Hama or Hamah (both: häˈmä) [key], city (1995 est. pop. 280,000), capital of Hama governorate, W central Syria, on the Orontes River. It is the market center for an irrigated farm region where cotton, wheat, barley, millet, and corn are grown. Manufactures include cotton and woolen textiles, silk, carpets, and dairy products. Famous old waterwheels, some as much as 90 ft (27 m) in diameter, bring water up from the Orontes for irrigation. Other points of interest in Hama include the remains of the Roman aqueduct (still in use) and the Great Mosque of Djami al-Nuri (until 638 a Christian basilica). Hama also is a road and rail center, and an airport is nearby.
The city has a long history, having been settled as far back as the Bronze Age and Iron Age. In the 2d millennium B.C., it was a center of the Hittites. As Hamath it is often mentioned in the Bible, where it is said to be the northern boundary of the Israelite tribes. The Assyrians under Shalmaneser III captured the city in the mid-9th cent. B.C. Later included in the Persian Empire, it was conquered by Alexander the Great and, after his death (323 B.C.), was claimed by the Seleucid kings, who renamed it Epiphania, after Antiochus IV (Antiochus Epiphanes).
The city later came under the control of Rome and of the Byzantine Empire. In A.D. 638 it was captured by the Arabs. Christian Crusaders held Hama briefly (1108), but in 1188 it was taken by Saladin, in whose family it remained until it passed to Egyptian Mamluk control in 1299. An early Mamluk governor of Hama was Abu al-Fida (reigned 1310–30), the historian and geographer. In the early 16th cent. the city came under the Ottoman Empire.
After World War I it was made part of the French Levant States League of Nations mandate, and in 1941 it became part of independent Syria. Political insurgency by Muslim groups beginning in the late 1970s culminated in an uprising in Hama against Hafez al-Assad in Feb., 1982. Government forces quelled the revolt but destroyed much of the city in the process; estimated deaths numbered more than 20,000. In 2011 the city again became the scene of ongoing antigovernment agitation, which was at times violently suppressed.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.