Gem in the Syrian wild

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

The book didn't say much about Bosra except that it is quite pleasant compared to neighbouring towns, hence worth a stay if you could get there, so I jumped out of the service taxi just inside the Syrian border and waited by the side of the road for some transport to come by.

It didn't take long - there's always some bus, cab or private car willing to earn a little extra money and get you where you want to go. This meant I made it by mid afternoon and so had the chance to meet the locals and do some twilight sightseeing in the town's surprisingly widespread ruins. Not sure why they aren't mentioned in my LP but there you go.

This foray was just what the doctor ordered because I was feeling a little down by then. I'd had some money stolen from my bag for the first time ever whilst travelling - not a fortune luckily and lost due to my growing complacency I suppose - but understandably annoying all the same. Must be more vigilant in the future. Also, whilst blog traffic is growing to great levels this month my rating has fallen. Inevitable really as nothing is perfect, so I definitely shouldn't worry about it, but the perfection-seeking artist in me is a sensitive little bugger.. Oh well, I guess I will live even if I have to work harder to umprove things ;-)

Anyway, so I got out into the Citadel ruins, which is actually the old Roman Theatre ringed by a massive basalt Umayyid fortress, complete with deep dry moat. Quite unusual I think and also very hard to get a picture of, as the result is a huge and pretty intact complex that you can't get far enough away from to get in frame! In the end it is just another pile of rocks though (maybe I'm getting a little jaded ;-), but the interest was in the details.

First of all there is a bunch of well preserved statues and mosaics around the entrance - many of a highly geometric design which I haven't encountered before. I like their style I must admit so hope to see more of their type in the future.

The second highlight was a bunch of students that mobbed me for quite a while and resulted in numerous pictures, many handshakes and at least two marriage proposals within ten minutes of arrival. Such a friendly group that Moaz the teacher tried to call them off (to no avail) and I had most of them trailing me around the rest of the site until sundown. It seems the Syrians are very happy to see you in their country and very friendly in general. Nice to be here guys!

With my new entourage I headed into the bowels of the complex which are impressive in their own right. Nicely refurbished these days, they are quite extensive and you could get lost for a while if you're not careful, but the minders eventually set me on the right path and I surfaced to pictures of both Assad senior and junior just before sunset.

A few years ago you could actually stay inside the Citadel overnight, which in hindsight would be a pretty spooky experience indeed. I was intending to do just that, but since you can't any more a young Syrian named Zachary invited me to stay in his restaurant for the night instead. I must admit it was a pretty good compromise as the building it's situated in is over 700 years old and crammed full of antique pottery, tools, metalware and wall decorations - making it one of the more unusual places I have stayed on this trip. What started as a bad day had turned out pretty well...

Reinvigorated after a peaceful night's sleep in the antique jumble, Zachary took me for a morning tour of the old city before I departed for Damascus. The extent of the ruins was astounding - easily the size of Jerash and most in pretty good condition, but it isn't marketed as one of the great sites of antiquity.

The Nabataeans actually settled here first, around the same time as they founded Petra (150BC). The Romans conquered Bosra in 106AD and made it a major city with all the modern conveniences the populace would demand. I won't picture or describe them in detail as they are very similar to those found in Jerash, with one major exception - water! Bosra has a huge cistern that was linked by subterranean aqueduct to a mountain water source over 30km away! The 150m square cistern still exists today (and was in use until 20 years ago apparently). A bit of Roman engineering obviously goes a long way...

Another interesting aspect of the site is its layers. The Umayyids built over the old Roman city (as the Romans did to the Nabataean one) and since then the locals have been quarrying and using older structures to support and extend their own. The result is a layer cake of excavations that are quite obvious to the naked eye, mosques with bell towers as minarets, Roman and Byzantine temples sitting next to residential housing, themselves with Ionic columns supporting some of the walls. Quite bizarre when you think about it.

Incidentally, Bosra claims to have the third oldest mosque in existence, converted from a Byzantine church in the early 7th century. Also, prophet Mohammed visited Bosra when he was twelve (about 583AD) and met a wise monk at the local monastery, who boldly declared on the spot that Mohammed would become a prophet later in life (he did so around age 40 I believe). So, an important place for Christians and Muslims as well as for the archaeologists who return here each September and October.

By the end of my short stay in Bosra I was feeling chirpier and looking forward to further Syrian adventures. There is a lot of history and some strange sites to see here so I trust that I'll keep the blog interesting and you happily reading well into the future.

Until next time, adieu.

Next entry -> the road to Damascus

Words from the Wise # 65

"Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and as sweet as love."
Turkish Proverb

(Easy to keep the blog up to date with the stuff around here).
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