History of Hama, fortress of Syria

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Hama, by name and history, represents the indomitable fortress, present since the dawn of time and still untamed today

The words of Ibn Battuta

Then I went on to Hama, the illustrious metropolis of Syria and a marvelous city, of enchanting beauty and memorable splendor, all surrounded by vegetable gardens and gardens next to which, as celestial spheres, the norias rotate.

The city is crossed by the immense Orontes river and has a suburb, called al-Mansuriyya, which is larger than the city itself, with markets full of people and beautiful hammams. A lot of fruit is produced in Hama, including “almond” apricots, so-called because, breaking the core, inside there is a sweet almond.

The origins of Hama

The origins of Hama are lost in the dawn of time, with the first findings dating back to around 5500 BC. ; in the Bronze Age, when for the first time the city began to make itself known to the world, it was already more or less 4000 years old. It will be in this period that Hama flourished as an Amorean settlement under the control of the Mitanni, a population that was later destroyed by the Hittites, the first true rulers of the area. In the Iron Age it will instead constitute a real thorn in the side for the Assyrians, so much so that, allied with Damascus, Israeland 9 other kingdoms, it was at the forefront of the battle of Qarqar, an epic battle that saw 170,000 men duel. This battle should also be remembered as for the first time the Arabs are mentioned, who participated in the clash with 1000 camel drivers.


Unfortunately, however, this very hard battle was not enough to curb the Assyrian lust, so much so that Tiglathpileser III already donated some cities around Hama to his generals. The latter, however, fell only in 720 BC. by the hand of Sargon II, who raided the city, replaced its population and skinned the king, Yahu Bihdi, alive. The settlement then passed into the hands of Alexander and his Diadochi, who will allow his people to return but will rename it Epiphania, a name that will also remain under the Romans and Byzantines, its successive rulers.

Arabs and Ottomans

With the arrival of the Arabs, the ancient name of Hama was restored, however the city at first did not emerge particularly, changing only with the arrival of the crusaders and the struggles for the dominion of Syria. From the tenth to the thirteenth century it was in fact contested by: Byzantines, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Crusaders, Mamelukes and even by Tamerlane, who took it in the 1400s. During this long period, Hama expanded more and more both for war reasons and for survival, thus reaffirming its leading role in Syria.

Azm Palace in Hama

Under the Ottomans the city grew further, establishing itself as one of the political centers of the region, but always remaining subordinate to realities such as Tripoli, Aleppo or Damascus which, on the contrary, would become the real centers of Ottoman power in Bilad ash-Sham. With the fall of the Sublime Porte, control of the region passed to the French, who intensified the feudalism present in the region.

Last century

This led it to become one of the places most related to social realities such as the “Arab Socialist Movement” of Akram al-Hawrani which, until 1952, would represent the main regional political group. However, with the emergence of the Ba’ath party, Hama will become one of the hottest places in the entire Middle East. This political group saw as its founding characteristics Arab nationalism and socialism, elements which, precisely by virtue of the feudalization of the region, were difficult to reconcile with the local reality, thus leading to the birth of new Islamist movements.


The latter, represented above all by the Muslim Brotherhood, have strenuously opposed the Ba’ath since his coup in 1963, even coming several times to open clashes with the new local army. In 1964 there were the first revolts, but the situation flared up starting in 1980, the year in which Hafez al Assad, who in the meantime became Syrian president, almost fell victim to an attack; in 1981 there was a first massacre and in 1982 the infamous Hama Massacre took place. Following further attacks by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hafez sent his brother Rifa’at to take care of the matter personally. The entire city was bombed continuously for 27 days, leading to a massacre whose numbers have never been fully clarified, with estimates ranging from 2000 to 20,000 dead, certainly mostly civilians.

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