After Benjamin’s time in Banias, he traveled two days to Damascus, which he described as “the great city.” As with many other cities he visited, Benjamin was concerned with Damascus’ geographic location, landmarks, and terrain. He noted that the city was surrounded by walls, with lots of greenery, about fifteen miles of it on each side. Benjamin mentioned that no other city has fruit as spectacular as Damascus. To continue with his observations about the terrain, Benjamin also talked about the rivers flowing from Mount Hermon, such as Amana and Pharpar. The city is located at the bottom of the mountain and the Amana River flows through the city while the Pharpar flows through the gardens and plantations. As with many other cities, Benjamin talked about its trade and access to other parts of the world. He did not speak extensively about it, he just mentions that they carry on trade with “all countries.”
As is characteristic of Benjamin of Tudela, he noticed architecture in the city. Specifically the architecture of the city’s mosque, the Gami of Damascus. He was never judgmental of other religious in his accounts, he usually just mentioned them matter of factly. He was so amazed by the Gami of Damascus that he said there was no other building like it in the world, with its “crystal glass of magic workmanship”, gold and class chambers, columns of gold, silver and marble, and a supposed rib of a giant. Benjamin’s descriptions usually seem very matter of fact, as if he has seen everything before, but it is apparent that he is impressed with this building given the amount of detail he supplied.
Then, as was customary for Benjamin in his travels, he mentioned the Jewish population, for that was the purpose of his travels. He learned that there were 3,000 Jews in Damascus and that most of them were “learned and rich men.” Also, the Academy of the land of Israel lived in Damascus and names other members of the Academy.
The last few sentences of Benjamin’s account of Damascus are interesting because they mention populations of other religions, which he did not normally do with other cities. Benjamin said that 100 Karaites lived in Damascus and 400 Cuthim. It was important to Benjamin that they all lived peacefully but did not intermarry.
What was interesting to me about Benjamin’s account of Damascus was his fascination with buildings and the inner-workings of a city. After reading many of Benjamin’s accounts of various cities, I know that Benjamin paid close attention to terrain and buildings and other structures. The purpose of his journey was to learn more about Jews on his way to Jerusalem, but he was able to see and learn about other things he was interested in as well.