South of the citadel is the largest souk in Damascus, Al-Hamadiyya. It is a large covered market in the heart of the Old City. It reminds me somewhat of Paris, of some stores, a little of an old medieval market. A set of cobbled streets with all kinds of shops and stores (from veil shops to pubs, jewellery or bridal shops). The whole iron dome is speckled with tiny holes, like dots of light, which look like small stars. These holes are bullet holes caused by the francea aviation machine guns during Syrian nationalist rebellion in 1925! A fun place to walk through, although to buy crafts the historic shops are better. It is usually crowded, so it is advisable to take it easy and enjoy the unhurried atmosphere and with a smile ready for all the stepping on your feet. This souk, along with the Umayyad Mosque, is the main point of reference for orientation in this wonderful city with no street names.
Palmyra is located near the present city of Tadmur in the heart of Syria, in the desert.It has one of the largest collections of Roman architecture in the world, reflecting the importance that the city once had during the passage of caravans that connected the East with the Roman Empire. The city is well known for a long colonnade, the Temple of Bel and a restored amphitheater.
The ruins of the Basilica of San Simeon are about forty kilometres from Aleppo. To get from there, the easiest and fastest way is to hire a taxi to take you and wait for you to return. It can be done in an hour. Legend has it that in this basilica lived the famous San Simeon, known as the Stylite, ve lived most of his life at the top of a sixty foot column to pray to God and to get away from believers ve came to see him. In the basilica, there is only a small portion of the said holy column. The landscape along the way and from the top of the hill make the visit worth it.
Damascus is a beautiful city but unfortunately, like the rest of Syria is very restricted with its communication by various economic blockades and censorship. This means that not only won't we find ATMs in Syria and Aleppo, for example, it also means that throughout the historic center of Damascus you can only find one cybercafe in good condition. The Café not only has Spotnet headphones and microphones to talk on Skype, it also has several "tracks" open for consultation of most Google services (such as Wordpress). But due to government censorship it's impossible to access Facebook and Youtube. It comes out to about a euro for each hour (standard price across Syria) and although it isn't the fastest connection I can assure you that it's the best you'll be able to find in this country.
The Euphrates rivers is one of the most traditional rivers and it is a historic land mark. It is said that on it's banks is where the first civilizations were founded and since the Jews it became a sacred place, source of life, of culture and civilization. Today it runs through Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Lately it is the source of contention, since the Turks are building numerous dams that contains the water in its territory causing desertification and the impoverishment of Syria and Iraq. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of this, the civilization is concentrated around this magical river, this river is a source of life, history and wisdom.
Aleppo is a beautiful city. You can experience being in different neighborhoods with different cultures with just 2 hours walking. Of the whole trip through Syria in 2010, one of the things that impressed me most was the Citadel of Aleppo. Just being in front of the walls is spectacular. You can eat right there, in some economically priced restaurants. When you enter it's best to get lost in the alleyways. You find baths, water deposits, dungeons and even a newly restored ceremonial hall. It really is spectacular. The Inner Castle, with its well-preserved areas is really worth it. At least, spend three hours here. And of course, take plenty of water. We went in August. So much heat in the citadel of Aleppo. Living Syria happens in a few hours in the Castle - the citadel of Aleppo. There is a cafe at the top where you can have coffee with good views of the city. But if you can, enjoy the citadel of night, the play of lights is spectacular. And don't miss the inside of the castle, the rooms and the lower parts of the castle are great!
The best part of Ma'loula is undoubtedly the landscape surrounding this village. Located on a steep cliff, Ma'loula offers wonderful views of the village that can be seen from the Monastery of Santa Tecla. The houses rise out of the rocks, as if by magic, and there you'll find old men relaxing in the afternoon and children playing. The ocher earth seems to speak Aramaic, the language of this people, the language of Jesus, and one of the oldest in the world. You can't not visit it, especially at sunset.
Just to the south of the ruined monastery stands the Bosra Cathedral. The Cathedral was constructed around 512, is now in a painful condition but at night, dimly lit, is my beautiful. He was one of the first buildings with a dome on a square base. The successive reconstructions were impoverished. Today only the ship and the original antechambers are what remain of this great sight.
If you continue to the end of Souq al-Hamidiyya, you will return to the light of day. The western gate is reminiscent to the late Roman Jupiter temple and was where today we find the Umayyad Mosque. In my opinion, these ruins are so great because they aren't isolated into a "showcase" or a museum, but instead they have life in them, around them ... Its stones are the walls of many of the food stalls, fresh juices and Qur'an vendors in the area. It's a place full of life at any hour of the day. A good idea is to sit awhile on the entrance steps and just observe ... Or talk to the Syrians that surely will come to ask you (first in Arabic and then in English) where you are from and if you're studying in college (most of the tourists are actually Arabic students).
This town is one of the most interesting of all Syria. Aside from the fact that it has 1 of the best preserved Roman theaters in the entire world, it is also surrounded by an Arab fort, and the rest of the village was constructed with black basalt on and around the ruins of Roman buildings. A day trip is gives you enough time to discover it and see it all in stride. Bosra is mentioned in Egyptian records of the years 1300 BC and for a time became the capital of the zone of Arabia of the Roman Empire. During the Byzantine period, a cathedral was constructed in this city. And according to tradition it was here that Muhammad learned the basic pillars of Christianity by the hand of Mount Boheria.
This great theater is one of the biggest and best preserved in the world. It was constructed in the 2nd century, at the time in which Bozrah was the capital of the Roman province of Arabia. It could hold up to 15,000 people and was buried under a pile of sand into the 20th century. It was one of the most luxurious theaters of the Roman Empire: The stage was covered by a wooden roof and the rest of the room was covered with silk pieces. They also used to have scented water falling on the heads of the people in the audience. Today it is a monument that comes to life as a theater during the Bosra Festival Biennale, where it was the setting for classic dramas and concerts. I recommend visiting in the evening, where you will have better light and won´t have to deal with such extreme heat.
A visit to Syria would not be complete without the opportunity to listen to their music and dance their dances. The Syrians, like the Latinos really enjoy singing and dancing at their parties and like that other people sing their different songs, play their instruments and dance. That's just what we did in Palmira, accompanied by some Bedouins who, in some respects were very modern (they all had mobile phones and cable television) but still enjoyed their musical traditions and their instruments which were made from animal skin. The music of a kind of instrument which was a mix of banjo and violin, a ripe watermelon, the buzzing of wasps and the odd camel groan in background ... these are some of the best memories I will take from my trip to Syria.
The souk of Damascus, one of the largest in Asia, is a sight worth seeing: It's an explosion of colors and scents where you can find almost anything: spices, jewelery, leather work, metal ... I especially recommend sitting and enjoying a hookah pipe while watching the many people pass by. Of course, haggling is a must!
The Roman Market is one of the most visible ruins in Bosra. It is a paved esplanade before served as a Roman market. Besides being a spacious and with wonderful views of the city, is a must for children. Let me explain: The village children come to play catch-up and hiding here ... Maybe everyone does not like what I say: But the idea of ruins being used, worn, played on, I feel like it's much more beautiful than the other debris "museum" that can only be accessed with a guide, entry and restricted areas. The city of Bosra-for now-is an oasis of ruin worn, used and enjoyed. Children are their best customers. Who would not want to have an entire city in ruins to play with your friends? This is a great place to visit.
The village of MaalulaA lies half hour from Damascus and is an interesting little town where the tan and blue painted houses hang from the steep cliff walls. Although the Monastery of Santa Tecla is the only real point of interest, it is a perfectly lovely place to just stroll through the streets of Maalula. This village is one of the few places where Aramaic, the language of Jesus and one of the oldest living languages in the world, is still spoken. It has similarities with Arabic and Hebrew. Ma'loula makes for a perfect day trip from Damascus and gives you a chance to see how quiet life in rural Syria is and enjoy a stroll and a chat (jabbering away in Arabic or English) with friendly locals.
You can visit the city of Aleppo in just three days. It's really very nice, and its mayor, according to some Syrians who we spoke to, has worked hard to prepare the city to welcome tourists. It's very quiet to stroll around the bazaar, visit the citadel, which you can see in this photo, and above all, to go to the Christian area restaurants, because for very little money, you can eat really well there. Enjoy the trip that I hope to tell more about soon. 3500 photos are a lot! : D
This beautiful station dates back to 1917 and was for many years the station for pilgrims going to Mecca. Highlights include its beautiful ceiling and stained glass windows. The station is now closed and the fate of the building is being decided. The hall, though, can be visited and and is quite worthwhile.