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Al-Qaryatayn (Arabic: القريتين, also spelled Karyatayn, Qaratin or Cariatein) is a town in central Syria, administratively part of the Homs Governorate located southeast of Homs. It is situated on an oasis in the Syrian Desert. Nearby localities include Tadmur (Palmyra) to the northeast, Furqlus to the north, al-Riqama and Dardaghan to the northwest, Mahin, Huwwarin and Sadad to the west, Qarah, Deir Atiyah and al-Nabk to the southwest and Jayrud to the south. Al-Qaryatayn translates as "the two villages".
According to the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics, al-Qaryatayn had a population of 14,208 in the 2004 census. It is the administrative center of the al-Qaryatayn nahiyah ("subdistrict") which consists of three localities with a collective population of 16,795 in 2004. Its inhabitants are predominantly Sunni Muslims and Syriac Christians.
There are numerous Greco-Roman-era buildings located in al-Qaryatayn, including an extensive sanitarium known as Hamaam Balkis ("Bath of Sheba"). During Roman rule, it served as a popular health resort. There also a number of Corinthian columns and marble ornaments that date from this era, when nearby Palmyra was a major city in the region. Prior to Islamic rule in the 7th century CE, the Ghassanids had a military installation in the town.
During the Muslim conquest of Syria, al-Qaryatayn's inhabitants resisted Khalid ibn al-Walid's army in the summer of 634. The former were defeated and Khalid's forces conquered the town, taking a large plunder from it before proceeding to capture other towns in the area. During Abd al-Malik's reign over the Umayyad Caliphate (646–705), his son al-Walid I used al-Qaryatayn along with adjacent towns in the area as a base of operations. Al-Walid II, who was known to be a corrupt caliph, held parties at the Umayyad palace in al-Qaryatayn during his brief reign between 743 ans 744.
In late 1104, the Seljuk prince (emir) Suqman ibn Artuq died in the town on his way to Damascus after being summoned by the ruler of that city, Zahir ad-Din Tughtekin. Arab geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi visited al-Qaryatayn in the early 13th century and described it as "a large village belonging to Hims, and on the desert road. It lies between Hims, Sukhnah, and Arak ... It is two marches from Tadmur [Palmyra]." He also noted its inhabitants were all Christians. A 10,000-member brigade of the Mongol army raided the town and the surrounding region in 1260. Later that year, a Mamluk force led by Emir Salar pursued a retreating Mongol force back to al-Qaryatayn.
In the 19th century, al-Qaryatayn's economy, which depended on camel transport services, declined sharply due to the technological advances in transportation of the time, specifically the steamship and the train. This greatly reduced the number of Mecca-bound pilgrims who previously use al-Qaryatayn's inhabitants as guides or transport providers. In the middle part of that century, during the reign of the Egyptian governor of Syria, Ibrahim Pasha, al-Qaryatayn was a small village whose residences were built from mud brick. In the 1850s, al-Qaryatayn was described as a "large village" where two-thirds of the inhabitants were Muslims and the remainder Christians. Most of the Christians belonged to the Jacobite (Orthodox) followers were converting to Catholicism as part of a growing trend among Syria's Christians at the time.
During a visit in 1913, American traveler Lewis Gatson Leary described al-Qaryatayn as "ancient" but now "a squalid village". In the early 20th century, British writer Gertrude Bell noted that the strongest "brigand" in Syria at the time, Fayyad Agha, was based in al-Qaryatayn.
Syrian civil war
For much of the Syrian civil war, which began in March 2011, al-Qaryatayn remained relatively neutral in the conflict. Town elders made agreements with both government forces and the rebels to stay out of the fighting. However, its location is strategic as it lies at a crossroads between the northern and southern parts of the country. Al-Qaryatayn has served as conduit for both sides. Rebels smuggle arms from the north to rebel fighters in Damascus, while the government uses the town to reinforce and resupply their forces in the north and west. It has also been used as a corridor for defectors from the Syrian Army from across the country as highways from the northern, southern, eastern and western directions run through al-Qaryatayn.
- General Census of Population and Housing 2004. Syria Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). Qaryatayn Subdistrict, Central Homs District, Homs Governorate. (Arabic)
- Smith, 1841, p. 174.
- Leary, 1913, p. 129.
- Addison, p. 236.
- Bosworth, 1980, p. 117.
- Blankinship, 1993, p. 110
- Necipoglu, 1996, p. 32.
- Hitti, p. 480.
- Richards, 2006, p. 90.
- le Strange, 1890, p. 481.
- Abu al-Fida memoirs, Holt 1983, pp. 41–42.
- Chatty, 2006, p. 63.
- Porter, 1858, pp. 541–542.
- Joseph, 1983, p. 51.
- Bell, 1907, p. 152.
- Neutral Syrian town drawn into battle. Al Jazeera English. 2013-04-24.
- Syrian defectors converge on central town. Al Jazeera English. 2013-04-26.
- Bell, Gertrude Lowthian (1907), Syria: The Desert & The Sown, Heinemann.
- Blankminship, Khalid Yahya (1993), Tabari: The Challenge to the Empires, SUNY Press, ISBN 0-7914-0852-3.
- Bosworth, Clifford Edmund (1980), The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new edition: Supplement, BRILL Archive, ISBN 90-04-06167-3.
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- Hitti, Phillip K. (2004), History of Syria, Including Lebanon and Palestine, Gorgias Press LLC, ISBN 1-59333-119-3.
- Joseph, John (1983), Muslim-Christian Relations and Inter-Christian Rivalries in the Middle East: The Case of the Jacobites in an Age of Transition, SUNY Press, ISBN 0-87395-600-1.
- Leary, Lewis Gatson (1913), Syria: The Land of Lebanon, McBride, Nast & Company.
- Necipoglu, Gulru (1996), Muqarnas-An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World, BRILL, ISBN 90-04-10633-2.
- Porter, Josias Leslie (1858). A Handbook for Travellers in Syria and Palestine 1. Murray..
- Richards, Donald Sidney (2006), The chronicle of Ibn al-Athīr for the crusading period from al-Kāmil fī'l-ta'rīkh: The years 491-541/1097-1146 : the coming of the Franks and the Muslim response, Ashgate Publishing Ltd., ISBN 0-7546-4077-9
- Smith, Eli; Robinson, Edward (1841). Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petraea: A Journal of Travels in the Year 1838 3. Crocker and Brewster.
- le Strange, Guy (1890), Palestine Under the Moslems: A Description of Syria and the Holy Land from A.D. 650 to 1500, Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund