Le Mourre is a vast encyclopedic dictionary of history drafted by a single man, Michel Mourre. -- Mourre devoted the last decades of a brief reclusive life to the drafting of reference works that are perhaps unique in the 20th century for their solitary erudition. -- Little-known in the English-speaking world, le Mourre, as the work has popularly come to be known, was first published in France in 1978, several months after the author's death at the age of 49. -- It has gained a certain reputation as a monument of erudition, and has been kept up to date in several subsequent editions. -- The 1996 French edition runs to 5,884 pages, half of one of which summarizes the history of Damascus (up to 1991), and is translated below. -- Mourre's imperturbable impassivity and blasé attitude of nil admirari will not be attractive to many readers, but the sober virtues of his prose have an appeal of their own....
Dictionnaire encyclopédique d'histoire
Paris: Bordas, 1996 (original edition 1978)
Vol. 2, pp. 1534-35
DAMASCUS, Dimachq. Capital of Syria. 0.3m inhabitants in 1950, 1m in 1975, 3m in 2000 (projected). Very ancient city, already mentioned in Genesis, it was conquered by the Egyptians in the 16th century before Jesus Christ (BCE). David captured it but shortly thereafter it became the capital of a powerful independent Aramean state that successfully made war on the Hebrews (9th century BCE). Incorporated in 732 into the Assyrian Empire, it later passed under Persian domination, was taken by Alexander in 332 BCE and later belonged to the empire of the Seleucids. The Romans, led by Pompey, took possession of it in 64 BCE. It was while he was going to Damascus in order to organize the persecution of the Christians that St. Paul received the illumination that led him to the Christian faith. Included in the Eastern [Roman] Empire [or Byzantine Empire], the city was taken in 635 CE by the Muslims and became the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750). The great cathedral, built in 375 by the emperor Theodosus II [NOTE: This is mistaken; in fact, in 391, the Temple of Jupiter was converted into the Cathedral of Saint John by the Christian emperor Theodosius I. --M.K.J.], became a mosque. The Great Mosque of Damascus (705) was the first masterpiece of Muslim architecture. Extremely prosperous and famous for its textile industries (damask) and arms manufactures, control of Damascus was contested in violent struggles during the Crusades. Besieged in vain by the Franks in 1148, it passed after 1154 to Nur ad-Din Zangi, then to his successor, Saladin. Hulagu Khan's Mongols captured it in 1260, Timur sacked it in 1401, then it was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire by Selim I in 1516. In 1860, the Druses unleashed a terrible massacre of Christians there.
Taken in 1918 by the English, it was given in 1920, along with Syria, as part of the French Mandate of Syria and the Lebanon, which carried out violent repression of the Syrian national movement (Oct. 18-20, 1925). In 1946, Damascus became the capital of an independent Syria.
Linked to the great cities of the Near East by a good road network and by rail, Damascus also possesses an international airport. It has modern industries and has played an important diplomatic role since 1958 Lebanon crisis.
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003