The road to Damascus

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

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Monday, March 20, 2006

On the road to Damascus eh? Someone famous said or did that a while ago (probably ol' Lawrence again) and I'm happy to follow in their footsteps in 2006. Because Damascus and Syria in general is turning into one pleasant and interesting surprise as I wend my way northwards. Hopefully it continues this way.

Damascus is said to be the world's longest continuously inhabited city, settled and more or less civilised for the last 7,000 years. It's situated in a basin and flanked by hills on its northern side; to the south you find rich and fertile land that runs into the Jordanian plains I have described in previous entries. It was through this I travelled one sunny afternoon, invigorated by the quick visit to Bosra, before being dropped in the capital by one very modern bus. Things were looking up indeed.

After meeting another Sydney-side Aussie, Michael, at the bus station and sharing a taxi with him to the hotel district, we set out to get the lay of the land. Everything here is so damn modern - seemingly in spite of media reports in most western countries which label the place a den of fundamentalist terrorism and one sharp point in the 'axis of evil'. It all looked pretty normal to me anyway and with the magnitude of yellow cabs around it reminded me most of Manhattan, NYC!

The citadel and adjacent markets were the first stop. You can't actually get into the citadel but it still looks pretty imposing from the outside. Everywhere you look commerce is taking place and the people are going about their business despite the political pressures that are being imposed upon their nation. You can almost feel the defiance within them, outwardly manifested in the great statue of gallant Saladin that stands in front of the Citadel walls.

From there it was a hop, skip and a jump into the Old City - past white washed walls along one of many and free flowing waterways that cross town. This part looks a few thousand years old and has all the character that was missing from Jordan. Creaky wooden doors, parts of houses leaning over narow laneways and the odd one or two precariously atilt just that little too far. But then again they were probably built that way and the inhabitants have probably lived at an angle for generations...

The first (and surprisingly one of the only) major attractions in the area we came across was the Umayyid Mosque with attached Shrine of Saladin. It wasn't open when we arrived so we went to where the action was, the Souqs (markets) that lead of from it in most directions.

It was pretty difficult to get a good picture of the narrow laneways that make up most of the trading quarters so all I can provide are colourful images of some of the goods on sale. There are a couple of dozen specialised districts in the Souq part of old town, each peddling specific wares as diverse as clothing and Korans, housewares, pets, sweets and spice. Food was a big attraction by this time and I was grateful to accept pocketful of cheese and herb bread triangles for the royal sum of 40 cents. Brilliant!

A Hajj (pilgrimage) or two chanted by signalling the probable opening of the Mosque but by that time we'd found Azem Palace, the other main attraction in the neighbourhood. Built in 1750 by the most powerful family the city has known in recent history it is a pretty amazing and unique example of grand Syriac architecture and a very pleasant place to while an hour or two away.

(This is going to be long so might cut it here and continue next entry ->)
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