A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: espen.lutken

Syria - Part I - Damascus and Introduction to the Country

Life, Times and Experiences - Old City and Well Beyond

Syria: Introduction

As always, my aim here is to facilitate the travels of interested tourists.

Syria is clearly not a country whose name conjures travel-fever in the common tourist's ear by the likes of Thailand, Bali, Mallorca, Gran Canaria or Cote D'Azur. This, however, is a BIG mistake. It is the home of Damascus and Aleppo (the two cities which compete for position of world's oldest inhabited cities), The Euphrates River (and the images created by it of bygone civilizations and gives Syria properly its position as the Cradle of Civilization in its Mesopotamian East), The Mediterranean Sea (along which the country's Alawites and most liberal population dwell), a plethora of Roman and other ancient ruins (Palmyra, Dura Europos, Rasafa, Ugarit (world's first alphabet), Apamea, Halabiyye), and even more must-see stops on the Christian or Muslim's pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Dozens of Crusader and Muslim Castles including the world's undisputed greatest - Crac des Chevaliers/Qala'at al-Hosn, Ma'aloula (the only town left which speaks Aramaic, the language of Jesus (PBUH)), dozens of monasteries, the Umayyad Mosque (Islam's first great mosque), Shia Holy Sites, etc etc), signs of a destructive past (Quneitra and the Dead Cities), and odd still-existing living patterns (in the form of the eccentric beehive houses).

Though Bush included the country in his infamous "Axis of Evil", Syria's experience is quite different from what this would connotate. Instead it is one of the safest places to travel in the whole world, with Damascus making top-10 safe cities on the planet according to the UN list. Similarly it is the home of various religious and ethnic minorities that live in apparent co-existence. The country's 10% Christians put on quite the light and tree show every Christmas in and outside their homes, and shrines to Mary and Jesus straddle the streets of Damascus' Old City. The country's Druze population live in the South and the Kurdish population in the Northeast. Along the Mediterranean coast dwell the Alawites, who like the Christians refrain from wearing headscarves. There is also a sizeable Shia-Muslim population from Iran, though the clearest majority is its 70%-strong Sunni-Muslim population. The people are some of the most hospitable anywhere, and sometimes unimaginably so. It is not uncommon for a Syrian to whom you only asked for directions to leave his group of friends and take you personally to wherever you are heading, and if this includes a bus journey, he will pay for it (both his and yours) and no method of persuasion will ever let him accept your payment.

Since the opening of the country about a decade ago, the tourism industry has been of the most booming sectors of the Syrian economy, though due to its prior non-existence, the face of tourist is still more or less a novelty to most Syrians. The phrase Ahlan wa Sahlan fi Souria (Welcome to Syria) quickly becomes the first phrase of Arabic known to any visitor.

But as in any other place, there are things to watch out for. Assuming there are any young women in your group, it is advisable not to dress as one would back in Europe, and not to be too friendly with local men. Their conception of western women is usually formed through television and so it is safe to say you may get a bit too much unwanted attention, especially in the villages. It is better to say that one is Christian than Atheist - believing in God, whichever religion you belong to is considered great, but not believing is even difficult to comprehend. The summer heat can be unbearable, where the period November to March offers the best traveling experience. Also, discussing Syrian politics is a no go...especially if someone asks you about it. The other problems are evident: poverty and pollution is clear. Much of the country, and no less Damascus, is underdeveloped and unclean, so if you are expecting 5-star comfort and clean air in the cities, you won't find it outside your hotel. But what Syria offers in terms of sights and in terms of its people, is not to be missed!

Part I: Damascus

Having now lived here for over half year, Damascus is decidedly a city I have come to know quite well in my time here. Most foreigners do not really make it out of the Old City except on their way to and from a hostel, but the greater city has much more on offer.

Old City

City Walls and Citadel

Damascus' Old City (most of it from the Middle Ages) is its most renowned landmark, though it only covers a small section of the city's greater area. The most obvious indication of your arrival here are the imposing walls of the Citadel (Qala'at), right next to Souq al Hamediya. At the time of writing, the citadel is itself closed, and the rest of the city walls cannot be traversed. In many places the houses of the Old City are packed and layered on top of the city wall itself, a bizarre sight.

Damascus Citadel with the entrance to Souq Al-Hamediya on the right

Damascus Citadel with the entrance to Souq Al-Hamediya on the right

Souq Al-Hamediya (Souq, Bakdash, and Roman Temple Gate)

Most visitors would start their tour of the Old City by entering through Souq Al-Hamediya. Souq means market in Arabic. The main boulevard of this souq is covered and has a maze of alleyways going in all directions. Though there is little as of interesting trinkets to offer the tourist (most of the objects sold here are sparkly and those that are not are relatively expensive), it is a must. Stopping by Bakdash ice-cream, full of hundreds of crowding Syrians, about halfway through the main walkway is a must for any new-comer. But the main attraction is seeing the thousands of bustling Syrians pave their way through the crowds at this Ottoman-era market. At the end of the souq is a large Roman arch which once stood at the entrance of the Roman-era Temple of Jupiter, which looks into a new courtyard which now provides entrance to the famed Umayyad Mosque.

Looking out of Souq Al-Hamediya's Roman Arch towards the Umayyad Mosque

Looking out of Souq Al-Hamediya's Roman Arch towards the Umayyad Mosque

Umayyad Mosque

The Umayyad Mosque is the world's greatest relic left by the Umayyad dynasty, who ruled the Muslim world soon after the death of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). The current building dates from the 7th Century, and is Islam's first great mosque (you could say...its first Cathedral), and so ranks 4th in holiness only after its equivalents in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. Nonetheless, this mosque is not only of intrigue to Muslims. Immediately upon entering the mosque and putting on your robes in the "Putting on Special Clothes Room" is the tomb of Saladin, who is the famed (and not least very respected) defeater of the Crusaders. As is Muslim fashion, upon entering the main courtyard, you must remove your shoes and then enter upon Damascus' cleanest spot - the blazing courtyard of the mosque which is cleaned at least 100 times per day. Around the courtyard are the beautiful remains of gold mosaics which once covered the entire courtyard and now just covers one side. The size, age and beauty of these mosaics provide the main attraction of the mosque to non-Muslims. Inside the mosque itself, which is not as intricately decorated as Ottoman or newer mosque, is a shrine wherein lies the supposed head of St John the Baptist (PBUH) and another more difficult to find shrine of Hussain (PBUH).

The Umayyad Mosque - Courtyard

The Umayyad Mosque - Courtyard


Umayyad Mosque - Outer Square

Umayyad Mosque - Outer Square


Damascus - Umayyad Mosque (from my rooftop)

Damascus - Umayyad Mosque (from my rooftop)

Azem Palace

Though technically not a palace, this Ottoman house turned museum is Damascus' second-most renowned attraction. It chronicles the life of the Al-Azem family (who repeatedly governed Damascus) and by showing the various parts of this gigantic house explains (in English and Arabic) the life of Syria during Ottoman times. Everything from schooling, the situation of women, bathing, weaponry, arts and crafts, music and entertainment, and the Hajj Caravan (pilgrimage to Mecca) are explained - though sometimes through tacky wax-sculptures. Though already a good museum, the real attraction is the house itself - a pearl of Damascene architecture! It is only a one minute walk away from the Umayyad Mosque.

Azem Palace

Azem Palace

Khans and Old Houses

If Azem Palace is your thing, then the whole city is cramped with Khans (traditional travellers inns) and old houses. Indeed almost all the houses in the old city, despite their plain facades, include gorgeous courtyards abound with plants, vines and usually a fountain or two. The most famous of these are Khan Asa'ad Pasha, which only needs a short visit - a peek into its enormous 9-domed courtyard with various shades and inlays of stonework. Spend some time finding your favourite is my advice - mine is Beit Nizaam, where I was given a private showing by a Syrian friend of mine. It is currently undergoing a three-year restoration phase and upon completion will turn into a 5-star boutique hotel, but knocking on the doors and asking security if you can wander for a few minutes might prove fruitful. You might even be invited to stay for a cup of tea or coffee! It is located at the south-western corner of the Old City, not so far from the covered Souq Medhat Basha.

Khan As'ad Pasha

Khan As'ad Pasha

Damascus - Beit Nizaam

Damascus - Beit Nizaam

Damascus - Beit Siba'i - One of its Central Courtyards (in the traditional Damascene courtyard style)

Damascus - Beit Siba'i - One of its Central Courtyards (in the traditional Damascene courtyard style)

Restaurants

On the same line, the Old City must have hundreds of restaurants located randomly more or less everywhere. As is the case with the houses, many of these offer renovated and gorgeous courtyards where you can enjoy your meals and a drink or two. Syria's food is very tasty and equally varied. There is the mezze, which is an amalgam of small platters which includes hummous, baba ganoush, fette, fattoush, lebne, mohammara, etc etc. There is of course the region-wide falafel and shawarma dishes, as well as some of the best freshly-squeezed juice around. Polo, a blended ice drink with lemon and mint is an exotic favourite with both locals and foreigners.

Restored Restaurant of Agenor Boutique Hotel

Restored Restaurant of Agenor Boutique Hotel

Bab Touma, Bab Sharqi and Sharia 'Aimariye

The Eastern half of the Old City is the domain of the city's Christian population, though a sizable Muslim population also live here. The general area is referred to as Bab Touma (Thomas' Gate), and comprise the area between Bab Kisan, Bab Sharqi, Bab Touma and Bab As-Salaam. To get here from the Umayyad Mosque, head along the right side of the mosque until you get to the far side. From here you enter the second-most-famous street in the Old City - Shariah 'Aimariye (Qaimariye Street). This street is abound with historic coffeehouses, restaurants, and souvenir shops, including a lively art-scene. On the right immediately after the Umayyad Mosque is Cafe Nawfara, where the last Hakawaati (traditional storyteller) Abu Shady still sits everyday at 5PM. As you walk down this street you enter Bab Touma at some point along its way.

Bab Touma Square (Saahet Bab Touma) itself is not extraordinary, but along the ruined Roman gate run the city walls. Directly to the left outside the gate is a path that takes you along an outer stretch of the city wall along the now heavily depleted and polluted Barada River. The area right outside the gate on the right has recently been renovated and now houses a little park and a nicely restored walkway along the wall for a hundred meters or two. Well worth a look. In fact the houses along the outside wall here are probably the most beautiful in all the Old City...layering and pushing out from every empty space on offer. The park although not too far from the main road, is quite peaceful and a good place to enjoy your lunch.

Bab Touma Park and Barada River

Bab Touma Park and Barada River

Damascus - Bab Touma Park - Old City Houses

Damascus - Bab Touma Park - Old City Houses

Damascus - Bab Touma Park

Damascus - Bab Touma Park

Walking down Bab Touma Street (inside the Old City) takes you right down to what the Bible refers to as The Street Called Straight. To the right is a Roman arch and a lone minaret and finally Souq Medhat Pasha. On the left is Bab Sharqi. This is most likely the most beautiful street in Damascus, full of expensive boutique hotels, restaurants, Ottoman houses, etc.

Bab Sharqi (Eastern Gate)

Bab Sharqi (Eastern Gate)

Sayyeda Roqqaya

Cramped inside the winding streets between 'Aimariye Street and Bab As-Salaam is the Iranian built Mosque in honour of the Shia Martyr Sayyeda (Lady) Roqqaya. Visiting the mosque and its twin Sayyeda Zainab is always an interesting experience. The closer you get to the shrine, the larger the crowd of black ahead of you as flocks of veiled Shia pilgrims converge on the site. Though the mosque is difficult to see from the outside, being so cramped inside many others, the inside is a maze of silver and shining shades of all colours. It is quite a spectacle, though not comparable to the much greater construction of Sayyeda Zainab just outside the city.

Sayyeda Roqqaya

Sayyeda Roqqaya

Going to the Hammam

One of the Muslim World's most enjoyable activities is to take an hour or two off to enjoy the comforts of a Turkish Bath (aka. Hammam), and watching layers of dirt expunged from recently scrubbed off layers of skin and taking in the massage and steam rooms. Damascus has plenty on offer, none expensive and all enjoyable. They are of course single sex, with some having times for men and times for women, and others being exclusively one gender.

Hammam - Me (on the left) and two friends

Hammam - Me (on the left) and two friends

Other Old City Sights - Stations of St. Paul, Orthodox Cathedral

The list above is of course no comprehensive guide to the old city, and here is a list of a few more for those especially keen. If Christian pilgrimage is your type of thing, the Old City offers not only St. John the Baptists head but also several stations associated with the life of St. Paul, who was converted to Christianity here. After falling of his horse right outside the city and becoming blinded, Saul was guided to the house of St. Ananias, who cured his blindness and baptised Saul, who thence became Paul. The house of Ananias is on the end of a little street just on the right as you enter the old city through Bab Sharqi. As Paul was sought by the Jewish authorities and needed to escape, he was lowered down the city walls in a basket through a window which is not housed just over Bab Kisan, on the left as you head down Straight Street towards Souq Medhat Pasha. Neither of the sights are particularly extraordinary, but still offer an interesting twist to the otherwise more obvious attractions. There is also a monastery-like Greek Orthodox Cathedral on the left as you head down Straight Street with natural rock columns and many interesting icons.

Greek Orthodox Cathedral

Greek Orthodox Cathedral

Leaving the Old City

As you exit the Old City, there are various squares, quarters, and areas of interest for any variation of traveler. Many hotels are located around Youssef al-Azma Square. Al-Merjeh (Martyr's Square) has a lovely little park and a newly constructed mosque as well as the building of the old Hijaz Railway Station, one of Damascus' finest. The Four Seasons Hotel is the most obvious building on any panorama of the city, and is also clearly the most modern construction in town. The Tekkiye Sulemaniye Souq and Mosque offers the most beautiful handicrafts market and one of the most striking mosques anywhere in the city, though the building itself cannot be entered.

Vista of Damascus - Four Season Hotel (background) and Tekkiye Sulemaniya Mosque/Market (foreground)

Vista of Damascus - Four Season Hotel (background) and Tekkiye Sulemaniya Mosque/Market (foreground)

Merjeh Square

Merjeh Square

Sayyeda Zainab

If you only do one thing in Damascus apart from seeing the Old City, visiting Iranian-built Sayyeda Zainab Mosque should be the thing. Though it lacks the Umayyad Mosque's historical roots, this shrine to the Shia Martyr Sayyeda Zainab makes up plenty for this in splendour. And unlike the Umayyad Mosque this includes the inner decoration as well as the outer, as one step inside more or less blinds you if you are not too careful. For the women, watching the bizarre spectacle of crying veiled Iranian women throwing Barbie dolls and other trinkets atop the tomb martyr whilst trying to make it to the tomb itself before being carried away by the tidal wave of women trying to touch it gives a new definition to religious fervour not witnessed in Europe or America for quite some time.

Sayyeda Zainab - All visitors must sport this Shia-inspired robe

Sayyeda Zainab - All visitors must sport this Shia-inspired robe

Sayyeda Zainab - Lit up at night

Sayyeda Zainab - Lit up at night

Sayyeda Zainab - Inside

Sayyeda Zainab - Inside

Jebel Qassioun

Jebel Qassioun is Damascus' greatest natural landmark - the mountain seen more or less from any point within the city. It is from this mountain that Mohammed (PBUH) passed by Damascus, saying he would not enter as he only wanted to enter paradise/heaven once...upon his death. Now Damascus might not provide quite the image of paradise and fertility that Mohammed once saw all those centuries ago, but the vista of this gargantuan city stretches as far as the eye can see in all directions. During the day the mountain might offer a good medium for getting your bearings, but the main attraction of this city is at night, when the yellow lights of houses and green lights of Mosques continue to the end of the horizon and beyond.

Jebel Qassioun

Jebel Qassioun

From the Mountain - At Night

From the Mountain - At Night

National Museum

The National Museum is just a short walk from Merjeh, right past the Tekkiye Sulemaniye Souq and Mosque Complex. Entering the museum grounds brings you into a lovely little park with statue remains from ages past dispersed around small walkways and benches. At the entrance to the museum itself is the reconstructed facade of another giant of Umayyad architecture - Qasr Al Heyr al-Gharbi (on the road to Palmyra/Tadmor). The exhibitions inside have newly been restored with Italian help and take you through various eras of Syrian history and various important archaeological finds - including Ugarit (where the world's first-ever alphabet was found), Mari (the Sumerian/Mesopotamian city which now offers the world the greatest insight into the world's first civilization), Dura Europos (the reconstructed Synagogue is the museum's most popular exhibit), Palmyra, and many more. People are generally either indifferent or in love with this museum, depending on their historical tastes. It offers great insight into various cultures that are not often exhibited back in Europe or America, but does not display many artifacts of large size or striking beauty (though that of course is absolutely relative/subjective).

National Museum, Damascus - Facade of Qasr al-Heyr al-Gharbi

National Museum, Damascus - Facade of Qasr al-Heyr al-Gharbi

Tishreen War Memorial

The Tishreen War Memorial/Panorama is one of Damascus' most bizarre spectacles. Constructed entirely with the help of North Korea, it is mostly a museum dedicated to Syrian victories in the 1973 war against Israel, in most part to Syrian forces' successful capture of an Israeli watchtower, and also operates as a kind of celebration of the life of the current President's father. Outside the building itself are two collections of war vehicles - one of Syrian origin and one of captured Israeli origin. The Panorama is located about 2km north of the Old City. (more information forthcoming)

Damascus - Tishreen War Memorial - Syrian vehicles and museum building

Damascus - Tishreen War Memorial - Syrian vehicles and museum building

Damascus - Tishreen War Memorial - Syrian vehicle

Damascus - Tishreen War Memorial - Syrian vehicle

Dar Al-Assad Opera

The Damascus Opera House (Dar Al-Assad Opera House) offers one of the cities finest examples of architecture and a great variety of music. It is always worth checking the programme if you spend a couple of days in Damascus, which offers everything from full-scale opera productions to locally-composed blends of Oriental and Occidental music-styles, with first-class tickets costing only 5 euros (300SP). The building itself is located in one of the city's most famous squares, Saahet al-Umawiyeen (Umayyad Square) and is itself a blend of modern and more traditional Islamic style. URL: http://www.opera-syria.org/en_next/main.asp.

Damascus - Umawiyeen Square - Dar al-Assad Opera House

Damascus - Umawiyeen Square - Dar al-Assad Opera House

Tishreen Gardens/Park

After having lived in Damascus for nearly half a year is the first time I made to the trip to the Tishreen Gardens, which grows out of Umawiyeen Square (opposite the Opera House) like a funnel. To all of our surprises, it was an actual park, even by Western standards, and at least several hundred Damascene families were picnicking underneath the shadow of the trees as we walked around.

Damascus - Tishreen Gardens/Park

Damascus - Tishreen Gardens/Park

Damascus - Tishreen Gardens/Park - Spring flowers

Damascus - Tishreen Gardens/Park - Spring flowers

Cain and Abel

(Forthcoming)

Links to other entries

If you are interested in knowing more about other places to visit in Syria, I have several other blog entries covering other regions.
All of Syria: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/
Part I - Damascus and Introduction to the Country: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/3/
Part II - The South (Bosra, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/4/
Part III - Damascus Countryside (Ma'aloula, Seydnayya, Deir Mar Musa, Bloudan, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/5/
Part IV - The Road to Palmyra (Tadmor): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/6/
Part V - Central Syria (Crac des Chevaliers, Homs, Hama, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/7/
Part VI - Aleppo Governorate (Syria's Second Capital): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/8/
Part VII - Euphrates Pt. 1 (Deir Ez-Zor Governorate): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/9/
Part VIII - Meditarranean Coast (Latakia, Tartous,...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/10/

Posted by espen.lutken 03:26 Archived in Syria Comments (0)

Syria - Part II - The South (Bosra, ... )

Bosra, Suweida, Dira'a, Azra', Shahba, and more

Introduction

Syria's Southern region is the home of the Druze and much of it is known as the Hauran. It is also home to one of Syria's prime historical and architectural treasures - The Amphitheatre of Bosra! Any single one of these places can be visited with a day trip from Damascus, but catching more than one that way might prove difficult. Always check the return times as soon as you arrive in the city, as the last bus sometimes goes earlier than expected (and might be fully booked) and a surprise night in a city with no hotel might not be your thing.

Bosra

Roman City

Though the one-of-a-kind amphitheatre is the prime attraction of this ancient Roman city, there is much more on display. An entire quarter of the old black basalt rock Roman town is still up and standing. One of my Italian friends once remarked that it was a bit like walking through some of the streets of Rome. The remains are pretty compact so there is no need to plan for more than an 45 minutes for exploration.

Bosra - Black Basalt Roman Ruins

Bosra - Black Basalt Roman Ruins

The Amphitheatre and Citadel

The Amphitheatre of Bosra is one of those structures which you cannot believe still exist in its current state of preservation and only exist a few other places in the world, such as the Colosseum in Rome, due mostly to it having been buried underneath layers of sand for much of its existence. The arena itself is built within the walls of the citadel around it. So enjoy!

Bosra - Amphitheatre

Bosra - Amphitheatre

Bosra - Amphitheatre (2)

Bosra - Amphitheatre (2)

Suweida

(forthcoming)

Dira'a

(forthcoming)

Azra'a

(forthcoming)

Shahba

Links to other entries

If you are interested in knowing more about other places to visit in Syria, I have several other blog entries covering other regions.
All of Syria: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/
Part I - Damascus and Introduction to the Country: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/3/
Part II - The South (Bosra, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/4/
Part III - Damascus Countryside (Ma'aloula, Seydnayya, Deir Mar Musa, Bloudan, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/5/
Part IV - The Road to Palmyra (Tadmor): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/6/
Part V - Central Syria (Crac des Chevaliers, Homs, Hama, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/7/
Part VI - Aleppo Governorate (Syria's Second Capital): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/8/
Part VII - Euphrates Pt. 1 (Deir Ez-Zor Governorate): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/9/
Part VIII - Meditarranean Coast (Latakia, Tartous,...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/10/

Posted by espen.lutken 00:10 Archived in Syria Comments (0)

Syria - Part III - Damascus Countryside

Riif Dimashq (Ma'aloula, Seydnayya, Deir Mar Musa, Bloudan and the Barada Valley)

Part III - Damascus Countryside (Riif Dimashq)

Introduction

The Damascus Countryside is technically a separate Governorate of Syria, and covers quite a large area. It offers the country's greatest experience to the Christian pilgrim. Seidnayya was considered number two in holiness, second only to Jersualem, by the Crusaders - due mostly to the presence of an image of Mary supposedly painted by St. Luke, and now houses a very spectacular convent/monastery. Ma'aloula is a naturally and culturally intriguing city placed between several mountains and two gorges, and is now home to the last remaining Aramaic-speaking (the language of Jesus) population in the world and several noteworthy monasteries. Deir Mar Musa is a remote monastery which exchanges monastic life with bed and pillows to any visiting tourist, as well as one of Syria's only eco-tourism opportunities. Though the river which now flows through Damascus is only a shadow of its former glory, the valley once carved by this river offers some of Syria's most scenic and well-developed towns.

Seidnaya

Convent of Our Lady of Seidnaya

Perched atop a hill in full view for miles around, the spectacular Convent of Our Lady of Seidnaya is both one of Syria's most famous vistas as well as most holy sites. With the Icon of the All-Holy Virgin, to which all kinds of miracles have been attributed, the town and the convent sees a large turn-out both of Christian and Muslim pilgrims seeking the virgin's blessings. In fact the Crusaders considered the place second-in-importance only behind Jerusalem itself. To those who cannot relate to these sorts of ideas, the convent offers a spectacular view (both of it and from it).

Seidnaya - Convent of Our Lady of Seidnaya

Seidnaya - Convent of Our Lady of Seidnaya

Due to the short duration of my stay in this place, I cannot unfortunately provide a more comprehensive guide to the city.

Ma'aloula

Information

Ma'aloula is singular in many ways. It is the last-remaining place on earth which speaks the language of Jesus - Aramaic, and its 4th and 5th century monasteries offer insight into Christianity before the systematization of its religious practices by the Catholic and various Orthodox churches. Nestled between two gorges and several mountains at 1,500m above sea-level, it is also a natural landmark. Visiting Ma'aloula on a day-trip from Damascus is very much possible, and if you are only visiting the churches, it can be combined with a visit to Seidnayya on the same day. Microbuses in Damascus leave from the Ma'aloula Garage.

Monastery of St Thecla

St Thecla was an early Christian convert and is sometimes referred as a martyr, though subsequent miracles and other incredible feats saved her from the constant threat of death which the Romans hung over her head. She was a disciple of St. Paul and left her fiancee for Paul's teachings on virginity. The monastery is built into the mountain where several of her feats were supposedly carried out. The gorge directly behind the monastery is one such keepsake, which was torn asunder by lightning to facilitate her escape by Roman captors. Make sure to catch a prayer in Aramaic before you leave, either here or the Monastery of St Sergius. If there is no mass during your visit, any of the nuns are happy to show you around or perform a prayer for you.

Ma'aloula - St Thecla

Ma'aloula - St Thecla

Natural Landmarks of Ma'aloula

As stated above, Ma'aloula is nestled between two gorges and several mountains at 1,500m above sea-level. Each of these mountains can be scaled and the gorges provide a convenient footpath between the monasteries of the city. Be careful, however, tourism in the city is not very-well developed and the gorge gets narrow at many points where one has to balance on a small pipe which lines the floor of the gorge. For those who have visited Petra in Jordan, the gorge is in many ways similar to the famous Siq through which one enters the ruins.

Ma'aloula - Town and Mountain

Ma'aloula - Town and Mountain

Ma'aloula Gorge

Ma'aloula Gorge

The Kissing Couple of Ma'aloula

The Kissing Couple of Ma'aloula

Monastery of St Sergius

After passing through the gorge beyond the convent of St Thecla, and head another kilometer or so up the road beyond (be careful, signposts are rare and uninformative, so bring a map), you arrive at Ma'aloula's second significant historical landmark, the 4th century monastery of St Sergius/Sarkis. The construction of this monastery outdates most structured Christianity and carries signs of practices which shortly after would be the arena of Paganism (such as the round altar whose design was prohibited by the Council of Nicea in 325AD).

Barada Valley and Bloudan

The Barada Valley (Wadi Barada) is a favourite spot for wealthy Damascenes seeking fresher air and a break from the smoldering heat of the summer season. There are various towns full of Lebanon-style red-tiled roofed villas, a fertile valley below, and cooler mountains above. In the winter season, these are covered with snow, and just a day trip from Damascus. The Lonely Planet suggests taking the old railway to Zabadani, but by travels took me to the town of Bloudan.

The Town Itself

Though we did not spend too much time in the town itself, what we saw convinced us that the average owner of a house in this city was most likely about 30 times as rich as the average Damascene. There were huge and beautiful villas with swimming pools and tennis courts, as well as trees aplenty (a rare sight in most other places in the country), churches and mosques, and large modern restaurants with inexplicable infrastructure (one restaurant sported a 50-meter long cable car between the restaurant and its adjoining hotel). What speaks mostly in its favour, however, is that it offers a break from the pollution and heat of Damascus - and trekking opportunities!

Bloudan Mosque and Minaret

Bloudan Mosque and Minaret

Hiking

Being a Norwegian, I could not resist the sight of snow. Thus my eye turned towards the mountains above and offered me one of the best days I had had in Syria. Though it does not offer the beauty of the mountains back home, it is still a stunning sight, especially after a while being cooped up in the desert-like and colourless landscape I had become more familiar with, though my visit here was still a ways away from the fertile season, which is at is best in April or the end of March.

Bloudan from above

Bloudan from above

Bloudan - A rare glimt of Syrian snow

Bloudan - A rare glimt of Syrian snow

Deir Mar Musa

(forthcoming)

Links to other entries

If you are interested in knowing more about other places to visit in Syria, I have several other blog entries covering other regions.
All of Syria: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/
Part I - Damascus and Introduction to the Country: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/3/
Part II - The South (Bosra, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/4/
Part III - Damascus Countryside (Ma'aloula, Seydnayya, Deir Mar Musa, Bloudan, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/5/
Part IV - The Road to Palmyra (Tadmor): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/6/
Part V - Central Syria (Crac des Chevaliers, Homs, Hama, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/7/
Part VI - Aleppo Governorate (Syria's Second Capital): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/8/
Part VII - Euphrates Pt. 1 (Deir Ez-Zor Governorate): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/9/
Part VIII - Meditarranean Coast (Latakia, Tartous,...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/10/

Posted by espen.lutken 00:43 Archived in Syria Comments (0)

Syria - Part IV - The Road to Palmyra (Tadmor)

Visiting the Roman Oasis Palm City

Part IV - Palmyra (Tadmor)

Introduction

Palmyra is probably the most advertised sight in Syria besides Damascus itself. Though seemingly remote, the city stands on the site of a large oasis which promoted the Romans to name it the city of palms. As of today, the palms are still plentiful, though only around the oasis itself, and the ruins are more or less midst naught but the desert landscape which embraces it on all sides. The ruins of the Roman city once ruled by one of history's strongest women (Zenobia) are the main attraction, where the ancient tombs of Palmyrenes and the Islamic fortress above offer plenty variation. Though I refer to Palmyra as a Roman city, it brags its own pantheon of Gods and cultural practices quite distinct from the more well-known Roman ones, and often had special status within the imperial umbrella. As there is no main entrance to the premises, you must pay entrance fees at each of the individual sights (such as the Temple of Baal and the Amphitheatre).

Roman City

The ruins are vast and not entered at any specific location. There is, however, a specific route with the more intact and restored remains following the main colonnaded boulevard of the ancient city. At one end is the Temple of Baal, an immense ruin with a still-standing central holy of holies. This temple was considered the most important religious building of the 1st Century AD Middle East. Although not too much is known of the Palmyrene pantheon, Baal was their most powerful God and a particularly malevolent one (often described as bathing in the blood of his human sacrifices). Inside the holy of holies is a circular roofed alter which still shows the 12 signs of the Zodiac. The temple is best viewed from the far side of the holy of holies (pictured below).

Palmyra - Temple of Baal

Palmyra - Temple of Baal

Exiting out of the temple, all of Palmyra stretches out before you. Closest and most obvious is the Decumanus (colonnaded street) entered through its monumental gate. Cutting the decumanus with a central square stands the restored tetrapylon. Furthermore, be careful not to miss the small but very well intact amphitheatre on the left side of the decumanus as you walk down (before the tetrapylon).

Palmyra - Monumental Gate

Palmyra - Monumental Gate

Palmyra - Tetrapylon

Palmyra - Tetrapylon

Palmyra - Amphitheatre

Palmyra - Amphitheatre

Citadel

Perched atop a hill and visible absolutely everywhere from miles around is a 16th Century Islamic citadel. Though worth a short exploration, the main draw of this castle is the view it offers of the ruins and oasis below.

Palmyra - Citadel from afar

Palmyra - Citadel from afar

Palmyra - Citadel (a bit closer this time)

Palmyra - Citadel (a bit closer this time)

Palmyra - Vista of Oasis and Ruins from the Citadel

Palmyra - Vista of Oasis and Ruins from the Citadel

Funerary Monuments

The Palmyrenes also built a huge funerary complex including hundreds of vast tombs built for everything from individuals to entire families. To visit these you must buy entrance tickets from (I think?) the museum in the main city, which give you entrance at a specific time. Though this might be somewhat of a bother, it is very worth it. I visited two tombs, one which is layered in four or five stories and houses a family of several hundred over many generations. I also visited the Hypogeum of the Three Brothers, which with its tunnel-entrance and wall frescoes reminded me much of its more magnificent twins in the Valley of Kings (Luxor, Egypt), and featuring nothing less than frescoes of Achilles wearing a pink dress!

Palmyra - Funerary Monument

Palmyra - Funerary Monument

Palmyra - Hypogeum of the Three Brothers

Palmyra - Hypogeum of the Three Brothers

Palmyra - Hypogeum of the Three Brothers - unfortunately blurry

Palmyra - Hypogeum of the Three Brothers - unfortunately blurry

Links to other entries

If you are interested in knowing more about other places to visit in Syria, I have several other blog entries covering other regions.
All of Syria: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/
Part I - Damascus and Introduction to the Country: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/3/
Part II - The South (Bosra, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/4/
Part III - Damascus Countryside (Ma'aloula, Seydnayya, Deir Mar Musa, Bloudan, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/5/
Part IV - The Road to Palmyra (Tadmor): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/6/
Part V - Central Syria (Crac des Chevaliers, Homs, Hama, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/7/
Part VI - Aleppo Governorate (Syria's Second Capital): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/8/
Part VII - Euphrates Pt. 1 (Deir Ez-Zor Governorate): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/9/
Part VIII - Meditarranean Coast (Latakia, Tartous,...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/10/

Posted by espen.lutken 03:17 Archived in Syria Comments (0)

Syria - Part V - Central Syria (Crac des Chevaliers, ... )

Crac des Chevaliers, Homs, Hama, Apamea

Central Syria

Introduction

Central Syria offers a wide variety of places to visit. With an early start, each of them are possible in a day trip from Damascus, but if you are planning more than 4 hours in each, the long distances make this difficult. It is definitely possible to visit Crac des Chevaliers this way, but either of the main cities, especially Hama, deserves more of your time. That being said, Crac des Chevaliers is indisputably Syria's main draw for many tourists. Hama is graced with a wonderful old city and some of the finest and largest waterwheels around. Homs is a more modern place with no traditional attractions but its main mosque and famous sweets (the helwayat jubneh), and Apamea's decumanus outdoes Palmyra's.

Crac des Chevaliers (Qala'at al-Hosn)

This crusader castle most definitely deserves its label as the most spectacular in all the world. Having been to quite a number of them, I can attest to the veracity of this claim. In fact, no other really even comes close. Not only is it absolutely enormous, but most of it is not even in ruin. The only thing it is missing these days is being lit up at night. You can literally spend hours going from chamber to chamber and finding new and dark corners to explore. The ticket office is on the lowest end of the castle, from which you scale upwards and can eventually reach each of the turrets. It is worth both exploring as many nooks and crannies inside as possible (especially the towers which allow you to get a better bird's eye view of the greater structure) as well as heading outside and walking up the road to see the castle from afar. The architectural styles inside various depending on which part of the castle you are currently in - whether it is the stables, the church (now a mosque) or a wonderful section with 7 carved windows which in an odd way reminds one of being back in England and walking around one of the old Cambridge or Oxford Colleges.

Crac des Chevaliers - From afar (spot the car)

Crac des Chevaliers - From afar (spot the car)

Crac des Chevaliers - Up close

Crac des Chevaliers - Up close

Crac des Chevaliers

Crac des Chevaliers

Crac des Chevaliers

Crac des Chevaliers

Another one of the Crac's qualities is its beautiful location in some of Southern Syria's most fertile areas, offering fresh air and great views all around!

Crac des Chevaliers - The Valley Around

Crac des Chevaliers - The Valley Around

Homs

For me Homs has always just been a transit location from which I head to various other sights. As such, I do not know too much about the city. Most Syrians poke fun at the people fun for not being as clever as those from other regions, though soon the humour of this is lost on you as it becomes clear this is a stereotype left from years long gone. Still, if someone asks you if you are Homsi, this is meant as naught but an insult. Apart from its people, the city is known for two things: the Khaled ibn-Walid Mosque and the Helwayat Jubneh (Cheese Sweet).

Homs - The Khaled Ibn al-Walid Mosque

Homs - The Khaled Ibn al-Walid Mosque

Hama

Though its tragic recent past reduced much of the city to rubble, this place still offers several of Syria's most unique sights. There are still large sections of its immense Old City remaining, which offers a large souq (market) and many fancy handicraft shops. The real attraction, however, is its numerous Norias (Waterwheels). I suggest spending some time sitting in a restaurant by the Orontes River overlooking some of these huge and still-functioning structures (The Restaurant by the Four Norias of Becheriyyat might be a good starting point), and not to just see one and be done with it. If you do just see one, however, the two Norias adjacent to the old mosque in the city centre should be your best pick (pictured below).

Hama - Two Norias of Hama and Mosque

Hama - Two Norias of Hama and Mosque

Hama - Two Norias of Hama

Hama - Two Norias of Hama

Apamea

(forthcoming)

Links to other entries

If you are interested in knowing more about other places to visit in Syria, I have several other blog entries covering other regions.
All of Syria: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/
Part I - Damascus and Introduction to the Country: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/3/
Part II - The South (Bosra, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/4/
Part III - Damascus Countryside (Ma'aloula, Seydnayya, Deir Mar Musa, Bloudan, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/5/
Part IV - The Road to Palmyra (Tadmor): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/6/
Part V - Central Syria (Crac des Chevaliers, Homs, Hama, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/7/
Part VI - Aleppo Governorate (Syria's Second Capital): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/8/
Part VII - Euphrates Pt. 1 (Deir Ez-Zor Governorate): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/9/
Part VIII - Meditarranean Coast (Latakia, Tartous,...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/10/

Posted by espen.lutken 23:09 Archived in Syria Comments (0)

Syria - Part VI - Aleppo Governorate, Syria's Second Capital

Aleppo

Part VI - Aleppo Governorate

Introduction

In many ways, Aleppo is Damascus' sister city. The two compete for the position of world's oldest inhabited city, they are Syria's two largest cities (both over 4 million, but estimates vary greatly), both located on the silk road, and both having served as capital of civilizations long gone. Aleppo city itself is cramped with examples of Ottoman or earlier architecture, the country's most imposing city citadel, a fine park, the twin of Damascus' Umayyad Mosque, and famously its extensive and hugely atmospheric 10km covered souq (market).

Aleppo Governorate is also the home to several other noteworthy sights of interest, including the extensive ruined remains of the cathedral built over the column of one of Christianity's most eccentric figures - St. Simeon, the man who spent several decades a top a Roman column to escape having to be around people, a quest in which he failed greatly, as his feat made him renowned throughout all of the Christian world. He was the most famous man in all of the 5th Century and pilgrims came as far as Britain to see him, and he spawned a whole generation of copy-cat pillar-dwellers. Aleppo Governorate also hosts several of the so-called "Dead Cities", which are villages as far back as Roman times that were suddenly mysteriously evacuated and abandoned. In the East of the Governorate lies the Euphrates river, the Northern section of Al-Assad Lake, as well as Qala'at an-Nejm (Star Castle).

Travelling between Aleppo is not difficult. Buses leave extremely frequently, so there is no need to book in advance. They are almost always air-conditioned and free water is included in the already dirt-cheap price of 5 Euros for a 4 to 5 hour journey. There is also a train route going the same way, stopping at Homs and Hama, costing about the same and taking about half an hour to an hour longer than the bus. Here there is also a night-train option.

I took the journey in March 2011, and was surprised that almost the entire stretch was green and farmed (below) (and the mountains on the horizon were even covered with snow!), contrasting greatly to the brown I had experienced traveling in the country before. Indeed at some points the journey reminded me a bit of the Scottish Highlands...though with a slight stretch of the imagination. I cannot, however, promise that this will be the case on your trip, especially if you do it during the scorching hot summer months.

On the Road to Aleppo - Fields and Snowy Mountains

On the Road to Aleppo - Fields and Snowy Mountains

On the Road to Aleppo - Sheep, fields and a river through the dirty window of my bus

On the Road to Aleppo - Sheep, fields and a river through the dirty window of my bus

Aleppo City

Park

Aleppo immediately made an impression on me - and a good one to boot! Right outside the train station was a large park, second in size only to Damascus' Tishreen Park, as well as a batch of fresh non-polluted air, similarly non-existent in the capital.

Aleppo - Park

Aleppo - Park

The Souq/Market, Soap and its Khans

Though the Citadel wins for Aleppo's most advertised aesthetic attraction, the souq itself is no less famous and no less deservedly so. Firstly it is absolutely enormous, with 10km of covered market. Secondly, it is still almost solely the domain of the locals and villagers. Although I unfortunately missed this on my trip, my friends have told me stories of camels and donkeys still wandering around the area. The souq is full of varieties, with brick covering, stone covering, plaster covering, etc. It is split mostly into sections that specialize on one particular type of good, so to get a good glimpse of the variety one has to wander aimlessly for a good while. Many of these wings are contained within old Khans, or Ottoman traveler's inns, which now house hundreds of shops. But take care to visit the city on more than just a Friday, as almost every shop in town is shut on this Muslim holiday.

Yet some products are sold everywhere...such as Aleppo's equal to none Olive Soap, a tradition of the city for centuries. Like wine, this soap matures, and the older the product, the better. Any one can be used to wash your hands with, but only 2-3 year-old ones can be used on your body, and from 5-7 on your hair. I have used this soap now for about half a year, and despite my initial hesitation, it must be the smoothest soap I have ever tried. : D

Aleppo - Entering the souq through Bab Antakya

Aleppo - Entering the souq through Bab Antakya

Aleppo - Khan turned into Souq

Aleppo - Khan turned into Souq

Aleppo - Souq main street

Aleppo - Souq main street

The Umayyad Mosque

If you entered the Souq from the traditional entry-point (Bab Antakya), the Great Umayyad Mosque will be on your left some way down the souq. The signage is not spectacular, so I would advice to ask someone for directions about 15 minutes after entry into the souq. You can simply say the name of the mosque with a questioning tone - Jami'a al-Kabiir. If the man still remains puzzled, replace the first word with Masjid (both mean Mosque in Arabic).

The mosque itself could be described as a twin of the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, and only built five to ten years later. Due to repeated restoration throughout the ages, however, not much remains of the original and only the focal point of the mosque itself - the great courtyard, reminds one of its older and larger sister mosque (though without all of the golden mosaics but nonetheless dazzling). Inside the main prayer hall lies the tomb of the Prophet Zacharia.

Aleppo - Umayyad Mosque Great Courtyard

Aleppo - Umayyad Mosque Great Courtyard

The Citadel

As you exit the other side of the souq, the citadel rises before you on an evidently (but not actually) artificial hilltop. The moat is dry these days, but filled instead with patches of playing children. The first thing that caught my eye was the entryway into the fortress, which stands completely erect and facilitates only a few people at a time. Next up is of course the entryway itself, which surely is one of Syria's most famous facade, and shows up on coins, bills and even taxis.

Aleppo - Citadel entrance walkway

Aleppo - Citadel entrance walkway

Aleppo - Entering the Citadel

Aleppo - Entering the Citadel

Entering the citadel is one of Aleppo's must-dos. The experience of walking up that narrow path leading into the fortress above, the extensive ruins inside of Khans, mosques, hammams (baths), and various other structures, as well as various lookout points offering great views over the city each justify the buying a ticket.

Aleppo - Citadel Square

Aleppo - Citadel Square

Aleppo - Ruins inside the Citadel

Aleppo - Ruins inside the Citadel

Al-Jdeida Area, Aleppan House Style, and other places of interest

After having wandered around the remains of the citadel, the souq, and the Umayyad Mosque, one of Aleppo's biggest surprises were still ahead of us - Al-Jdeida area. As it came recommended from my guidebook I decided to make a quick visit to the area (I only had about a day and a half here so was short on time at this point), but it quickly became my favourite part of town. Unlike Damascus' Old City, this mainly Ottoman part of town had narrow car-free streets that provided a peaceful stroll to and from the area's historical houses. There were numerous houses now boutique hotels or restaurants, as well as several churches and cathedrals of Catholic, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Syrian Orthodox variations.

Aleppo - Al Jdeida - Maronite Cathedral

Aleppo - Al Jdeida - Maronite Cathedral

Aleppo - Inside Aleppan House (now Museum of Popular Traditions)

Aleppo - Inside Aleppan House (now Museum of Popular Traditions)

The Aleppan house style seems displayed all around town, and even in the more modern section of town this remains the case, where the old style has been adopted and used anew. The picture below is opposite the Umayyad Mosque, but all around the Old City, Al-Jdeida, and the area west of Al-Jdeida is scattered with this fascinating architectural design.

Aleppo - Aleppan-style house

Aleppo - Aleppan-style house

Apart from the Cathedrals in Al-Jdeida, other Christian sites are scattered around the city. The remains of the early Christian Cathedral of St Helen now lies inside the Madrassa al-Helwiyye, currently undergoing restoration. But don't let that stop you, we pushed the door open, and the workers inside are more than happy to let you stroll the work-site and enter the old cathedral inside.

Aleppo - The Remains of the Cathedral of St Helen inside Madrassa al-Helwiyye

Aleppo - The Remains of the Cathedral of St Helen inside Madrassa al-Helwiyye

Much of the new city, which spreads from horizon to horizon, is just as Damascus...decrepit and polluted, with the same gray apartment complexes all around. But there is always the rare delight...

Aleppo - Mosque in new city

Aleppo - Mosque in new city

Aleppo - Square directly west of Al-Jdeida

Aleppo - Square directly west of Al-Jdeida

Qala'at Samaan/Cathedral of St. Simeon

(forthcoming)

Qala'at an-Nejm

(forthcoming)

Dead Cities

(forthcoming)

Links to other entries

If you are interested in knowing more about other places to visit in Syria, I have several other blog entries covering other regions.
All of Syria: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/
Part I - Damascus and Introduction to the Country: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/3/
Part II - The South (Bosra, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/4/
Part III - Damascus Countryside (Ma'aloula, Seydnayya, Deir Mar Musa, Bloudan, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/5/
Part IV - The Road to Palmyra (Tadmor): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/6/
Part V - Central Syria (Crac des Chevaliers, Homs, Hama, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/7/
Part VI - Aleppo Governorate (Syria's Second Capital): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/8/
Part VII - Euphrates Pt. 1 (Deir Ez-Zor Governorate): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/9/
Part VIII - Meditarranean Coast (Latakia, Tartous,...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/10/

Posted by espen.lutken 21:40 Archived in Syria Comments (0)

Syria - Part VII - Euphrates Pt. I - Deir Ez-Zor Governorate

Deir Ez-Zor City, Mari (Tell Hariir), Dura Europos (Athaar Salhiyeh), Halebiyyeh

The Euphrates and Deir Ez-Zor Governorate

Introduction

Ever since I came to Syria, I had a fascination with seeing the Euphrates, and entering the Fertile Crescent where human civilization first came into being with the establishment of the Mesopotamian civilization of Sumeria - and of course many yet to come. Today the ruins of Mari (Tell Hariir) offers the greatest insight into this most ancient of human settlements. Yet it took me about five months in the country before I actually made my way there...and most travelers miss it completely. Though there is quite some fascination with the river itself, it is too far away from any of Syria's big cities and most people cannot spare the 5-6 hour bus or train ride from Damascus or Aleppo, and if they do they only make a quick journey to stop by Al-Assad Lake in Ar-Raqqa Governorate to see Qala'at al-Ja'abar (Ja'abar Castle) and the famous vista of this castle-island. Yet I discovered that going out-of-your way to visit these two of Syria's poorest governorates is well worth it - if for seeing the fertile land stretching out from the river for miles, the colourfully-clad Bedouin women of the villages, the Roman fortresses, or the ruins of ancient civilizations. The city of Deir Ez-Zor is itself also worth a look.

On my trip to Deir Ez-Zor Governorate, we had planned to use the city to tour the ruins of Dura Europos and Mari, as well as wander through the city's souq. But upon meeting a local man who offered to take us to Halebiyyeh Castle, we agreed to come with him, and found a castle whose remains were as extensive as the best of the country's crusader castles but 1000 years their senior.

Though the stretch of the river offers one of Syria's year-round farming areas, the entire area only lights up, blooms and shows off its true colours during the main agricultural season. I am not completely certain about the dates here, but everyone told us we were about a month early, so March/April would be your best bet for the greatest experience.

Deir Ez-Zor City

We came to Deir Ez-Zor expecting to find poverty all around us. We had heard so much about how little there is there, but instead we found a city much more developed than Damascus. The houses were the first indication of this, with much fewer of the dull gray apartment complexes that clog the capital and much of Aleppo. I guess that that is the oil's doing. After perusing through town for some minutes we headed down the souq/market, which though far less extensive than its sister Souq al-Hamediyya in Damascus, due to the near non-existence of foreign tourists was much more genuinely a place of trade for locals and due to a UNDP renovation project, much cleaner and nicer as well.

Deir Ez-Zor - Souq

Deir Ez-Zor - Souq

Deir Ez-Zor - The Road Bridge Built But Not Used

Deir Ez-Zor - The Road Bridge Built But Not Used

During our stay in the town, there were two particular landmarks which locals constantly bombarded us with - the Museum and the Suspension Bridge. We were told on numerous occasions that the museum in town was the country's finest and that all of the few tourists that make it here sing its praises above that of National Museum in Damascus. Unfortunately we never managed to make our way there, so cannot attest to the veracity of this claim, but the suspension bridge over the Euphrates sure was worth it. It offers only a pedestrian walkway across the great river, but is nonetheless a good feat of engineering, and either bank is scattered with restaurants and cafes of differing caliber.

Deir Ez-Zor - Suspension Bridge

Deir Ez-Zor - Suspension Bridge

Deir Ez-Zor - View of Euphrates from the Suspension Bridge

Deir Ez-Zor - View of Euphrates from the Suspension Bridge

Deir Ez-Zor - View of Euphrates Suspension Bridge from Riverbank

Deir Ez-Zor - View of Euphrates Suspension Bridge from Riverbank

Mari - Tell Hariir

Ruins

Mari, or Tell Hariir, is the single greatest key to unlocking the secrets of Mesopotamia's and Sumeria's past. My guidebook describes the ruins as not very extensive and in need of some imagination to visualize the city's past, and though this is true, I found that unlike its description of the better preserved ruins at Dura Europos, I highly preferred Mari over the other. This is due to the fact that Palmyra (and several other sites I have visited such as Pompeii, Jerash, Ephesus and Hierapolis) offer plentiful and more extensive Roman sites, whereas Mari's ruins give you knowledge of a completely different civilization - and one much older. Though the Sumerian Civilization itself sprouted about 8,000-9,000 years ago, most of the ruins of the site begins about 6,000 years ago until about 2,400 BC.

At the site itself are a few different layers or sections of ruins. We first headed to the remains of what must have been the remains of old houses and other forms of dwelling. Though it is true that some imagination is needed, several features are immediately evident: a) the building style and b) house components. We saw that houses were made of a sort of mud brick inlaid with hay (pictured below), and noticed everything from staircases to water basins.

Mari - Mud Bricks

Mari - Mud Bricks

Mari - Houses

Mari - Houses

After this section there is a covered part of the ruins, which I suppose indicates current excavation work or weather preservation, and containing the remains of Mari's most famous treasure - the Palace of Zimri Lin, one of Sumeria's most famous rulers. Though the palace out-dates him by centuries, it still bears his name. In here there are corridors and even a large throne/ball room of sorts. Though it once had more than 300 rooms, there are maybe 30 still remaining.

Mari - Palace of Zimri Lin

Mari - Palace of Zimri Lin

Mari - Palace of Zimri Lin (2)

Mari - Palace of Zimri Lin (2)

Outside the Palace of Zimri Lin is the third and final area of ruins, which includes both houses and an above-ground construction of something that could be everything from a temple alter to an extension of the palace itself (bringing a guidebook might explain this further).

Mari - Sumerian Ruins

Mari - Sumerian Ruins

Mari - Sumerian Ruins and Dwellings

Mari - Sumerian Ruins and Dwellings

Natural and Human Facets

On our visit, Mari also a few contrasts. On one hand, it seems to be a completely deserted ruin far from any kind of human civilization, until you step over a hill and see a large town behind. Secondly, the fertile Euphrates valley offers splendid natural riches not far away, but unbeknowst to much of the world Syria is currently suffering from an extended drought which is no less obvious upon a visit.

Mari - The Town Beyond the Ruins

Mari - The Town Beyond the Ruins

Mari - The Signs of Fertility

Mari - The Signs of Fertility

Mari - The Signs of Drought

Mari - The Signs of Drought

Traveling

Getting between sights along the river may prove difficult for those who are not traveling with a travel company. There are service/micro buses running between Deir Ez-Zor and Abu Kamal which upon request drops you off near the ruins, necessitating a short walk between them. Thus if you just want to see one sight, getting to it will not prove difficult. From there, however, you might find problems. To catch a new bus you must walk back to the drop off point and wait for a new one pass (which is not too infrequent). The problem, however, is that many of them will already be full with people going all the way from Abu Kamal to Deir Ez-Zor. If you are just one person, the problem is small, but if you are a group, you will be hard pressed to find one to fit you all. So we decided to hitch hike. Though for many hitch hiking in the Middle East sounds dangerous, Syria is a very safe country and I would easily choose to hitch hike here over any place in Europe or America. After about 5 minutes we were picked up by a family with a large van and sat in the back in luxury with three or four of their children - who were all too scared to talk to us, though their parents did their best to prompt them to. We also hitched between Dura Europos and Deir Ez-Zor.

Dura Europos

Dura Europos was a Roman city located strategically atop the plateau of the Euphrates. This means that entering the ruins today you have desert/steppe on the entire horizon, and as you walk down to the far side of the ruins you are suddenly faced with a fertile valley stretching as far as the eye can see....quite the shock...especially if this is done before you see the Euphrates in Deir Ez-Zor itself! The most famous section of Dura Europos has been removed and is now in the National Museum in Damascus - the Synagogue full of frescoes. Now most of the ruins are the extensive remains of the city wall, indicating the immensity of the once Roman city, as well as a fortress-type structure overlooking the Euphrates. Another aspect of interest is the tunnel underneath the wall which gives history's first recorded event of chemical warfare when toxic gas was released upon the Romans inside by tunneling enemies.

Dura Europos - Scaling the city walls!

Dura Europos - Scaling the city walls!

Dura Europos - Looking out onto the valley below

Dura Europos - Looking out onto the valley below

Dura Europos - The Tunnels Below

Dura Europos - The Tunnels Below

Halebiyye Castle

Though it is mentioned in the Lonely Planet, we really had no idea what was awaiting us when we arrived at Halebiyye. Perched atop a hill overlooking the Euphrates river basin is a seemingly crusader castle with two sets of walls running down towards the river below...and instead of being from the Middle Ages is a thousand years older, serving as Syria's famous Queen Zenobia's summer residence in the heyday of Palmyra's power. It is pure pleasure wandering around the remains and climbing on the remaining fortifications which, from certain viewpoints remind one of the Great Wall of China as they stretch as far as the eye can see.

Halebiyye - View of the castle from the base

Halebiyye - View of the castle from the base

Halebiyye - Castle Walls

Halebiyye - Castle Walls

Halebiyye - Peeking out of a castle window

Halebiyye - Peeking out of a castle window

Halebiyye - View from the castle

Halebiyye - View from the castle

Links to other entries

If you are interested in knowing more about other places to visit in Syria, I have several other blog entries covering other regions.
All of Syria: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/
Part I - Damascus and Introduction to the Country: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/3/
Part II - The South (Bosra, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/4/
Part III - Damascus Countryside (Ma'aloula, Seydnayya, Deir Mar Musa, Bloudan, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/5/
Part IV - The Road to Palmyra (Tadmor): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/6/
Part V - Central Syria (Crac des Chevaliers, Homs, Hama, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/7/
Part VI - Aleppo Governorate (Syria's Second Capital): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/8/
Part VII - Euphrates Pt. 1 (Deir Ez-Zor Governorate): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/9/
Part VIII - Meditarranean Coast (Latakia, Tartous,...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/10/

Posted by espen.lutken 00:34 Archived in Syria Comments (0)

Syria - Part VIII - Mediterranean Coast (Latakia,Tartous...)

Latakia, Tartous, Saladin Castle (Qala'at Salah ad-Din), Ugarit, Marqab Castle (Qala'at Marqab)

Syra - Part VIII - Mediterranean Coast

Introduction

Syria’s coastal regions are in some ways a world apart from the rest of the country. Home to the largest numbers of the country’s Alawite population, headscarved women form the minority here to crowds of liberal and more Western-oriented Alawites. The region which also birthed the current President’s father and the man who ruled the country for the next four decades also ensured a steady flow of money into its cities and villages, meaning European-style boulevards, Lebanon-like but not quite yet architectural standards, and more generally a higher level of development. Lying on the coast a richer foundation of water resources and so the mountain ranges are covered in forest or other forms of vegetation…at least in Spring.

I was lucky enough to visit a weekend during the last half of March, which is only beat by the increasing flower-coverage of a few weeks later. So I saw forest covering every mountain as far as the eye could see and flower groves with blooming cherry-blossoms! All the whilst traversing crusader forts and more ancient ruins.

Around Latakia lie Syria's best beaches, the ruins of Ugarit (aka. Ra’s Shamra), which sired the world’s oldest alphabet, as well as Qala’at Salah ad-Din, which arguably claims to be the second greatest crusader castle in existence after its southern brother, Krak des Chevaliers. On the road between Tartous and Latakia you can stop at Qala’at Marqab, which is if anything is equal to Qala’at Salah ad-Din, strikingly overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Tartous itself is the crusader city of Tortosa, with a charming old city but not much else on show. Outside Tartous some 6 kilometers off the coast is the Crusader’s last foothold in the holy land…the Island of Arwad, which housed an ancient kingdom and now a flutter of narrow alleys and graffiti. Though the region has much more to contribute, as I only had one long weekend there this is as far as my experience of it goes.

Latakia (Lad'iyye)

Though there is not much left in Latakia of its long history apart from a plaza encircling four Roman columns, the city is more laid-back than many of its counter-parts and for the more conventional tourists offers some more prime hotels and resorts, including by far the country’s greatest beaches (including Shaati’ al-Azraq). For others, visits to Salah ad-Din and Ugarit are essential. Though due to time constraints I was unable to test the quality of the beaches, I can attest to the spectacular azure colour of the water and only wish I had had more time there. Otherwise, having a walk along the Corniche and enjoying the open Mediterranean lifestyle are worthwhile for those who have felt constrained by Middle Eastern life. Unfortunately, however, an I-cannot-imagine-who-came-up-with-it project saw the construction of a vast port alongside the city’s Corniche, blocking from view the Sea and the city’s greatest atmospherical attraction.

Latakia - Corniche

Latakia - Corniche

Qala'at Salah ad-Din (Saladin Castle)

Perched atop a mountaintop some 40 km from Latakia this crusader citadel offers endless opportunities for exploration.

From Latakia to the Castle

To get to the castle you can hop on the same Service/Microbus which leads to the beaches (Shaati’ al-Azraq) and just continue until you reach the village of al-Haffe. From here you can choose to walk the next few kilometers, hitch-hike or hire a taxi to take you to the citadel. We hitch-hiked all the ascending sections and walked the rest. Just walking will by itself take 1 to 2 hours at least. I advise that you walk at least one of the directions, or hop off once you’ve reached the first point where you can look upon the castle from afar and then hop off. Here you can view the edifice in all its glory, with ruined walls crawling down the mountainside and the more intact remains off in the distance.

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Me and View of Castle from afar

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Me and View of Castle from afar

You might even, like us, have the luck of running into some local herders and spend some minutes playing with the animals.

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Me and Sheep

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Me and Sheep

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Sheep

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Sheep

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Hitch-hiking up the hill

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Hitch-hiking up the hill

Entering the Castle

On approaching the citadel you are right from the outset confronted with one of the inexplicable delights of the castle. In their efforts to fortify the structure, the crusaders in what I can only call and absolutely crazy endeavor dug an entire gorge around the mountainside, leaving the castle completely remote atop a hill. One lonely pillar remains in the gorge, providing what was once the necessary support for the drawbridge.

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Outer Walls of the Citadel and the Crusader-carved valley beneath

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Outer Walls of the Citadel and the Crusader-carved valley beneath

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Crusader-carved valley with lonely drawbridge pillar left standing

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Crusader-carved valley with lonely drawbridge pillar left standing

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - The entrance stairwell to the castle

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - The entrance stairwell to the castle

The Most Intact Section

Once inside you are immediately in the most well-preserved sections. Though most of the structure remains in ruin, there are large sections still intact at this end of the citadel.

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Intact remains

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Intact remains

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Intact remains (2)

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Intact remains (2)

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Intact remains and stormy clouds

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Intact remains and stormy clouds

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Water Reservoir

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Water Reservoir

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Intact remains (3)

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Intact remains (3)

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Intact remains (4)

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Intact remains (4)

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Tower

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Tower

Climbing and Making Your Way Along the Walls

As you have explored the chambers and headed around the walls towards the top of the keep where you can look upon the spare remains of the walls climbing down the mountain in front you, there is a small hill behind you with ruins that look upon the entirety of the castle in any direction. The pictures shown above of the “Intact Remains” are taken from up there. In the other direction lies this:

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - From atop with walls, valleys and lake in the background

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - From atop with walls, valleys and lake in the background

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - From atop with walls, valleys and lake in the background (2)

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - From atop with walls, valleys and lake in the background (2)

When you have head all around and are again on the side where you entered the castle, it is possible to find a small trail leading down to the walls which crawl down the mountainside. From the top it seems that you cannot get to them, and indeed I overheard one of the guides explaining that he had never made his way down there. Thus I made up my mind that I must. And worth it it was! There is a little chapel down there, great vegetation, and splendid views. I even found an almost secret stairway leading to the roof of one of the structures.

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Carolin looking through the secret stairwell

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Carolin looking through the secret stairwell

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Looking at the Castle from the Chapel

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Looking at the Castle from the Chapel

Nature

The wild vegetation around the castle greatly intensifies the experience of any visit…especially during spring when every flower and tree is blooming. Here is a small sample.

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Looking at the Castle from the Chapel with Vegetation

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Looking at the Castle from the Chapel with Vegetation

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Yellow flowers

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Yellow flowers

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Pink Flowers

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Pink Flowers

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Forest all around

Qala'at Salah ad-Din - Forest all around

Ugarit

An ancient city dating back some 8,000 years and reaching its height around the 15th and 14th Centuries BC, Ugarit is today naught much more than the foundational remains of vast sections of its ancient city. The façade of the ancient Royal Palace is the only recognizable edifice remaining in the city, which due to its flourishing trade with Egypt was established as the world’s first international port city. Most famously on this site was the discovery of tens of thousands of tablets in the library of the old temples, giving rich evidence of the city’s political, social, and religious life. The Ugaritic alphabet was the most striking of the discoveries, which not only offers us the world’s oldest “modern alphabet” (with symbols representing sounds instead of the pictorial hieroglyphs of the Egyptians or of Sumeria’s cuneiform), but even orders in the same order as our more known alphabets (alpha, beta, delta, gamma, etc…aka. A, B, C, D, etc.). It offers some light on just how little we actually know about the origins of our own civilization. Though the main attractions such as the Ugaritic tablets and the frescoes are now in various museums, the walk around the area is still well-worth it, especially during spring, if only because it offers light and ruins in a form which is not the more common Roman or Greek style.

Ugarit - Royal Palace Entrance

Ugarit - Royal Palace Entrance

Ugarit - Ruins

Ugarit - Ruins

Ugarit - Flower Grove

Ugarit - Flower Grove

Ugarit - Field and Blossoms

Ugarit - Field and Blossoms

Ugarit - Cherry Blossoms

Ugarit - Cherry Blossoms

Ugarit - Field

Ugarit - Field

Going to Tartous the Banyas and Qala’at al-Marqab Way

As we left Latakia for Tartous we decided to make the detour to visit the country’s third-most famous Crusader Castle, near the oil-refining town of Banyas, necessitating a quick pit-stop and change of bus here. We could not make out much of the town itself, though it made a beautiful view from atop the castle above. All we saw of the town was a small river and a pretty mosque. To get to the castle take ask the locals for the Service/Microbus that lehttp://www.travellerspoint.com/my_blognewentry.cfm?blogid=28690ads up the hill towards the Qala’a. At least on the way down it is possible to hitch-hike most of the way, but the prices are negligible anyways (under half a Euro). The castle itself is not as immense and well-preserved as Crac des Chevaliers, but is more strikingly located and at least a third of it is in a great state of preservation.

Banyas - Mosque

Banyas - Mosque

The castle above and a short excursion to a nearby hill

Once you reach the ramparts and entrance to the castle, you can either pay the entrance fee and enter or take a small trip a bit further along the road and climb the nearest small hillside to get a bird’s eye view of the structure with the mountains and the Mediterranean in the background. I ran this trip from the restaurant outside the castle walls, and the trip, taking pictures, and return took me 20 minutes, though if you walk, it would likely be the double.

Qala'at Marqab - Castle from afar

Qala'at Marqab - Castle from afar

Qala'at Marqab - Close-up

Qala'at Marqab - Close-up

Qala'at Marqab - By the entrance

Qala'at Marqab - By the entrance

Qala'at Marqab - By the entrance (2)

Qala'at Marqab - By the entrance (2)

Exploring the Castle

The castle itself is well worth exploring, and the main sections of preserved rooms, courtyards, towers, chapels, corridors, and halls lie to the right as you enter the castle. You can get onto more or less any roof and into almost every tower. There must be 10 to 20 large chambers or halls which served a variety of purposes in the past. The chapel, though currently undergoing some reparation, houses the world’s largest remaining Crusader chapel frescoes. Through a bit of sneaking and climbing, I managed to get my glimpse of it nonetheless. Another plus of this castle are the very helpful notices posted in Arabic, English, and French at most noteworthy stops.

Qala'at Marqab - Climbing to see the Chapel

Qala'at Marqab - Climbing to see the Chapel

Qala'at Marqab - Chapel Frescoes

Qala'at Marqab - Chapel Frescoes

Remaining Structures

Remaining Structures

Qala'at Marqab - Flowers growing from the walls

Qala'at Marqab - Flowers growing from the walls

Qala'at Marqab - Remaining Structures

Qala'at Marqab - Remaining Structures

Qala'at Marqab - Carolin and the Donjon

Qala'at Marqab - Carolin and the Donjon

Qala'at Marqab - Massive Castle Walls

Qala'at Marqab - Massive Castle Walls

The views from the castle, the countryside around, and the Mediterranean

One of the main attractions of this castle is to give a great setting to viewing the Mediterranean Sea and the surrounding mountains. See for yourself:

Qala'at Marqab - Town and Mediterranean

Qala'at Marqab - Town and Mediterranean

Qala'at Marqab - Far tower and town

Qala'at Marqab - Far tower and town

Qala'at Marqab - Castle With Mediterranean

Qala'at Marqab - Castle With Mediterranean

Qala'at Marqab - Castle With Mediterranean (2)

Qala'at Marqab - Castle With Mediterranean (2)

Qala'at Marqab - Hills

Qala'at Marqab - Hills

Qala'at Marqab - Hills (2)

Qala'at Marqab - Hills (2)

Qala'at Marqab - Flag

Qala'at Marqab - Flag

Qala'at Marqab - Greenhouses

Qala'at Marqab - Greenhouses

Tartous

Old City and Crusader Basilica

Tartous was once the fortified crusader city of Tortosa, but was first settled by those living on the ancient Kingdom-island of Arwad lying just a few kilometers off the coast and providing the country’s only island. Now the remnants of the ancient crusader city are few, but give the old city a definitive charm as you walk through what has obviously led to modern families taking residence and molding the citadel of old into modern dwellings as laundry hangs from every battlement window. Outside the ancient citadel is the old Crusader Basilica/Cathedral of Our Lady of Tortosa. The Corniche here, not blocked by a port like that of Latakia’s, is endlessly superior to the one found in its sister city to the North. There is also a nice park right next to the Qadmous Bus station which takes you back to Damascus. Everything is within a short walking distance of eachother…Tartous is a small city, with the highlights covering an even smaller niche.

Tartous - Cathedral/Basilica of Our Lady of Tortosa

Tartous - Cathedral/Basilica of Our Lady of Tortosa

Tartous - Inside the Cathedral/Basilica of Our Lady of Tortosa

Tartous - Inside the Cathedral/Basilica of Our Lady of Tortosa

Tartous - Park

Tartous - Park

Tartous - Old City

Tartous - Old City

Tartous - Old City (2)

Tartous - Old City (2)

Tartous - Old City (3)

Tartous - Old City (3)

Tartous - Old City (4)

Tartous - Old City (4)

Tartous - Old City Facade from Boat to Arwad

Tartous - Old City Facade from Boat to Arwad

Arwad

Arwad is Syria’s only island, and though these days it houses an impoverished population amidst narrow and littered streets, it was once a powerful Canaanite island kingdom settled by Phoenicians. Remnants of the old Phoenician city wall still straddle the coastline of the old island. In the age of the Crusaders, Arwad became their last stronghold as the Franks were pushed further and further away from Jerusalem. This heritage is now only visible in two towers/forts, the largest and only accessible one of which is in the centre of the island…but be careful to take the correct path leading there, or you will easily get lost in the narrow streets despite the compactness of the island. Boat building appears to be the local industry, and one can witness the inhabitants working hands-on on the hulls and masts of soon-to-be ships all along the coastline.

Arwad - Island from the Ship

Arwad - Island from the Ship

Arwad - Man with legs hanging from boat

Arwad - Man with legs hanging from boat

Arwad - Harbour

Arwad - Harbour

Arwad - Phoenician Walls

Arwad - Phoenician Walls

Arwad - Boat Building

Arwad - Boat Building

Arwad - Fort

Arwad - Fort

Links to other entries

If you are interested in knowing more about other places to visit in Syria, I have several other blog entries covering other regions.
All of Syria: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/
Part I - Damascus and Introduction to the Country: http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/3/
Part II - The South (Bosra, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/4/
Part III - Damascus Countryside (Ma'aloula, Seydnayya, Deir Mar Musa, Bloudan, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/5/
Part IV - The Road to Palmyra (Tadmor): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/6/
Part V - Central Syria (Crac des Chevaliers, Homs, Hama, ...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/7/
Part VI - Aleppo Governorate (Syria's Second Capital): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/8/
Part VII - Euphrates Pt. 1 (Deir Ez-Zor Governorate): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/9/
Part VIII - Meditarranean Coast (Latakia, Tartous,...): http://espen-lutken.travellerspoint.com/10/

Posted by espen.lutken 23:59 Archived in Syria Comments (0)

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