The Syria of today offers tourists as much a cultural experience as a sightseeing one, where ancient history provides a fascinating backdrop to everyday life on the streets                          

 


Syria

Major Cities:

Syria can be divided geographically into four main areas, the fertile plain in the northeast; the plateau, coastal and mountain areas in the west; the central plains; and the desert and steppe region in the central and southeastern areas. The Euphrates flows from Turkey in the north, through Syria, down to Iraq in the southeast. 

General: The capital of Syria is the world's oldest inhabited city. A central feature of this cluttered and clamorous city is the Ummayyad Mosque. The 18th-century Al-Azem palace is now a national museum, featuring beautifully illuminated copies of the Koran. Homs is a large city known for its industry. Of historical interest is the mausoleum of Khalid Ibn al-Walid. Located 65km (40 miles) outside Homs, Crac des Chevaliers is the most famous crusader castle in the world. Rising from an altitude of 670m (2200ft), its watch-towers once afforded protection. Latakia, Syria's principal Mediterranean coastal port is a major holiday resort. National dishes include kubbeh (minced semolina and meat formed in balls and stuffed with minced meat, onion and nuts) and yabrak (vine leaves stuffed with rice and minced meat).

Damascus:

Said to be the world's oldest inhabited city, Damascus today (pictured) is a thriving modern capital. Three thousand years ago it was the capital of the Aramean Kingdom and was later conquered by Alexander the Great, when it became an important Greek city. It was also a major city of the Roman Empire and fell to the Muslims in 635A.D. The Mongols sacked the city in 1200A.D. and it was occupied during the Middle Ages by the Ottomans and the Mamelukes.

Damascus is situated at the Ghouta Oasis, fed by the waters of the Baruda River. It was this oasis which first made settlement possible, as the surrounding area would otherwise be uninhabitable.

The old city of Damascus is surrounded by what was once a Roman wall, much rebuilt at various times during the past two millennia. The section between the Gate of Safety (Bab as-Salama) and Thomas Gate (Bab Touma) is the best preserved part of the wall. Other Roman remains include the western gate of the Temple of Jupiter, all that remains of this huge structure from the 3rd century B.C. The Temple gate is situated at the far end of the Souk al-Hamadiyyah and consists of two vast Corinthian columns supporting a decorated lintel.

Worth visiting are the Science and Medical Museum just off the Souk al-Hamadiyyah, which is housed in a 12th century hospital, and the Museum of the Arts and Popular Traditions of Syria, housed in the eye-catching black-and-white Azem Palace, built of black basalt and limestone.

The National Museum is situated at the entrance to the Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi, a military camp outside the city near Palmyra. It contains a fascinating and varied collection of statuary, frescoes, glassware, old surgical instruments, coins, jewellery and a collection of Q'rans dating back to the 13th century. It is unfortunate that many of these exhibits are unlabelled, or have labels in Arabic only.

The most impressive mosque in Damascus is the Omayyad Mosque. This dates back to 705A.D., although the site is much older, probably by another 2,000 years. The grandeur and peace of the mosque is a welcome relief from the heat and hurly-burly outside. Non-Muslims are welcome to visit and to take photographs, but visitors must don the black robes provided before entering the mosque.

The Via Recta is to be found in Damascus. Mentioned in the Bible as the "Street called Straight", it is the famous refuge of Saint Paul, after his vision on the road to Damascus, and today marks the boundary of the city's Christian quarter. St. Paul's Chapel is to be found in Bab Kisan, on the spot where St. Paul was lowered from a window in a basket to make his escape from the city.

Bosra:

A Roman city with a well-preserved amphitheatre in which the musical festival is held every two years.

Palmyra:

This town is set in a desert oasis. The city was ruled by the legendary Queen Zenobia, who stood against the two great empires of the Romans and the Persians. Zenobia was taken captive to Rome when the Emperor Aurelian conquered and destroyed the city in 272. The ruins of the Valley of Tombs, the Hypogeum of the Three Brothers, the Temple of Baal and the Monumental Arch are some of the fine remains found over a wide area of the city, prized as some of the most famous monuments to the Classical period in the Middle East.

Homs:

The third-largest city in Syria, Homs is known for its industry, and is the site of Syria’s first oil refinery. Of historical interest is the mausoleum of Khalid Ibn al-Walid.

Hama: 

       

            45km (28 miles) from Homs. Situated on the River Orontes, Hama dates back to beyond 5000BC. The Norias,

            gigantic wooden waterwheels, are a unique feature, still used to provide water for the city and to irrigate the many

            public gardens. The orchards, the Great Mosque and the Al Azem Palace’s Museum are also of interest.

    

Aleppo:

Older possibly even than Damascus, Aleppo’s massive Citadel stands on the site of a Hittite acropolis. This is one of the most magnificent examples of Islamic Arab military architecture in Syria. There is an impressive number of mosques in the city. For the tourist, the souk, made up of 16km (10 miles) of meandering low corridors lined with shops and bustling with activity, is probably the greatest attraction. The well preserved hammams, or public baths, are of interest, as are the ancient khans (rest houses). Some fine artefacts and historic reminders of Syria’s rich cultural past are housed in the archaeological museum. Aleppo is also the commercial and industrial centre of Syria.

Lattakia:

Syria’s principal port and the metropolitan city of the country. Set on the Mediterranean coast, Lattakia is a major holiday resort. The city stands at the foot of the forested chain of mountains overlooking the coastal strip on one side and the edge of the Fertile Plains (the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’) on the other. There are a number of antiquities, including the ruined Temple of Bacchus and a triumphal arch.

Tartus:

beaches and mountains, Lattakia mountain resorts of Kassab and Slounfeh. 10km (6 miles) inland, near Tartus, are the Drekish Mountains, famous for the purity of their water.

 
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