Hummin' Hama

Trip Start Mar 07, 2006
Trip End Jun 07, 2006

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Flag of Syria  ,
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hama is a typically rural town set on the banks of the Orontes River. The locals were extremely hospitable, friendly and very laidback. It has a lovely little market area with fruit and veg, deli stuff and fresh meat and fish. We discovered fresh local white cherries here and ate kilos of them, delicious. The fruit sellers also had large trays of what looked to us like unripe mulberries but we later discovered, when we got to Turkey, that they are white mulberries and taste lovely, like a normal mulberry but sweeter. Also on display was the most wonderful array of offal and sheeps heads, fantastic to see the butcher's fridges filled with these woolless, hairless sheep heads but if you didn't fancy mutton you could always choose a goat head although these come complete with horns and hair. The meat here is killed fresh every day, partly for religious reasons and partly because of lack of large refrigerated areas, and is done by the local butchers not by a large conglomerate and then distributed as it is in the west.

So we spent a few days wandering around this relatively quiet place buying local food and soaking up the atmosphere. Taking walks along the river banks which are graced by these massive wooden water wheels, maybe 30m in diameter that have been part of the towns waterway for centuries. You can imagine it being quite peaceful sitting in the park watching the endless rotation of a giant wooden water wheel but let me tell you the sound is like a strangled constant groaning as the wet wooden parts of the wheels mechanics work to turn it and it is extremely loud. Especially if you're lucky enough to get a sneaky but slightly dangerous tour around the nooks and crannys of the wheels by the caretakers. Sliding past a wall of slippery wet rock on a ledge about a food wide while behind you the wheel is spinning and below you the water is gushing through a confined flow channel to increase it's force so it can turn the immense weight of the wheel, all the while being held onto by a little Arabic man saying "careful, careful" or at least that's what I'm guessing he was saying as he didn't speak any English.

It was a cool experience even though we couldn't ask them too many questions about the wheels in our limited Arabic English combination but it was a great place to be on a hot day anyway.

We managed one sightseeing venture from Hama and that was to the Crusader castle of Crac des Chevalier. Largely constructed in the 12th Century it was never breached when the armies of Islam invaded, the remaining Crusaders of which there were only about 200, simply gave up the castle after a month under seige even though they had supplies to last them many months. They were on the retreat by then, Jerusalem was lost and they were pretty much the last outpost.

The castle itself is in a remarkable state of preservation, you can still walk through it and along it's imposing ramparts and imagine it was still occupied. It is the ultimate in fortress building of the time, perched on top of a hill with the most amazing views of the surrounding countryside which at this time of the year is green and absolutely beautiful.
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