I have the window propped open and I can hear the speaker from the nearby mosque along with car horns, fighting cats and construction from downstairs. Damascus is a very busy city! With lots to see and do I think that between the tour and our own free time Evan and I had plenty of time to embrace the city. On the tour we were able to explore Damascus with a guide who is extremely knowledgeable in the history of Syria.
On our first official day in Syria he took us to explore downtown Damascus. The weather was not welcoming and the day started off extremely rainy. We explored a museum full of Syrian antiquities and learnt all about ancient Syrian life. After the museum we visited the old part of Damascus, wandering through the souks to visit the Umayyad Mosque (above). Being a lady I had to borrow a robe to cover my hair to explore the inside of the Mosque. Inside there is a shrine dedicated to John the Baptist. It is believed that the remains of his head are still inside! The shrine was inside a green glass confinement where you are able to look in and see the shrine that is covered in a green cloth. There are holes in the glass where people are able to put money that will ultimately be donated to the poor. Inside the Mosque was very quiet and peaceful with many people praying. It was a nice treat to be able to go inside and see what is inside. In the other countries we have been in there have been signs at the entrances that clearly state that they are off limits to those not of the Islamic faith. Inside the entrances to the Umayyad Mosque is a very large courtyard where in the middle is fountain for the people to use for the ablutions before going into to pray.
After seeing the Mosque we carried on to visit the Azem Palace. This palace was built in 1750 for a governor of Damascus; it is now open for the public to see what a traditional Damascene house looks like. It had a very beautiful courtyard with many different rooms and even their own personal hammam! On our free day we chose to visit Ma’alula an old Christian town where they still to this day speak the language of Aramaic, the same language Jesus would have spoken in his time.
In the afternoon we drove out to Krak des Chevaliers, a Crusader Castle dating back to the 11th Century AD. When we arrived it was pouring rain again so we opted to have lunch first before exploring the Castle. We had lunch right next to the castle where they brought us a total of fourteen different dishes for just Evan and me! After lunch we braved the rain and got completely soaked!
While we were there on site, we saw that there was a movie being filmed! Lots of horses and men with little red hats running around the castle! When we were finished our tour of the castle we knew that it was closing at four in the afternoon so we made our way to the entrance at about quarter to and found that the front gate had been locked! We really thought that the employee had gone home and we were going to have the luxury of sleeping with the movie set horses in the barn! Luckily the man eventually showed up after a long wait to set us free!
In Syria we also visited the city of Bosra, a city in the south close to the Jordanian border. We drove past it on the way to Damascus but because of the time we arrived in Syria all the sites in Bosra would have been closed for tourists. The city possesses one of the best preserved Roman theatres in the Middle East! The city of Bosra has a lot of dark rocks and the entire theatre was built from this and imported pieces of limestone. Very beautiful! We wandered the ruins of the rest of the city and even walked right into a heard of sheep! Evan and I have wandered as much of Damascus as we could. Yesterday we even walked so far that we had no idea how to get back! This was ok because the taxi ride to get us back to the hotel was very cheap! Around the corner from our hotel is a very yummy shwarma shop where we have gone many times! After summing up this blog we’re off for our last taste! Not far from the shwarma shop is a cinema where we had a chance to catch up on two new releases “Unknown” and “No Strings Attached”. Shopping in Damascus has been a real treat! Everyone here is very nice and there is no real pressure to buy anything and no hard feelings if you just want to look. I hope that one day we can come back and explore the Syrian city of Palmyra.
- Katie Powell