'Kahawai' or story teller in the An-Nafura coffee house, Damascus,
with traditional nargileh (water pipes) on the bubble. Next, more Damascus.
Probably the world's oldest city - architectural evidence suggests
people have been living here since at least 2500 BC - Damascus has
been in the middle of the action for millennia. Conquered among others
by Israel's King David, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, Tamerlane,
Assyrians, Nabataeans (who built Jordan's Petra), Greeks, Romans,
Turks, Crusaders, Mongols, Egyptians, Germans and most recently the
French, self-governing independence was finally achieved in 1946 after
4,000 years of warfare.
Today Damascus is a city with over six million inhabitants and plenty
of concrete to house them, though most of hideous blockhouses are
confined to the suburbs, leaving much of the 2 sq. kms of the Old
City as ancient, labyrinthine and fascinating as it may have been
a thousand years ago.
main tourist attractions are:
- The stunning Umayyad Mosque, a massive, colonnaded Islamic
masterpiece of architecture and decoration and second only to Jerusalem's
Dome of the Rock. Non-Muslims are welcome to visit.
- The beautifully decorated Azem Palace
and its displays of traditional 18th century scenes.
- The Souq al-Hamidiyya is one of the
classic Arab markets, full of tiny alleys, unusual treasures and no
shortage of haggling, but way less hassle and pressure to buy than
its equivalent in, for example, Morocco's Fez or Egypt's Cairo.
- Walking the streets and viewing the old city
walls and gates (especially the restored Bab al-Sharqui).
- Having a coffee and possibly a cool smoke
at one of the old coffee houses such as pictured above.
- Visiting a hammam (the best is magnificent
12thC Hammam Nureddin) for steam, massage and a thorough scrubbing.
- Going inside classic old Damascus houses (of
the rich!), with their internal courtyards, gardens, fountains
and incredibly ornate decoration. Tourists are permitted inside some
fine examples such as Beit (House) Aqqad, Beit al Sibai and Beit Nizam.
- The National Museum has some fine
- The view from the top of the city's 1200m
rock, Jebel Qassioun gives a good overview of the place though
it's hardly stupendous and would require private transport to get
Eateries in Damascus serve superb, low-cost
cuisine suited to both carnivores and vegetarians and some
restaurants are located in fountain-playing courtyards of gorgeous,
stylish old mansions with an incredibly romantic ambience and a small
bill to pay as you stagger away from the table like an over-stuffed
clubs and dance places are severely limited, with most evening action
of the tourist-folk-show type.
on the image above for more Damascus Pictures.
Images: Palmyra Pictures | Aleppo