Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Syria -- Damascus, part 1

I spent my spring break visiting a friend who is living in Syria this school year to learn Arabic. In addition to her schoolwork, she volunteers as an English teacher in the Palestinian refugee camps and she's hoping to begin working with Iraqi Student Project this month.

The city of Damascus has a long, rich history. Inhabited for the first time between 6,000 and 5,000BC, by the 11th century BC it had become an Aramean capital. In the 10th century BC it passed under the control of David, then later that of Solomon. In 732BC it fell to the Assyrians, and then it fell to the Persians in 539BC. Then it was conquered by Alexander the Great, and then in 332BC it fell to the Greeks. Damascus began to flourish economically after being conquered by the Romans in 64BC In 634AD the city fell to the Arabs. It was seiged during the second crusade, then came under the control of Saladin, the ruler of Egypt, in the 12th century. In the 13th century it became the capital of the Mamluk Empire, then fell to the control of the Ottomans in 1516. The Ottoman period was a time of prosperity, and saw Damascus become part of the pilgrimage route to Mecca. The 19th century saw the rise of Arab nationalism and renewed conflict, and then the French mandate began in 1920. Syria finally became independent in 1946, with Damascus as the capital.

We spent Saturday night and all day Wednesday going around Damascus to sightsee. Saturday was spent at the Iranian mosque and the souk (after we finished a very painful Arabic-to-English translation about the medical consequences of the torture performed on a certain refugee by bandits. It was very hard to get through, and it made me very glad that I'm not a man.)

The Iranian mosque is known for its opulence, and certain sects are very critical of it for that very reason.

I looked pretty ridiculous in the cagoule-looking thing they give all tourists to wear.

The souk has stalls selling all sorts of things, from spices to shoes and clothing to silks and water pipes.

I was quite surprised to find an underwear store with its wares displayed for all to see... and some of the items for sale inside were a little kinky!

The Omeyyades mosque is right outside the souk. We didn't go in until later on in the week, but it's very pretty from the outside at nightfall.

By the other souk exit, there's also a billboard of the president (well, okay, dictator. But we don't discuss politics on this blog!) It's the second of a two-part ad -- the first one says, "I believe in Syria."

That night we went out for dinner at a traditional restaurant and ate tons of delicious food. The vile-looking green liquid I'm drinking? That's the most wonderful lemonade I've ever had in my life. It's got ground fresh mint leaves in it... so good!

1 comment:

Expat Traveler said...

wow - looks like a lot of fun! But let me say it's probably not something I would do...

I'm sure you'll be seeing spring soon!