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Resafa-Sergiupolis / Rusafat Hisham, Syria. Pilgrims city and caliph residence - The city intra and extra muros

Basilica A, southern side aisle, view towards the northeast, 2006

Resafa is located in northern Syria, some 50 km southwest of Raqqa and 25 km from the Euphrates River. Its origins in Late Antiquity, the city covers an area of c. 400 m x 600 m that encompasses several importance churches and supply installations; it is enclosed by a wall, great sections of which are still well preserved (Figs. 1-2). The surrounding countryside displays traces of settlements varying in density from Byzantine and Islamic times. In the southern part of the town is the residence of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham b. Abd al-Malik, which comprises several palace complexes extending over an area of c. 3 km².

Resafa is occasionally identified with a site mentioned in Assyrian written sources that carries the same name, however, archaeological proof of this is still lacking. Historically and archaeologically the city is attested since the first half of the 1st century AD as part of the Roman eastern limes. This series of forts was meant to defend the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire from the neighbouring Persian threat. The martyrdom of the Roman officer Sergius in c. 300 AD at Resafa, his increasing veneration as a saint and soon pilgrims' visits to his grave led to the development and expansion of the city in the 5th and 6th centuries AD as well as its renaming as Resafa-Sergiupolis. The city became the seat of the bishop and metropolitan as well as a pilgrimage centre. Its widespread renown is still manifested today in the monumentality of the preserved architecture.

Even after the Islamic conquest, Resafa remained an important aim for pilgrims. The city experienced a further expansion with the residence of Caliph Hisham b. Abd al-Malik (r. 105/724-125/743), also a worshiper of St. Sergius. Under Hisham a Great Mosque was built north of Basilica A and situated his residence with several palace complexes in the surroundings adjoining to the south, including auxiliary buildings and gardens. Subsequently, Resafa was designated Resafa-Hisham.

After the decline of the Umayyad dynasty the palace area extra muros was gradually abandoned. Yet, the pilgrims' city continued to exist, and despite repeated damage through earthquakes and destruction, such as the Karmat uprising - was inhabited, as evidenced by traces of repairs on Basilica A and the Great Mosque. Until the mid 13th century AD Resafa remained an Islamic city that was markedly Christian. In the aftermath of the Mongol invasions, the city was gradually abandoned; in 1269 the last inhabitants moved to Hama and Salamiya. Resafa fell into oblivion and never resettled. As late as the end of the 17th century Resafa was rediscovered, by chance. Since the beginning of the 20th century efforts have been made to record and describe the remaining buildings (Herzfeld and Sarre 1920; Spanner and Guyer 1926).

Resafa, Basilica A, preparatory investigations for consolidation and restoration work, terrain laser scanner Leica HDS 3000, 2006.

Objectives - Aims of the project phase 2006-2011
The project that commenced in 2006 (directed by Dorothée Sack) was intended to explore the city and environs more intensively, in particular from the viewpoint of their being interrelated complexes. Thereby, the results attained until then about individual monuments were compiled and augmented through recent research. The whole project is planned to continue for five years; it is divided into five component "sub-projects":

1. The first sub-project is aimed at drawing up an archaeological map, in which plans according to historical periods illustrate the history and development of the city of Resafa and its environs. The map should demonstrate the emergence of buildings and the changes made on them as well as the urban development from its beginnings until its abandonment in the 13th century. All historical buildings that have been georeferenced and all modern structure that have been measured until now will serve as the basis for this sub-project (Fig. 3).

2. The second sub-project is concerned with investigations on the residence of Caliph Hisham b. Abd al-Malik on the outskirts of Resafa. Proceedings with the comprehensive studies carried out there in the past years, its aim is to clarify the settlement structures and architectural complexes of the residence. Archaeological soundings at selected findspots (FP) will verify the results of geophysical prospection conducted in 1997-2001 and thus create the basis for a correlated interpretation (Fig. 4). Documentation of the remains of walls and edges visible on the surface should complete knowledge about the palace quarter.

Historical settled areas of the north of the city that have not been documented thus far will be investigated by means of geophysical prospection (Fig. 5). Digital models of the terrain and rectified aerial photographs serve as an augmentation to the interpretation of the find contexts revealed in geophysical prospection. The evaluations that commenced in 1999 - 2001 will be continued.

3. The third sub-project concerns questions about the construction of the city wall, course of its construction and techniques that were employed in building it. Exceeding the work of Walter Karnapp, these investigations should answer questions about the emergence of and changes made in the wall by means of a differentiated presentation of the remains, and through this enable the dating of the individual measures in construction (Fig. 6).

4. The fourth component project serves in preparing plans for the consolidation, restoration and cleaning of structures. Precision measurements begun in 2002 are being continued, in order to clarify whether significant deformations of the apsis of Basilica A have changed within the last few years (Fig. 7). At the same time a detailed study of the constructional joins and static of the apsis will be undertaken, which will form the basis for its consolidation. The question as to which form of anastylosis should be applied to parts of the "Zentralbau" will be decided after an assessment of the practicality and feasibility.

5. The fifth sub-project foresees the development of site management for the entire area. Access to the site for tourists will follow specific paths, and signs should be designed that will provide information about the most important monuments in the area to visitors (Fig. 8). An archaeological guide and an exhibition in the planned visitors' centre will aid in acquainting visitors with the city in general and to explain the archaeological contexts in detail. 

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Resafa, tachymetric documentation of the central building, 2007.

Previous Activities
Resafa became the subject of archaeological research under the direction of Johannes Kollwitz, beginning in the 1950s. Thereby, a determining factor was the possibility to investigate there the coexistence and transitions between Christian and Islamic culture. Along with archaeological investigations in the large churches (the "Zentralbau", Basilica B) and one area of streets leading to the north gate, Walter Karnapp accomplished a comprehensive documentation of the city wall. Katharina Otto-Dorn made a study of the immediate surroundings that had been settled after the establishment of Islam.

Since 1975 investigations in Resafa have been continued under the direction of Tilo Ulbert. First the work was focused upon Basilica A; then further buildings in the city, such as the Great Mosque (Dorothée Sack), and the water supply (Werner Brinker) were studied. In addition, trial trenches were made pertaining to the street system (Stephan Westphalen) and neighbouring complexes that belonged to the limes were recorded (Michaela Konrad). A field survey of the surroundings brought forth archaeologically relevant find spots and built structures (Michael Mackensen, Herbert Tremel). On the basis of this and further surveys, since 1983 the architectural structures have been classified according to functional and chronological aspects (Dorothée Sack). In 1997-2001 augmentative geophysical prospection was carried out in the immediate surroundings to the south of the city (Helmut Becker). Additionally, digital elevation models of the terrain and rectified aerial photographs were completed (Manfred Stephani).

With the framework of the so-called 'limes project', for the first time a c. 40-km long section of the Roman eastern frontier was investigated in exemplary manner. Through this a clear picture of the course of Resafa's emergence could be attained. For the study of the early Byzantine period, Resafa is one of the most important ruins in general, because of its well preserved monuments. Previous research work has documented all remaining large buildings (four Christian basilicas, the city wall, subterranean cisterns) and with that attested the high-quality level of Byzantine architecture in the city. Excavations and documentation have supplied material for detailed studies on early Byzantine architectural sculpture and on the small finds. A church treasure trove discovered during an excavation in May 1982 and dated to c. 1200 AD, is evidence not only that pilgrimages to the grave of St. Sergius still took place at that time, but also of the presence of relations to western goldsmith work and to the Crusaders (Fig. 9).

Since the 1980s research on the Islamic city of Resafa and the building measures in its surroundings have been intensified. The residence of Caliph Hisham b. Abd al-Malik, located south of the city, consists of several palace-like structures with subsidiary buildings, which are arranged in groups and can be addressed as palace complexes. They conform generally with the type of complexes that are defended by towers and have inner courtyards. Rooted in the Roman castrum, this type of construction was developed further in Rusafat Hisham to a dense palatial structure. The palace complexes include subsidiary building, whose form differs greatly. Buildings such as these were hitherto unknown. However, thus far neither a mosque nor a bath that belong to the area could be distinguished. The Great Mosque is located within the defended city. Investigations on the structure enabled clear statements about the Umayyad mosque-construction, which here - due to the difficult situation around its founding - led to the emergence of a special form, a mosque with a false transept. Excavations, surveys as well as documentation aimed at architectural research, on the one hand, and the study of various sources, pottery and coins, on the other, have brought forth many and varied results, through which considerations about architectural history as well as the local history can be advanced, and further questions about trade and exchange across and beyond the Euphrates River can be explained.

In addition to pursuing the scientific line of inquiry, the problematic of conserving and restoring the architectural substance is likewise part of the activities of the German Archaeological Institute in Resafa. The city was built almost completely of gypseous stone, which is very susceptible to weathering and under the local climatic conditions threatens to disintegrate. Therefore, examinations of the building substance and consolidating measures are of utmost importance. On the basis of experts' reports conservation measures were developed, with which first loose stones on Basilica A were removed and the main walls reinforced with a special mortar. The capstones of the walls were also stabilised with the same mortar to prevent water from penetrating and thus to hinder the decay or collapse of the building. Consolidating measures were carried out in four seasons of work in 2004-2005 (Fig. 10).

Univ.-Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dorothée Sack
Technische Universität Berlin,
FG Historische Bauforschung, Masterstudium Denkmalpflege,
Sekr. A 58, Straße des 17.Juni 152,
D-10623 Berlin
Tel.: +49-(0)30-314-79611
Fax: +49-(0)30-314-79612
Internet: http://baugeschichte.a.tu-berlin.de/hbf-msd/

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