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Syria is a special place for me. My father is from Damascus and I have an uncle from Aleppo. I’ve visited a few times since childhood. I blame these trips for contributing to my current desire for exotic cultural travel. Being in Syria as a child from America was like being on a wild magic carpet ride. However, now I really am uneasy seeing tourists there, especially those there for all the wrong reasons. My intent here is not to promote tourism but to show those curious what it was like in Syria before the war.Being in Syria as a child from America was like being on a wild magic carpet ride. However, now I really am uneasy seeing tourists there, especially those there for all the wrong reasons. Click To Tweet
Update for August 2019. Since I wrote this post years ago, I never imagined things would go as they have. I am mortified to see a trend of Instagrammers visiting Syria and sharing stories with their large audiences via the narrow scope that they are viewing Syria through. The tours they take are controlled by the Assad regime. Please take what they share with a grain of salt because they are not capable of presenting the whole picture of Syria.
My post is meant to show you Syria before the war, back when tourists weren’t that interested. If you want to see what I consider a well written accurate account of life NOW, read this NYT article “What Victory in Syria Looks Like”.
The capital, Damascus, is the oldest continually inhabited city in the world! It has survived thousands of years of changing civilizations; Egyptians, Romans, Mongols, Ottomans, French and finally becoming the modern Arab Republic of today.
Syria is not teaming with tourists like Egypt, Morocco or Turkey so you don’t get the usual sort of touristy annoyances. The Syrians are welcoming, friendly people and the food here is some of the best in the Middle East. Syria is full of ancient treasures…Roman ruins, crusader castles, ancient churches and mosques, beautiful beaches and much more.
As you know from the news, Syria is in the midst of a horrible war with a massive refugee crisis. I want to pay tribute to the Syria I remember and share my wonderful experiences from this beautiful intriguing place.
Statue of Saladin, one of the great heroes who defended against the Crusaders
This is my cousin’s lovely villa just outside Damascus complete with beautiful rose garden.
This is one of my favorite places to shop…the Takiyya Suleimaniah Souq. A handicraft market with everything from art, jewelry, pottery to exquisite wood and metal works true to the style passed for generations in Damascus.
I had to buy one of these gorgeous backgammon sets…will learn backgammon eventually. All the gorgeous wooden items with beautiful detail and inlaid precious stones were hard to just walk by and not purchase.
One of the most important sites in Damascus…the Umayyad Mosque. After the Arab conquest of Damascus in 634, the mosque was built on the site of a Christian basilica dedicated to John the Baptist, honored as a prophet by both Christians and Muslims. According to legend, the building contains the head of John the Baptist. The mosque is also believed by Muslims to be the place where Jesus will return at the End of Days. Saladin’s tomb is also here.
This is known as the Jesus Minaret…where the Koran says he will appear. I am not religious but find it fascinating that several regions have the same prophets or fathers, so to speak. The Koran mentions both the angel Gabriel and Jesus. Abraham is the father of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Tomb of John the Baptist where worshippers pray for healing. Again, Muslims praying to a Christian saint.
Walking though the old city of Damascus is fun. I loved just wandering and getting lost in the narrow streets and seeing all the little shops.
It’s hard for me to talk about Syria without becoming emotional. Well-intentioned friends and colleagues often ask me how my family is doing. It’s hard for me to casually speak about a cousin who was tortured in prison, or another cousin who paid smugglers to get out of the country because he was terrified for his life. Some family is still there, somehow surviving, while many have been displaced. A few lucky ones are in the United States. We would love to have more family with us but politically, it is an uphill battle. I am thankful everyday for the fact that my family is still alive.
You can see the remains of Roman Temple of Juputer at the entrance to the Souk El Hamidiyeh.
I am kind of obsessed with these old genie lamps
A restaurant in a traditional Damascene courtyard. The old city is full of these hidden beauties, tucked away from the view of the street.
A fun night out to dinner with dancing around the restaurant
Ancient Christian city where the Aramaic of Jesus is still spoken. Home to the first convent built in 320 AD.
Fabled crack through the mountain said to be made by Jesus for St. Taqla to escape through. This is the kind of historical sight that literally blows my mind.
Syria’s largest city and literally the crossroad of civilization. The silk road from east Asia ended here. Aleppo is frequently in the news because the war has completely devastated it.
Aleppo has such a rich history. This article shows very well the current state of many important historical sites with before and after pictures. It truly breaks my heart.
Syria Heritage in Ruins
I wish with all my heart to someday be able to visit again. Please be kind if you encounter Syrian refugees. Trust me that they had a good home and had no desire to move to Europe or North America. Write to your local leaders and urge them to do all they can to help!