|Nickname: (Madīnatu 'l-Yāsamīn) City of Jasmin|
|Governorates||Damascus Governorate, Capital City|
|- Governor||Bishr Al Sabban|
|- City||105 km² (40.5 sq mi)|
|- Urban||77 km² (29.7 sq mi)|
|Elevation||680 m (2,231 ft)|
|Population (2009 est.)|
|Time zone||EET (UTC+2)|
|- Summer (DST)||EEST (UTC+3)|
|Area code(s)||Country code: 963, City code: 11|
|Sources: Damascus city area|
|Website: Damascus Governorate|
Damascus (دمشق transliteration: Dimashq, also commonly known as al-Shām) is the capital and largest city of Syria. It is thought to be among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Its current population is estimated at about 4.5 million. The city is a governorate (administrative district) by itself, and the capital of the governorate of Rif Dimashq ("rural Damascus"). Damascus lies in the Ghutah oasis, and is fed with water from the Barada River.
Damascus was the capital of the Aramean Kingdom beginning in the eleventh century B.C.E. and was engaged in several wars against the Hebrew kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In 732 B.C.E., Tiglath Pileser II of Assyria claimed the city, a major conquest which later enabled the defeat of Israel and most of Judah. Later, Damascus was destroyed by Babylon. In 333 B.C.E., the Greeks took it from the Persians. It was the controlled by the Seleucids, and in 66 B.C.E. it was conquered for Rome by Pompey. In early Christian history, it was on the way to Damascus that Saint Paul experienced his dramatic conversion experience.
Damascus later became a base for the Byzantine Empire but fell to the Muslims under Khaled Ibn al Waleed in 636 C.E. Under Islam, it became the capital of the Umayyad Empire, spreading from the Atlantic coast to central Asia. This "golden age" ended with the Abbassids, who moved the capital to Baghdad. From then on, Damascus was ruled by various Muslim sovereigns, most importantly the Egyptian Fatimids. Saladin took it from the Fatimids and started the Ayyubid Dynasty, battling effectively against the Crusaders. Numerous monuments built by Nur al Din and Saladin are still the pride of Damascus.
In 1260, the Mamluks of Egypt pushed the Mongols back and took the city. In 1516, the Ottomans Turks conquered Damascus and held it until they were defeated in World War I. The Syrian National Congress was formed in 1919, with Emir Faisal named King of Syria in 1920, then one month later it was taken over by the French in the name of the League of Nations. After several uprisings, Syria achieved full independence in 1946.
Damascus is made up of a sizable old city, divided into the market area, Muslim area, Christian area, and a small Jewish area. The modern city is mainly gray with little green, and most of the modern buildings are influenced by Syria's weak economy. There is a university, many museums, and embassies.
The Ancient City of Damascus was selected as UNESCO World Heritage site, in 1979.
|Ancient City of Damascus*|
|UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Criteria||i, ii, iii, iv, vi|
|Inscription||1979 (3rd Session)|
|* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.
UNESCO selected the Ancient City of Damascus as a World Heritage Site in 1979. It is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. In the Middle Ages, it was the center of a flourishing craft industry, specializing in swords and lace. The city has some 125 monuments from different periods of its history—one of the most spectacular is the eighth-century Great Mosque of the Umayyads, built on the site of an Assyrian sanctuary.
The key criteria for its selection as a World Heritage site, were that Damascus:
Damascus lies about 50 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea, sheltered by the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. It lies on a plateau 423 feet above sea-level. The old city of Damascus, enclosed by the city walls, lies on the south bank of the Barada River. To the southeast, north, and northeast, Damascus is surrounded by suburban areas whose history stretches back to the Middle Ages: Midan in the southwest, Sarouja and Imara in the north and northwest. These districts originally arose on roads leading out of the city, near the tombs of religious figures.
In the nineteenth century, outlying villages developed on the slopes of Jabal Qasioun overlooking the city, on the site of the Salihiyye district centered around the important shrine of Sheikh Muhi al-Din ibn Arabi. These new districts were initially settled by Kurdish soldiers and Muslim refugees from the European regions of the Ottoman Empire that had fallen under Christian rule. Thus, they were known as al-Akrad ("the Kurds"); and al-Muhajirin ("the migrants"). They lay 1.25 to 1.9 miles north of the old city.
From the late-nineteenth century on, a modern administrative and commercial center began to spring up to the west of the old city, around the Barada, centered on the area known as al-merjeh ("the meadow"). Al-Merjeh soon became the name of what was initially the central square of modern Damascus, with the city hall located there. The courts of justice, post office and railway station stood on higher ground slightly to the south. A European-style, residential quarter soon followed on the road leading between al-Merjeh and Salihiyye. The commercial and administrative center of the new city gradually shifted northwards slightly towards this area.
In the twentieth century, newer suburbs developed north of the Barada, and to some extent to the south, invading the Ghouta oasis. From 1955, the new district of Yarmouk became a second home to thousands of Palestinian refugees. City planners preferred to preserve the Ghouta as much as possible. In the later twentieth century, some of the main areas of development were to the north, in the western Mezze district, and, most recently, along the Barada valley in Dumar in the northwest and on the slopes of the mountains at Berze in the northeast. Poorer areas, often built without official approval, have mostly developed south of the main city.
Damascus is surrounded by an oasis, the Ghouta (الغوطة al-ġūṭä), watered by the Barada. The Fijeh spring, west along the Barada valley, provides the city with drinking water. The Ghouta oasis has been decreasing in size with the rapid expansion of housing and industry in the city. It has also become polluted due to the city's traffic, industry, and sewage.
Excavations at Tell Ramad on the outskirts of the city have shown that Damascus was inhabited as early as 8000 to 10,000 B.C.E. Based on this finding, Damascus is considered to be among the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Damascus appears in the historical record with the arrival of the Aramaeans, Semitic nomads who came from the Arabian peninsula. The Aramaeans first established a water-distribution system for Damascus by constructing canals and tunnels which maximized the efficiency of the Barada River. The same network was later improved by the ancient Romans and the Umayyads, and still forms the basis of the water system of the old part of Damascus today.
The city is mentioned in Genesis 14 as existing at the time of the War of the Kings, during the time of Abraham, although the historicity of this account has been questioned. A non-biblical tradition holds that Abraham resided, or even "reigned" at Damascus before coming to Canaan. According to the first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus:
"Nicolaus of Damascus, in the fourth book of his History, says thus: "Abraham reigned at Damascus, being a foreigner, who came with an army out of the land above Babylon, called the land of the Chaldeans: but, after a long time, he got him up, and removed from that country also, with his people, and went into the land then called the land of Canaan... Now the name of Abraham is even still famous in the country of Damascus; and there is shown a village named from him, the Habitation of Abraham."
More historically, Damascus is designated as having been part of the ancient province of Amurru in the Hyksos Kingdom, from 1720 to 1570 B.C.E. According to the Amarna letters, Damascus was ruled by king Biryawaza around 1350 B.C.E. In 1100, the city became the center of a powerful Aramaean state called Aram Damascus.
At the time of King David, the Israelites fought against the Aramaeans, and Damascus was reportedly compelled to recognize David's authority. Under King Solomon, however, the fruits of this conquest were lost. Rezon, the son of Eliadah, declared himself ruler of Damascus and founded a kingdom which was destined to give the Israelites considerable trouble. Several kings of Damascus attacked the northern kingdom of Israel in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E., and a number of these battles are detailed in the Books of Kings. Later, Rezin of Damascus formed a coalition with Pekah of Israel, with whom he hoped to begin the conquest of the southern kingdom of Judah. King Ahaz of Judah, however, summoned the aid of the Assyrians; and the new policy finally led to the conquest of Damascus by an Assyrian army under Tiglath-Pileser III, who captured and destroyed the city in 732 B.C.E.
Damascus thus lost its independence for hundreds of years. It fell to the Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar starting in 572 B.C.E. The Babylonian rule of the city came to an end in 538 B.C.E. when the Persians under Cyrus captured the city and made it the capital of the Persian province of Syria.
Damascus first came under western control during the campaign of Alexander the Great that swept through the Near East. After the death of Alexander in 323 B.C.E., Damascus became the site of a struggle between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires. Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander's generals, made Antioch the capital of his empire, a decision that led to the decline of Damascus' importance compared with the newly founded Seleucid cities such as Latakia in the north.
In 64 B.C.E., Pompey and the Romans annexed the western part of Syria. They occupied Damascus and subsequently incorporated it into the league of ten cities known as the Decapolis. The city was home to a number of [[[diasporan Jews]] during this time, and also was the center of at least one very early Jewish-Christian cell. According to the New Testament, Saint Paul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Jewish followers of Jesus when he received a vision, was struck blind, and as a result converted to Christianity. Around the same time, in the year 37 C.E., the Roman Emperor Caligula transferred Damascus into Nabataean control by decree. The Nabataean king, Aretas IV Philopatris, ruled Damascus from his capital Petra. However, around the year 106, Nabataea was conquered by the Romans, and Damascus returned to Roman control.
With the coming of the Pax Romana, (27 B.C.E. to 180 C.E.) Damascus and the Roman province of Syria in general had begun to prosper. Damascus became a metropolis by the beginning of the second century, and in 222 it was upgraded to a colonia by the Emperor Septimius Severus. Damascus's importance as a caravan city was evident with the trade routes from southern Arabia, Palmyra, Petra, and the Silk Road routes from China all converging on it. The city satisfied the Roman demands for eastern luxuries.
Little remains of the architecture of the Romans, but the town planning of the old city did have a lasting effect. Roman architects brought together the Greek and Aramaean foundations of the city and fused them into a new layout measuring approximately 4,921 by 2,461 feet, surrounded by a city wall. The city wall contained seven gates, but only the eastern gate (Bab Sharqi) remains from the Roman period. Roman Damascus lies mostly at depths of up to 16.4 feet below the modern city.
Damascus was conquered by the Caliph Umar I in 636. Immediately thereafter, the city's power and prestige reached its peak when it became the capital of the Umayyad Empire, which extended from Spain to India from 661 to 750. In 744, the last Umayyad caliph, Marwan II, moved the capital to Harran in the Jazira, and Damascus was never to regain the political prominence it had held in that period.
After the fall of the Umayyads and the establishment of the Abbasid caliphate in 750, Damascus was ruled from Baghdad, although in 858 al-Mutawakkil briefly established his residence there with the intention of transferring his capital there from Samarra. However, he soon abandoned the idea. As the Abbasid caliphate declined, Damascus suffered from the prevailing instability, and came under the control of local dynasties. In 875, the ruler of Egypt, Ahmad ibn Tulun, took the city, with Abbasid control being re-established only in 905. In 945, the Hamdanids took Damascus, and not long after it passed into the hands of Muhammad bin Tughj, founder of the Ikhshidid dynasty. In 968, and again in 971, the city was briefly captured by the Qaramita.
In 970, the Fatimid Caliphs in Cairo gained control of Damascus. This was to usher in a turbulent period in the city's history, as the Berber troops who formed the backbone of the Fatimid forces became deeply unpopular among its citizens. The presence in Syria of radical Qaramitans and occasionally of Turkish military bands added to the constant pressure from the Bedouin.
For a brief period from 978, Damascus was self-governing, under the leadership of a ruler named Qassam and was protected by a citizen militia. However, the Ghouta oasis was ravaged by the Bedouin and after a Turkish-led campaign the city once again surrendered to Fatimid rule. From 1029 to 1041, the Turkish military leader Anushtakin was governor of Damascus under the Fatimid caliph Al-Zahir, and did much to restore the city's prosperity.
During this period the slow transformation of Damascus from a Graeco-Roman city layout to a more familiar Islamic pattern took place: its grid of broad, straight streets changed to a pattern of narrow ways, with most residents living inside harat closed off at night by heavy wooden gates to protect against criminals and the exactions of the soldiery.
With the arrival of the Seljuk Turks in the late eleventh century, Damascus again became the capital of independent states. It was ruled by a Seljuk dynasty from 1079 to 1104, and then by another Turkish dynasty—the Burid Emirs, who withstood a siege of the city during the Second Crusade in 1148. In 1154, Damascus was conquered by the famous Nur ad-Din of Aleppo, the great foe of the Crusaders. He made it his capital, and following his death, it was acquired by Saladin, the ruler of Egypt, who also made it his capital. Saladin rebuilt the citadel, and it is reported that under his rule the suburbs were as extensive as the city itself. It is reported by Ibn Jubayr that during the time of Saladin, Damascus welcomed seekers of knowledge and industrious youth from around the world, who arrived for the sake of "undistracted study and seclusion" in Damascus' many colleges.
In the years following Saladin's death, there were frequent conflicts between different Ayyubid sultans ruling in Damascus and Cairo. Damascus steel gained a legendary reputation among the Crusaders, and patterned steel is still called "damascened." The patterned Byzantine and Chinese silks available through Damascus, one of the Western termini of the Silk Road, gave the English language "damask."
Ayyubid rule (and independence) came to an end with the Mongol invasion of Syria in 1260, and Damascus became a provincial capital of the Mamluk Empire, ruled from Egypt, following the Mongol withdrawal.
In 1400 Timur, the Mongol conqueror, besieged Damascus. The Mamluk sultan appointed a representative then sent from Cairo, including Ibn Khaldun, who negotiated with him, but after their withdrawal, Timur put the city to sack. The Umayyad Mosque was burnt and men and women taken into slavery. A huge number of the city's artisans were taken to Timur's capital at Samarkand. These were the luckier citizens: many were slaughtered and their heads piled up in a field outside the northeast corner of the walls, where a city square still bears the name burj al-ruus ("the tower of heads.")
Later rebuilt, Damascus continued to serve as a Mamluk provincial capital until 1516.
In early 1516, the Ottoman Turks, wary of the danger of an alliance between the Mamluks and the Persian Safavids, started a campaign of conquest against the Mamluk sultanate. On September 21, the Mamluk governor of Damascus fled the city, and on October 2, the khutba (sermon delivered before Friday prayers) in the Umayyad mosque was pronounced in the name of Selim I. The day after, the victorious sultan entered the city, staying for three months. On December 15, he left Damascus by the Jabiya gate, intent on the conquest of Egypt. Little appeared to have changed in the city: one army had simply replaced another. However, on his return in October 1517, the sultan ordered the construction of a mosque, taqiyya and mausoleum at the shrine of Sheikh Muhi al-Din ibn Arabi in Salihiyya. This was to be the first of Damascus' great Ottoman monuments.
The Ottomans remained for the next 400 years, except for a brief occupation by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt from 1832 to 1840. Because of its importance as the point of departure for one of the two great Hajj caravans to Mecca, Damascus was treated with more attention by the Porte or court, than its size might have warranted—for most of this period, Aleppo was more populous and commercially more important. In 1560, the Taqiyya al-Sulaimaniyya, a mosque and khan (roadside inn) for pilgrims on the road to Mecca, was completed based on a design by the famous Ottoman architect Sinan, and soon afterwards a madrasa (school) was built adjoining it.
Perhaps the most notorious incident of these centuries was the massacre of Christians in 1860, when fighting between Druze and Maronites in Mount Lebanon spilled over into the city. Some thousands of Christians were killed, with many more being saved through the intervention of the Algerian exile Abd al-Qadir and his soldiers, who brought them to safety in his residence and the citadel. The Christian quarter of the old city, including a number of churches, was burnt down. The Christian inhabitants of the notoriously poor and refractory Midan district outside the walls were, however, protected by their Muslim neighbors.
In the early years of the twentieth century, nationalist sentiment in Damascus, initially cultural in focus, began to take a political perspective, largely in reaction to the turkicisation program of the Committee of Union and Progress government established in Istanbul in 1908. The hanging of a number of patriotic intellectuals by Jamal Pasha, governor of Damascus, in Beirut and Damascus, in 1915 and 1916, further stoked nationalist feelings, and in 1918, as the forces of the Arab Revolt and the British army approached, residents fired on the retreating Turkish troops.
On October 1, 1918, the forces of the Arab revolt led by Nuri as-Said entered Damascus. The same day, Australian soldiers from the fourth and tenth Light Horse Regiments, reinforced with detachments from the British Yeomanry Mounted Division, entered the city and accepted its surrender from the Turkish appointed Governor Emir Said (installed as Governor the previous afternoon by the retreating Turkish Commander). The military government under Shukri Pasha was named.
Other British forces, including T. E. Lawrence, followed later that day, and Faisal ibn Hussein of Iraq was proclaimed king of Syria. Political tension rose in November 1917, when the new Bolshevik government in Russia revealed the Sykes-Picot Agreement, whereby Britain and France had arranged to partition the Arab east between them. A new Franco-British proclamation on November 17 promised the "complete and definitive freeing of the peoples so long oppressed by the Turks." In March, the Syrian Congress adopted a democratic constitution. However, the Versailles Conference had granted France a mandate over Syria. In 1920, a French army crossed the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, defeated a small Syrian defensive expedition at the Battle of Maysalun, and entered Damascus. The French made Damascus the capital of their League of Nations Mandate of Syria.
When in 1925 the Druze revolt in the Hauran spread to Damascus, the French repressed it brutally, bombing and shelling the city. The area of the old city between Souk al-Hamidiyya (souk means "bazaar") and Souk Midhat Pasha was burned to the ground, with many deaths, and has since then been known as al-Hariqa ("the fire"). The old city was surrounded with barbed wire to prevent rebels from infiltrating from the Ghouta area, and a new road was built outside the northern ramparts to facilitate the movement of armored cars.
During World War II, on June 21, 1941, Damascus was captured from the Vichy French forces by the Allies during the Syria-Lebanon campaign.
In 1945, the French once more bombed Damascus, but on this occasion British forces intervened and the French agreed to withdraw, thus leading to the full independence of Syria in 1946. Damascus remained the capital. As the capital of Syria, the history of Damascus in the modern era mirrors that of the nation.
The early years of independence were marked by political instability. In 1948, the Syrian army was sent to Palestine to fight along with other Arab armies against the newly created state of Israel. The Arabs lost the war, and Israel occupied 78 percent of the area of historical Palestine. In July 1949, Syria was the last Arab country to sign an armistice agreement with Israel.
In 1949, Syria's national government was overthrown by a military coup d'etat led by Hussni al-Zaim. Later that year, Zaim was overthrown by his colleague Sami al-Hinnawi. A few months later, Hinnawi was overthrown by Colonel Adib al-Sheeshakli. The latter continued to rule the country until 1954, when growing public opposition forced him to resign and leave the country.
On March 8, 1963, the Baath Arab Socialist Party came to power in a coup known in Syria as the March Revolution. The Baathists dissolved the Parliament and introduced a one-party regime. Hafez al-Assad was elected president in 1971. In 2000, his son, Bashar al-Assad was elected president on July 10th. Baathist monuments and posters are visible throughout the city to this day.
Damascus has a wealth of historical sites dating back to many different periods of the city's history. Since the city has been built up with every passing occupation, it has become almost impossible to excavate all the ruins of Damascus that lie up to eight feet below the modern level. The Citadel of Damascus is located in the northwest corner of the Old City.
The street called straight (referred to in the conversion of Saint Paul in Acts 9:11), also known as the Via Recta, was the decumanus (East-West main street) of Roman Damascus, and extended for over 4,921 feet. Today, it consists of the street of Bab Sharqi and the Souk Medhat Pasha, a covered market. The Bab Sharqi street is filled with small shops and leads to the old Christian quarter of Bab Touma (St. Thomas's Gate). Souq Medhat Pasha is also a main market in Damascus and was named after Medhat Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Damascus who renovated the Souq. At the end of the Bab Sharqi street, one reaches the House of Ananias, an underground chapel that was the cellar of Ananias' house.
The Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Grand Mosque of Damascus, is one of the largest mosques in the world, and one of the oldest sites of continuous prayer since the rise of Islam. A shrine in the mosque is said to contain the head of John the Baptist.
A heavily visited site is the tomb of Zaynab bint Ali, daughter of the 4th Caliph, the first Shi'a imam, Ali, and granddaughter of Muhammad. Hundreds of thousands of Shi'a Muslims visit it every year.
The population of Damascus is 4.5 million. The population growth is 2.58 percent a year. The age structure is: 0-14 years: 37.4 percent; 15-65 years: 59.3 percent; and 65 years and over: 3.3 percent.
Damascus is populated chiefly by Arabs, who constitute about 90 percent of the population. The largest non-Arab minority in Damascus, are the Armenians. The overwhelming majority of the population is Sunni Muslim. Other Muslims include Ismailis, Shiites, and Alawites. Of the non-Muslims in Damascus, most are Christians, primarily Greek, Eastern, and Armenian Orthodox. Religious minorities include a community of Druze. Due to Syria's adamantly anti-Israeli policies, Jews have steadily moved out of Damascus, until only a handful reportedly remain today.
The government of Damascus is run in a top-down fashion, as is all of Syria. The president of Syria appoints a governor, who oversees the municipality of Damascus, a muhafazah (governorate), one of 14 in the nation. The governor administers the city with the help of a council composed of elected and appointed officials. The position of governor of Damascus is considered significant, since political activity throughout the nation occurs on a national, not municipal, level, with Syria, itself, being run by an authoritarian regime.
Damascus has long been an important commercial center. In former times, it was famous for dried fruit, wine, wool, linens, and silks. Damask, a type of patterned fabric, was named for the silk fabrics woven in Damascus. The city was notable also for the manufacture and transshipment of damascened steel sword blades, which were exceptionally hard and resilient. Today, the city is the trading center for figs, almonds, and other fruit produced in the surrounding region. Industries in Damascus include handicrafts, such as the weaving of silk cloth and the making of leather goods, filigreed gold and silver objects, and inlaid wooden, copper, and brass articles. Among the city's other manufactures are processed food, clothing, and printed material.
Damascus is the main center of education in Syria. It is home to Damascus University, which is the oldest and by far the largest university in Syria. After the enactment of legislation allowing private secondary institutions, several new universities were established in the city and in the surrounding area. Additional, higher-learning institutions include: Syrian Virtual University, Syrian European University, Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology HIAST, International University for Science and Technology, and Higher Institute of Business Administration HIBA.
Streets in Damascus are often narrow, mostly in the older parts of the city, and speed bumps are widely used to limit the speed.
Public transport in Damascus depends extensively on minibuses. There are about 100 lines that operate inside the city, and some of them extend from the city center to nearby suburbs. There is no schedule for the lines, and due to the limited number of official bus stops, buses will usually stop wherever a passenger needs to get on or off. The number of buses serving the same line is relatively high, which minimizes the waiting time. Lines are not numbered, rather they are given captions, mostly indicating the two end points and possibly an important station along the line.
Al-Hijaz railway station, lies in the city center. Currently this station is closed, and railway connections with other cities take place in the suburbs.
Since the early 1990s, there have been many plans to construct an underground system in Damascus, but no plan was taken seriously due to both financial and technical limitations.
The majority of the population in Damascus came as a result of rural-urban migration. It is believed that the local people of Damascus, called Damascene, are about 1.5 million. Damascus is considered by most people to be a very safe city. Haggling is common, especially in the traditional souks. Corruption is widespread, but in the past few years there have been efforts to combat it, by both the government and non-governmental organizations. Tea is arguably the favorite beverage in Damascus.
The majority of Damascenes—about 75 percent—are Sunni Muslims. It is believed that there are more than 1,000 mosques in Damascus, the most famous one being the Umayyad Mosque. There are some Christian districts, such as Bab Touma, Kassaa, and Ghassani, with many churches, most notably the ancient Saint Paul's Church.
Museums in Damascus, include: the Syrian National Museum, Azem Palace, the Military Museum, and the Museum of Arabic Calligraphy.
Of the parks and gardens of Damascus, Tishreen Park is by far the largest. It is home to the annual Damascus Flower Show. Other parks include Aljahiz, Altijara, and Alwahda. The Damascus oasis is also a popular destination for recreation.
Cafes are popular meeting spots for Damascenes, where Arghilehs (water pipes) and popular beverages are served. Card games and Tables are popular in the cafes, including (backgammon variants) and chess.
All links retrieved July 25, 2013.
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