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الرقة (Arabic)
Ar-Raqqah Ar-Raqqah skyline • The EuphratesAr-Raqqah city walls • Baghdad gateQasr al-Banat Castle • Uwais al-Qarni Mosque

Ar-Raqqah skyline • The Euphrates
Ar-Raqqah city walls • Baghdad gate
Qasr al-Banat Castle • Uwais al-Qarni Mosque
Ar-Raqqah is located in Syria
Location in Syria
Coordinates: 35°57′N 39°1′E / 35.950°N 39.017°E / 35.950; 39.017
Country Islamic State (de facto)
 Syria (de jure)
Governorate Ar-Raqqah
District Ar-Raqqah
Nahiyah Ar-Raqqah
Founded 244-242 BC
 • City 1,962 km2 (758 sq mi)
Elevation 245 m (804 ft)
Population (2004)
 • City 220,268
 • Density 110/km2 (290/sq mi)
 • Metro 338,773
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
 • Summer (DST) +3 (UTC)
Area code(s) 22
Website (Arabic)

Ar-Raqqah (Arabic: الرقة‎ / ALA-LC: ar-Raqqah), also called Rakka and Raqqa, is a city in Syria located on the north bank of the Euphrates River, about 160 kilometres (99 miles) east of Aleppo. It is located 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of the Tabqa Dam, Syria's largest dam. The city was the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate between 796 and 809 under the reign of Caliph Harun al-Rashid. With a population of 220,488 based on the 2004 official census, ar-Raqqah is the sixth largest city in Syria.

Ar-Raqqah is currently under the control of the jihadist group calling itself the Islamic State and claimed as its capital.


Hellenistic and Byzantine Kallinikos[edit]

The Seleucid king Seleukos II Kallinikos (reigned 246–225 BC) founded ar-Raqqah as the eponymous city of Kallinikos (in Greek Καλλίνικος, Latinized as Callinicum). In the Byzantine period, the city was briefly named Leontopolis (Λεοντόπολις or "city of Lèon", in Greek) by the emperor Leo I (reigned 457–474 AD), but the name Kallinikos prevailed. In 542, the city was destroyed by the invasion of the Persian Sasanid Shahanshah Khusrau I Anushirvan (reigned 531–579), but was subsequently rebuilt by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I (reigned 527–565).

In the 6th century, Kallinikos became a center of Assyrian monasticism. Dayra d'Mār Zakkā, or the Saint Zacchaeus Monastery, situated on the tell just north of the city, today's Tall al-Bi'a, became renowned. A mosaic inscription there is dated to the year 509, presumably from the period of the foundation of the monastery. Daira d'Mār Zakkā is mentioned by various sources up to the 10th century. The second important monastery in the area was the Bīzūnā monastery or 'Dairā d-Esţunā', the 'monastery of the column'. The city became one of the main cities of the historical Diyār Muḍar, the western part of the Jazīra.[citation needed] In the 9th century, when ar-Raqqah served as capital of the western half of the Abbasid Caliphate, this monastery became the seat of the Syriac Patriarch of Antioch.


Callinicum early became the seat of a Christian diocese. In 388, Emperor Theodosius the Great was informed that a crowd of Christians, led by their bishop, had destroyed the synagogue. He ordered the synagogue rebuilt at the expense of the bishop. Ambrose wrote to Theodosius, pointing out he was thereby "exposing the bishop to the danger of either acting against the truth or of death",[1] and Theodosius rescinded his decree.[2]

Bishop of Damianus of Callinicum in the Roman province of Osrhoene took part in the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and in 458 was a signatory of the letter that the bishops of the province wrote to Emperor Leo I the Thracian after the death of Proterius of Alexandria. In 518 Paulus was deposed for having joined the anti-Chalcedonian Severus of Antioch. Callinicum had a Bishop Ioannes in the mid-6th century.[3][4] In the same century, a Notitiae Episcopatuum lists the diocese as a suffragan of Edessa, the capital and metropolitan see of Osrhoene.[5] After that, the see was occupied by Jacobite bishops, of whom Michael the Syrian mentions twenty of the period from the 8th to the 12th century.[6]

No longer a residential bishopric, Callinicum is today listed by the Catholic Church as an archiepiscopal titular see of the Maronite Church.[7]

Early Islamic period[edit]

The remains of the historic Baghdad gate

In the year 639, the Muslim conqueror 'Iyāḍ ibn Ghanm took the Christian city Kallinikos. Since then it has figured in Arabic sources as ar-Raqqah, but still in Assyrian sources the name of Kallinikos remained. In 640–1, the earliest mosque in the Jazira was built in the Christian city. Many companions of Muhammad lived in ar-Raqqah. The Battle of Siffin took place here and thus the tombs of Ammar ibn Yasir and Uwais al-Qarni are located in ar-Raqqah.

The strategic importance of ar-Raqqah grew during the wars at the end of the Umayyad period and the beginning of the Abbasid regime. Ar-Raqqah lay on the crossroads between Syria and Iraq and the road between Damascus, Palmyra, and the temporary seat of the caliphate Resafa, ar-Ruha'.

Between 771 and 772, the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur built a garrison city about 200 metres to the west of ar-Raqqah for a detachment of his Khorasanian Persian army. It was named ar-Rāfiqah, "the companion". The strength of the Abbasid imperial military is still visible in the impressive city wall of ar-Rāfiqah.

Ar-Raqqah and ar-Rāfiqah merged into one urban complex, together larger than the former Umayyad capital Damascus. In 796, the caliph Harun al-Rashid chose ar-Raqqah/ar-Rafiqah as his imperial residence. For about thirteen years ar-Raqqah was the capital of the Abbasid empire stretching from Northern Africa to Central Asia, while the main administrative body remained in Baghdad. The palace area of ar-Raqqah covered an area of about 10 square kilometres (3.9 sq mi) north of the twin cities. One of the founding fathers of the Hanafi school of law, Muḥammad ash-Shaibānī, was chief qadi (judge) in ar-Raqqah. The splendour of the court in ar-Raqqah is documented in several poems, collected by Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahāni in his "Book of Songs" (Kitāb al-Aghāni). Only the small, restored so called Eastern Palace at the fringes of the palace district gives an impression of Abbasid architecture. Some of the palace complexes dating to this period have been excavated by a German team on behalf of the Director General of Antiquities. During this period there was also a thriving industrial complex located between the twin cities. Both German and English teams have excavated parts of the industrial complex revealing comprehensive evidence for pottery and glass production. Apart from large dumps of debris the evidence consisted of pottery and glass workshops containing the remains of pottery kilns and glass furnaces.[8]

Approximately 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) west of ar-Raqqah lay the unfinished victory monument called Heraqla from the period of Harun al-Rashid. It is said to commemorate the conquest of the Byzantine city of Herakleia in Asia Minor in 806. Other theories connect it with cosmological events. The monument is preserved in a substructure of a square building in the centre of a circular walled enclosure, 500 metres (1,600 ft) in diameter. However, the upper part was never finished, because of the sudden death of Harun al-Rashid in Khurasan.

After the return of the court to Baghdad in 809, ar-Raqqah remained the capital of the western part of the empire including Egypt.

Decline and period of Bedouin domination[edit]

Ar-Raqqah's fortunes declined in the late 9th century because of the continuous warfare between the Abbasids and the Tulunids and then with the Shii movement of the Qarmatians. During the period of the Hamdānids in the 940s the city declined rapidly. At the end of the 10th century until the beginning of the 12th century, al-Raqqah was controlled by Bedouin dynasties. The Banu Numayr had their pasture in the Diyār Muḍar and the 'Uqailids had their center in Qal'at Ja'bar.

Second blossoming[edit]

Ar-Raqqah experienced a second blossoming, based on agriculture and industrial production, during the Zangid and Ayyubid period in the 12th and first half of the 13th century. Most famous is the blue-glazed so-called Raqqa ware. The still visible Bāb Baghdād (Baghdad Gate) and the so-called Qasr al-Banāt (Castle of the Ladies) are notable buildings from this period. The famous ruler 'Imād ad-Dīn Zangī who was killed in 1146 was buried here initially. Ar-Raqqah was destroyed during the Mongol wars in the 1260s. There is a report about the killing of the last inhabitants of the urban ruin in 1288.

Ottoman period[edit]

In the 16th century, ar-Raqqah again entered the historical record as an Ottoman customs post on the Euphrates. The eyalet of ar-Raqqah (Ottoman form sometimes spelled as Rakka) was created. However, the capital of this eyalet and seat of the vali was not ar-Raqqah but ar-Ruhā' about 200 kilometres (120 mi) north of ar-Raqqah. In the 17th century the famous Ottoman traveller and author Evliya Çelebi only noticed Arab and Turkoman nomad tents in the vicinity of the ruins. The citadel was partially restored in 1683 and again housed a Janissary detachment; over the next decades the province of ar-Raqqah became the centre of the Ottoman Empire's tribal settlement (iskân) policy.[9]

The city of ar-Raqqah was resettled from 1864 onwards, first as a military outpost, then as a settlement for former Bedouin Arabs and for Chechens, who came as refugees from the Caucasian war theaters in the middle of the 19th century.

20th century[edit]

In the 1950s, in the wake of the Korean War, the worldwide cotton boom stimulated an unpreceded growth of the city, and the re-cultivation of this part of the middle Euphrates area. Cotton is still the main agricultural product of the region.

The growth of the city meant on the other hand a removal of the archaeological remains of the city's great past. The palace area is now almost covered with settlements, as well as the former area of the ancient ar-Raqqa (today Mishlab) and the former Abbasid industrial district (today al-Mukhtalţa). Only parts were archaeologically explored. The 12th-century citadel was removed in the 1950s (today Dawwār as-Sā'a, the clock-tower circle). In the 1980s rescue excavations in the palace area began as well as the conservation of the Abbasid city walls with the Bāb Baghdād and the two main monuments intra muros, the Abbasid mosque and the Qasr al-Banāt.

There is a museum, known as the Ar-Raqqah Museum, housed in an administration-building erected during the French Mandate period.

Civil war[edit]

Main article: Battle of Ar-Raqqah

In March 2013, during the Syrian civil war, Islamist jihadist militants from Al-Nusra Front and other groups overran the government loyalists in the city and declared it under their control after seizing the central square and pulling down the statue of the former president of Syria Hafez al-Assad.[10]

The Al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front set up a sharia court at the sports centre[11] and in early June 2013 the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) said they were open to receive complaints at their Raqqa headquarters.[12]

Since May 2013, ISIS has been increasing its control over the city, at the expense of the Free Syrian Army and the Al-Nusra Front. ISIS has executed Alawites and suspected supporters of Bashar al-Assad in the city and attacked the city's Shia mosques and Christian churches[13] such as the Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs, which has since been converted into an ISIS headquarters. The Christian population of Ar-Raqqah, which was estimated to be as many as 10% of the total population before the civil war began, has largely fled the city.[14][15][16]

In January 2014 it was reported that ISIS militants in the city gained control of the western part of a Syrian army base, while the group closed all educational institutions in the city, where it has withstood rebel assaults.[17]

On 25 July 2014, the Islamic State captured the Syrian Army base in Raqqah which garrisoned the 17th Division, and beheaded many soldiers.

During the night of 22–23 September 2014, the United States and partner nations conducted airstrikes against the Islamic State in and around Raqqah and Aleppo.[18][19] Coalition partners in the strikes included Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with Qatar in a supporting role.[19] The USS Arleigh Burke in the Red Sea and the USS Philippine Sea in the northern Persian Gulf launched more than 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles into eastern and northern Syria.[19] A second wave consisted of F-22 Raptors in their first combat role, F-15 Strike Eagles, F-16s, B-1 bombers and drones which launched from bases in the region.[19] 96 percent of all delivered munitions were precision-guided.[19]


Climate data for Ar-Raqqah
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 18
Average high °C (°F) 12
Average low °C (°F) 2
Record low °C (°F) −7
Precipitation mm (inches) 22
Avg. precipitation days 7 6 5 5 2 0 0 0 0.1 2 3 6 36.1
 % humidity 76 72 60 53 45 34 38 41 44 49 60 73 54
Source #1: [20]
Source #2: [21]


Prior to the Syrian Civil War the city was served by Syrian Railways.

See also[edit]

Battle of Callinicum


  1. ^ Philip Schaff (editor), Ambrose: Select Works and Letters, Letter XL
  2. ^ A.D. Lee, From Rome to Byzantium AD 363 to 565 (Oxford University Press 2013 ISBN 978-0-74866835-9)
  3. ^ Pius Bonifacius Gams, Series episcoporum Ecclesiae Catholicae, Leipzig 1931, p. 437
  4. ^ Michel Lequien, Oriens christianus in quatuor Patriarchatus digestus, Paris 1740, Vol. II, coll. 969-972
  5. ^ Siméon Vailhé in Echos d'Orient 1907, p. 94 e p. 145.
  6. ^ Revue de l'Orient chrétien, VI (1901), p. 197.
  7. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 856
  8. ^ Henderson, Julian (2005). Antiquity. 
  9. ^ Stefan Winter, "The Province of Raqqa under Ottoman Rule, 1535-1800" in Journal of Near Eastern Studies 68 (2009), 253-67.
  10. ^ "Syria rebels capture northern Raqqa city". 
  11. ^ "Under the black flag of al-Qaeda, the Syrian city ruled by gangs of extremists". The Telegraph. 12 May 2013. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  12. ^ "Al-Qaeda sets up complaints department". The Telegraph. 2 June 2013. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  13. ^ Asia news, As jihadist rebels burn two Catholic churches in ar-Raqqah, Assad's enemies openly split, 09/27/2013 17:13,,-Assad%27s-enemies-openly-split-29128.html
  14. ^ "The Mysterious Fall of Raqqa, Syria’s Kandahar". Al-Akhbar. 2013-11-08. Retrieved 2013-11-14. 
  15. ^ "Syrian activists flee abuse in al-Qaeda-run Raqqa". BBC News. 2013-11-13. Retrieved 2013-11-14. 
  16. ^ "Islamic State torches churches in Al-Raqqa". Syria Newsdesk. 2013-09-26. Retrieved 2013-11-14. 
  17. ^ "Government airstrike kills 10 in Aleppo". The Daily Star. 2014-01-21. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  18. ^ "Raqqa: The violent Islamic State ‘capital’ targeted by U.S. airstrikes". The Washington Post. 2014-09-23. Retrieved 2014-09-23. 
  19. ^ a b c d e "DoD Official: Successful Syrian Strikes Only the Beginning". U.S. Department of Defense. 2014-09-23. Retrieved 2014-09-23. 
  20. ^ "Climate statistics for Ar-Raqqah". World Weather Online. Retrieved September 2014. 
  21. ^ "Averages for Ar-Raqqah". Weather Base. Retrieved September 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn (2006). Raqqa revisited: ceramics of Ayyubid Syria. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 1588391841. 
  • Meinecke, Michael (1991). "Raqqa on the Euphrates. Recent Excavations at the Residence of Harun er-Rashid". In Kerner, Susanne. The Near East in Antiquity. German Contributions to the Archaeology of Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt II. Amman. pp. 17–32. 
  • Meinecke, Michael (1412/1991). "Early Abbasid Stucco Decoration in Bilad al-Sham". In Muhammad Adnan al-Bakhit – Robert Schick. Bilad al-Sham During the 'Abbasid Period (132 A.H./750A.D.–451 A.H./1059A.D.). Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference for the History of the Bilad al-Sham 7–11 Sha'ban 1410 A.H./4–8 March 1990, English and French Section. Amman. pp. 226–237.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Meinecke, Michael (1996). "Forced Labor in Early Islamic Architecture: The Case of ar-Raqqa/ar-Rafiqa on the Euphrates". Patterns and Stylistic Changes in Islamic Architecture. Local Traditions Versus Migrating Artists. New York, London. pp. 5–30. ISBN 0-8147-5492-9. 
  • Meinecke, Michael (1996). "Ar-Raqqa am Euphrat: Imperiale und religiöse Strukturen der islamischen Stadt". Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft (128): 157–172. 
  • Heidemann, Stefan (2002). "Die Renaissance der Städte in Nordsyrien und Nordmesopotamien. Städtische Entwicklung und wirtschaftliche Bedingungen in ar-Raqqa und Harran von der Zeit der beduinischen Vorherrschaft bis zu den Seldschuken". Islamic History and Civilization. Studies and Texts (Leiden: Brill) (40). 
  • Ababsa, Myriam (2002). "Les mausolées invisibles: Raqqa, ville de pèlerinage ou pôle étatique en Jazîra syrienne?". Annales de Géographie 622: 647–664. 
  • Stefan Heidemann - Andrea Becker (edd.) (2003). Raqqa II – Die islamische Stadt. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern. 
  • Daiber, Verena; Becker, Andrea, eds. (2004). Raqqa III - Baudenkmäler und Paläste I, Mainz. Philipp von Zabern. 
  • Heidemann, Stefan (2005). "The Citadel of al-Raqqa and Fortifications in the Middle Euphrates Area". In Hugh Kennedy. Muslim Military Architecture in Greater Syria. From the Coming of Islam to the Ottoman Period. History of Warfare 35. Leiden. pp. 122–150. 
  • Heidemann, Stefan (2006). "The History of the Industrial and Commercial Area of 'Abbasid al-Raqqa Called al-Raqqa al-Muhtariqa". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 69 (1): 32–52. doi:10.1017/s0041977x06000024. 

External links[edit]

Current news and events[edit]

  • eraqqa Website for news relating to ar-Raqqah

Historical and archeological[edit]

Coordinates: 35°57′N 39°01′E / 35.950°N 39.017°E / 35.950; 39.017