*Was fortunate enough to travel to Syria and see the country in 2008 (when the original article was written), three years before the actual war broke out. This is a reminder, a story about the country with immense cultural heritage, posted here with wholehearted wish for peace to be restored.
If you had a chance to travel to Middle East, you know that the memory will stick with you for life! Being turbulent for centuries, the area carries the wight of its heritage, endless wars, clashes of civilizations and religions on its shoulders, and you’ll end up speechless before its rich history, numerous artefacts and culture that date back to few thousand years BC.
So many things took off from here and spread around the world, but also so many of them got destroyed here, once and for all. History facts, ruins, beliefs, legends and stories, those are all the things you’ll find on this crossroad between the East and the West. So much so that you’ll be bound to feel the energy of the region in every step you take, no matter what country you are in and what situation is currently under way there!
This is not „just another“ Dubai that sprung up during the last few decades (with all do respect), nor „just another“ beach or place „you must visit“. This is the Middle East, more than anything that you can „just“ visit as a tourist.
Well, folks, welcome to Syria!
If you are coming from Turkey, as I was, it will immediately be clear that you have left Europe, and also that there are no more green, hilly areas rich in water and forests. This is where the desert starts, this is where you move further towards East, it is the crossroad, the mixture of various vivid and dynamic worlds, since olden times.
Here, I have seen Damascus, Hama, Maalula, Aleppo, and also probably one of the best preserved Roman heritage sites in the world, the desert’s magical pearl – the town of Palmyra.
The oldest inhabited city
Cited in Egyptian and Mesopotamian sources in the 2nd millennium BC, Damascus is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world that exists for 5,000 years! The hieroglyphic tablets found in Egypt say that the city of Dimashka was conquered in the 15th century BC.
Among other things, the area owes its appealing position to the river of Brada. The settlement grew on its banks.
The city was once mostly inhabited by Aramaic people (between 1,000 and 700 BC), but the regular city plan was given by the Greeks, driven away by the Nabateans in the first century BC. If you don’t know who Nabateans are, let me just remind you that those are the people who have built the famous Petra in neighboring Jordan! After Romans came to town, Damascus became Roman province with circle of walls, broken by numerous gates, of which some vestiges still remain.
Damascus was so important that it was targeted by the Israel’s king David, by the Assyrians, Nabuchodonosor from Babylonia, Persians, and Alexander the Great took over the city in 333 BC.
In ancient times, the town was a military base for combating Persians. Byzantine Empire came afterwards, Crusaders tried to penetrate the city, followed by the Mongols and than the Ottoman Empire.
The main street through the souk
In order to enter the Old town, you will be referred to the one of the oldest gates, where the straight wide street begins and takes you through the famous souk right to the Umayyad Mosque (read more about it in the next follow up!). The „main street“ Souk al Hamidiyah is covered and on both sides there are numerous shops.
At first it might be somewhat difficult to separate anything in all that colorful scenery, packed with gold jewelry and numerous dresses in all the colors you can imagine…
There are heavy perfume scents coming from stores – have in mind that Syrians prefer „the Bulgarian rose“ and „channel 5“. Luckily, the passage is wide enough that you do not have to stumble upon shop keepers or customers. Also, you can easily avoid any of those persistent merchants.
Truth be told, unlike the souk in Aleppo, merchants are not that determined here to go after you until you buy something.
When you turn from Souk al Hamidiyah there are numerous other sections cut by small narrow streets, dedicated to one type of goods. Thus, there are separate souk sections for male clothes, spices, jewelry, but you can find carved pieces of furniture, carpets in all colors, table cloths, shoes, camel skin wallets, and a lot more!
(Published in Serbian web portal BalkanMagazin in August 2008.)