Throughout the history of Arab literature and poetry, great cities have been an inescapable part of both the identity and evolution of Arab writing, guiding it from century to century.
Serving as their biggest muses, the historic, beautiful and resilient capitals of the Arab World have inspired generations of incredible Arab writers, an inspiration drawn from pride and fascination.
These are the 5 Middle Eastern cities that inspired the greatest Arab poets and novelists.
The first city to become a source of major inspiration in Arab literature and poetry, Baghdad is also arguably the Arab city most immortalized in written works, so much so that its entire history was recorded in poetry.
Not only was it a strong presence in the most famous Arab literary work of all time, "One Thousand and One Nights," its mighty glories and tragic demises have influenced Arab writers since it was founded until our modern day.
Baghdad inspired the leading classical Persian poets Abu Nawas and Abu Tamam, and leading Egyptian modernist poets Ahmad Shawqi and Hafiz Ibrahim. Baghdad continued to show up in the writings of Syrian poets Adonis, who used it in his political commentary, and Nizar Qabbani, who had a special fondness for the city as he met his second wife, and the love of his life, there.
The Egyptian capital has also been incredibly prominent in Arab literature and poetry through all of its different eras. Its rise as the cultural and intellectual powerhouse of the Arab World inspired most prominent medieval Arab writers, but it was in the modern era that Cairo's influence on literature shined.
Shawqi and Ibrahim paid homage to the big city in elaborately beautiful descriptions time and time again, so did the father of modern Arabic literature Taha Hussein. But no Arab writer was more inspired by Cairo than native Cariene Naguib Mahfouz.
His Nobel prize-winning trilogy "The Cairo Trilogy," as well as the majority of his works, which were also set in Cairo, captured the essence of the city and its society like no other. Similarly, Alaa Al-Aswany's world-renowned novel "The Yacoubian Building" was inspired by the tales of modern Cairo.
The Syrian capital had a very prominent influence on the formation of modern Arabic poetry because of how much it inspired Qabbani, who pioneered the modernist movement.
Qabbani, who was often referred to as "Qabbani of Damascus," wrote incessantly about the hometown he idolized and even when he didn't out-rightly refer to it, its presence was still felt in his poems. The city's aesthetic beauty and modern urbanism and his unspoiled love for it helped shape his revolutionary romantic style. Damascus also inspired another one of the greatest Syrian poets, Adonis.
Like Damascus, Beirut had a great deal of influence on both the work of Qabbani and Adonis, who both lived there for significant portions of their lives. Adonis was particularly influenced by Beirut, as he often wrote reflections on the city after he moved to Paris. The city also inspired the great Lebanese poets of the New York Pen League Khalil Gibran, Elia Abu Madi, Mikhail Naimy and Ameen Rihani.
Moreover, Beirut was the major literary hub of the Arab World in the 20th century, it was where the leading Arab literary journals and publishing houses existed, launching various pioneering literary efforts and collaborations. Beirut's civil war turmoil then inspired award-winning Lebanese novelists Elias Khoury and Huda Barakat.
Jerusalem's influence united all of the greatest Arab writers with a shared sense of belonging, which in Arabic literature and poetry embodied the heart of Palestine and Palestine's Arab identity.
Its influence was very prominent on Palestinian novelist and poet Mahmoud Darwish, who was considered Palestine's national poet. Darwish had poems dedicated to Jerusalem, in which he talked about its holiness, purity and state of oppression during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Qabbani also dedicated a famous poem to the city titled "Jerusalem," in which he portrayed his sadness over its modern condition.