Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Life After Baibars - A Sultan's Progress

Usually we try to avoid the more "recent" aspects of Antioch's history, but the city's relevance is popularly believed to have ended with the destruction wrought by Sultan Baibars in 1268.

I have stumbled upon an interesting text relating a progress made around his domains by the Sultan Qa'itbay in the mid-14th century. This translation and commentary was written by Henriette Devonshire in the Bulletin de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale in 1922.  BIFAO 20 (1922), p. 1-43 : "[al-qawl al-mustazraf fî safar mawlânâ al-malik al-Ashraf.] Relation d'un voyage du sultan Qâitbây en Palestine et en Syrie".

Qa'itbay was the Sultan of Egypt from 872-901 A.H. (AD 1468-1496).  He toured around the northern extremities of his domains that stretched as far as Antioch and Aleppo. After heading up the coast as far as Latakia, he headed inland to Antakiya. While Antioch is only briefly mentioned it does give some colour from a period where there are virtually no texts. 

"Nous trouvâmes dans cette ville d'immenses et solides constructions; les murs enormes et garnis de tours vont de haut de la montagne jusqu'a l'embouchure de la riviere, de sorte que la ville entiere avec ses cultures, ses champs, ses proprietes et sa riviere se trouve a l'interieur des murailles. La ville meme contient sept collines sur une desquelles se trouve une citadelle; la longeur des murs est de 12 milles; les tours sont au nombre de 136 et les creneaux de 24,000. Antakiya fut conquise par El Malik ez Zahir Beibars; elle contient beaucoup de boutiques, des marches, et la population en est nombreuse. Mais ce sont Turcomans peu civilises et leurs maisons ont des pignons dont les toits en pente sont de bois recouvert de fascines de chaume que l'on appelle bourda. C'est la que se trouve le Sanctuaire de Sidi Djib en Nadjdjar - que Dieu nous soit propice par ses vertus! - situe entre deux larges collines a pentes douces."

The report tells us what we already knew, that of all things, the walls and fortress of Antioch survived far longer than the structures of the graeco-roman city. However, it seems here that some 200 years after Baibars destruction of the city, the place was fairly lively with an active commercial life. This must be taken in context that what looked like a thriving city in the mid-1400s was all relative when many great cities had shrunk to small towns and so any conurbation of more than 10,000 people looked like a metropolis.   

The city had clearly become mainly Turkish by this point and that population lived in structures which struck the author for their flimsiness and their thatched roofs which were not common in urban settings in the Middle East at that time. 

The seven hills are mentioned for the first time we have heard. We cannot imagine what these are. It is notable though because both Rome and Constantinople had their "seven hills" and Qa'itbay did not come from that tradition of giving import to this topographical distinction.  

A river "inside the walls" is mentioned, presumably the Parmenios. We have what I think is the first mention I have found of the Najjar mosque.  

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