Into full tourist mode

Trip Start Nov 22, 2010
Trip End Jan 11, 2011

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Flag of Syria  ,
Sunday, December 12, 2010

Our bus arrives into Aleppo around three. There we meet the rest of our group who came in from Turkey earlier that day. Having not stopped for lunch, we're all a bit famished and decide to go for an early dinner at Al Kommeh Restaurant, world record holder for longest kabob ever made. It's delicious--a whole series of appetizers shared by the group followed by our personal entrees, all for around $10. Afterwards we stop at the historic Baron hotel, the oldest in Aleppo, and home to a check signed by T.E. Lawrence (but never paid!) We then head to a shisha bar near the Armenian quarter, where I smoke for the first time in my life! Smoking shisha (or hooka or nargileh) is a very popular activity in the middle East, and I must say that it was a very smooth feeling smoke, even though smoking is totally not my thing.

The next morning I awake early to purchase a hat and gloves so I don't freeze in the atypically cold Syrian weather. We start our city tour by walking toward the mosque and citadel. Our guide Bashar points out the clocktower, which is still used today for hanging criminals. Normally, he says, the bodies are removed before dawn, but several years ago a band of vicious criminals was committing brazen robberies and murders in broad daylight, terrifying the citizens. When they were finally caught and hanged, the government left the bodies hanging past dawn, as a warning to others and to reassure the citizens.

The Aleppo Citadel is incredible. It sits on a hill in the middle of the city and provides an incredible view in all directions. The spot has been used since the third century B.C., but the current structure dates to the 1400's. It has been occupied by the Greeks, Romans, Ummayads, Abbasids, Ayyubids, Mongols, Ottomans, and French. The son of Saladin made major renovations to make it even more secure, such as steepening and smoothing the hill. Several notable European crusaders were imprisoned in its dungeons. 

The Ummayad Mosque in Aleppo is equally historic, but sadly only the minaret (from 1090) remains from prior to the 13th century. The mosque is said to hold the head of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist.

We have a few hours to ourselves in the afternoon, which I use to grab a great lamb kabob off the street for under a dollar and then wander the souks for an hour browsing.

Seven of us decide to take the optional trip to the church of Saint Simeon at three. Simeon was a 5th century hermit monk who lived for 37 years atop a 15 meter high pillar, drawing crowds of devotees and people seeking his guidance. After his death, his followers built the church around his pillar, which today is only 2 meters high due to relic gathering by pilgrims. The church is in the shape of a cross, as can still be seen today from above. However, the east doorway is slightly offset, either so as to be "true east" or to represent Jesus' head slumping to one side on the cross.
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