow since 1947