Basilica

 

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Basilica

BASILICA. In the northeastern quarter of the city, north of the Cathedral, and east of the Djami" il-TJmari, is an imposing and well preserved building of oblong plan with an apse towards the east, and large rectangular windows high up in its side walls (Ills. 234, 235). It is now called Der Bohera, or the convent of Bohera (originally Bahlra), the monk, who, according to tradition, schooled the Prophet in Biblical lore and predicted his greatness. The building was undoubtedly used, in Early Christian times, as a church; but, from the character of its construction, from the nature of its ornament, and from the fact that its orientation is more than five degrees north of that of the Cathedral, it seems that the Basilica, with the buildings attached to it on the north, is earlier than the Cathedral, and may belong to later Pagan times. The plan (Ain 111. 236), which is not that of an ordinary Christian basilica, but rather that of a great hall, consists of an undivided nave and a very broad apse without side chambers. The west end was originally an open arch, almost as wide as the nave, but now completely walled up but for two narrow doorways (111. 237). At the west ends of the side walls are half columns with Ionic capitals which, in scale and style, correspond exactly to the capitals of the columns of the ordinary street colonnades; but these are not   the   ordinary   capitals  of half columns in the street colonnades; for they are compounded  with pilaster caps, one on the north side of the building and one on the south .

Viewed from the front or side, the pilaster caps show only a bowlster, and the bowlster of the capital of each half column is set at right angles to the bowlster of the pilaster caps on either side of it, so that the volutes of both meet at right angeles. This arrangement indicates that the half columns stood at the ends of rows of columns extending toward the west, and I have shown two rows of conjectured columns in the plan, 14.80m. apart on centres, extending westward from the Basilica; it also suggests that the pilasters were responds to orders of Ionic columns extending north and south. My first conjecture was that these had been continuous colonnades running to the right and left of the facade; until I observed that the walls projecting from the east end of the Basilica also terminate in pilasters, the caps of which are missing and that there were rows of timber sockets in both side walls of the building ■ this brought the conclusion that the caps opposite the pilasters at the west end were corner caps and that the colonnades extended along the flanks of the Basilica. This conjecture has been recorded in my plan (111. 236). The superstructure of the Basilica is well shown in the photographs presented above. The masonry of the walls is of the best type that appears in the architecture of Southern Syria, a highly finished type in which alternate headers and stretchers are commonly employed.

The walls are 1.30 m. thick, equally well finished on both sides, and the excellence of the construction is attested by its present state of preservation. Lintel construction is predominant, all the windows and doorways being square topped (111. 238), the arch appearing only in the apsis and in the broad opening in the west wall. It is perhaps significant that the arch of the apsis is not a semicircle, but takes an elliptical form. Above it are four rectangular windows, three in one story and one in the gable above. The half dome of the apsis is of concrete like the vaults of the baths. The building is remarkable for its simplicity and its lack of decoration. Its ornament is confined almost exclusively to the interior where a few mouldings of delicate profile embellish the apsis. One of these is carried around the apsis at the spring level of the half dome, it breaks out to provide caps for the pilasters, and ends against the side walls; the other adorns the archivolt of the apsis. The keystone of the apse arch projects well forward of the mouldings, and appears to

have borne a human bust which has been intentionally cut away; but the soffit of the same keystone still preserves a well carved design of grape-vine twisted into a knot with intertwining leaves and fruit. It is not unlikely that the bust which was defaced was that of the god Dushara springing out of the vine. This remnant of sculpture and the profiles of the mouldings all but give a pre-Christian date to this building.
On the outside, in the west facade, the great arch, entirely devoid of mouldings, is seen to spring from caps of right-lined profile. Between these caps and the half columns on either hand are what appear to be the lower angles of a pediment (111. 237). These rise from the level of the tops of the pilaster caps, and have plain right-lined mouldings. It is difficult to restore these pediments in any hypothetical design for the original facade. It is not impossible, judging from the character of the stonework, that the great arch here is the result of later reconstruction. The entire wall which now fills up the space under the arch, with the two doorways, and the three windows within the semi-circle, now walled up, is certainly of late, probably Christian, construction, for it contains fragments of early mouldings and inscriptions that are certainly not in situ.

This building is well presented with photographs and measured drawings, by Professor Brunnow in his Provincia Arabia .
North of the Basilica are the half buried remains of another apsidal building of the same style and technique (B in 111. 236), of which only the upper courses of the curved apsis and the slender pilasters which carried the arch are now visible. This ruin, misplaced by Burckhardt between the Cathedral and the Basilica, is described by him as a vaulted structure; while the same writer and Murray4, in his handbook, mention four niches in the curved wall of the apsis. The "semicircular vault" of Burckhardt doubtless means that the half dome was standing a century ago, and the four "shell-topped niches" of Murray were buried in the fall of that vault. Semicircular niches with conches above them are associated, in Syria at least, with architecture of the Roman period, as at Ba'albek, Djerash, and many places here in the Hauran; though the shell is found in a few cases, and in other countries, as late as the seventh century, as for instance in a fragment of Coptic art now in the Cairo Museum . It would be difficult to speak with certainty regarding the niches in   this apsis in Bosrawithout having seen them, but the quality of the  mouldings and the stonework  of

the apsis certainly do not appear to be Christian when compared with similar features in the Cathedral nearby. Directly west of this northern apsis, and separated from it by a mound of earth and debris, are the ruins of a well built structure that must have been connected with it (C. in 111. 236). These ruins consist of a small apsis facing south, perfectly preserved, walled up and used for storing straw, two pilasters projecting from the sides of the apsis, a wall projecting westward from it containing an arch carried on moulded pilasters and turning to the south to end in another pilaster which also carried an arch. Opposite the pilasters of the apsis, at a distance of 7.55 m., are two corresponding pilasters connected by a wall of later construction behind which, i.e. to the south, are traces of a second apsis which faced the other. Westward of this again are foundations of walls similar to those which project to the west of the preserved apsis. The plan, as shown in (C), 111. 236, was thus composed of a rectangular entrance hall with a broad outer arch to the west and a similar arch giving- on to the building to the east, and having narrower open arches to the north and south, forming a sort of exo-narthex to the narthex proper which name may be given to the apartment with apses at both ends, which also opens to the eastward by a broad arch. It will be observed that this building is set on axis with the greater apsis (B), and that walls now ruinous project from it toward the pilasters which flank the arch of the greater apsis. It is probable that the walls projecting eastward from the narthex at (C) were only responds to two ranges of columns which connected them with the pilasters of apsis (B).  The space between is now a heap of ruins in which Burckhardt saw broken columns. There are still to be traced in the southern part of the heap the foundations of a wall the position of which is only approximately given in my plan. Apsis (B) was noted by Professor Brunnow who gives two small drawings of its details.

About 100 metres to the northwest of the ruin last described, and 75 metres south of the north gate of the city, there are remains of another building with apses toward the north and south, which appears also to have been in the nature of a narthex with semi-circular ends (111. 239). A little less than half of the edifice is standing to a height of 2 metres, the remainder is to be traced in foundations. Here the west wall is provided with three entrances, a broad doorway between two narrower ones, and separated by pilaster buttresses. The space within was spanned by four transverse arches springing from salient piers between which were the openings leading into a greater building of which these remains formed the narthex. Whatever may remain of the greater building is entirely concealed by heaps of ruins and comparatively modern structures.

It seems quite plain that these large apsidal halls, and smaller apsidal narthexes, were not of Christian origin, even though an apse toward the east always suggests a church, and narthexes with semicircular ends are known to have existed in some of the churches of Constantinople and Ravenna. The stonework in all of these structures in Bosra is quite similar in quality to that of other buildings in the Hauran which are known to be of Roman date of the second or third centuries, and the details present characteristics that are unknown in buildings here which are known to be Christian. It would be well worth the effort of some archaeologist to excavate the group lying north of the Basilica, where there are no modern houses, and the area west of the same building, for the probabilities are that he would find the complete plan, and much of the superstructure and details, of a complex of civic buildings of Roman Bostra. The appearance of Christian symbols is rare, and only in the form of graffiti that might have been cut upon the stonework at any time after the erection of the buildings.

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