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Travel Directory / Middle East / Syria

Syria Travel Guide

Syria, the name of the country alone conjures images of exotic locales and historic sites, mysterious peoples and fascinating landscapes. It is a land both ancient and modern, a window to the past and a glimpse to the future.

Syria's capital, Damascus, is the world's oldest continuously inhabited city, first mentioned in written sources as far back as four thousand years ago. Archeological finds show Damascus to have been an inhabited location since the seventh millennium B.C. Throughout the millennia Damascus has been home to several peoples and cultures, each of them leaving their own unique mark on this ancient city.

Some gates and ramparts of the Old City of Damascus are still standing today, on the northern, eastern, and parts of the southern side of the Old City. The oldest of these gates date back to Roman times. One of these gates, Bab Kisan, is held by tradition to be the gate from which St. Paul was lowered in a basket to escape from Damascus.

Christianity is not the only religion to have influenced this city. The Grand Mosque of Damascus, the Umayyad Mosque, is on of the oldest and largest mosques in the world. It supposedly houses the head if John the Baptist, who is revered by Moslems and Christians alike. Before becoming a mosque, the Umayyad Mosque was the Church of Saint John. Before that, it was a Roman temple to Jupiter, and even before that, it was an Aramean temple to the god Hadad. The Umayyad Mosque is an impressive architectural wonder, with its grand courtyard and towering minarets.

Damascus is not all historical and religious sites, it is also famous for the Souqs. The souq is like a market of stalls and booths selling nearly every imaginable thing. A souq is every shopper's dream, and Damascus' colorful souqs are filled with bargains and souvenirs just waiting to be found.

Syria is also home to the city Aleppo, another of the oldest continuously inhabited cities. The citadel of Aleppo, a medieval castle, is found in the middle of the city. It is one of the oldest and largest castles in the world, dating back to the third millennium BC and was subsequently built upon or improved by succeeding occupants. Its base is an elliptical mound covered with limestone. The fortified gateway of the citadel, accessible through an arched bridge, is one of its distinguishing features. The Byzantine Hall, the Throne Hall with its restored ceiling, and the amphitheatre are some of the sites in the citadels interior that are particularly fascinating. The citadel's amphitheatre is often used in the present for concerts and other cultural productions.

Even the desert wastes are not bereft of wonders. Palmyra, an ancient city of ruins in the Syrian Desert, is a caravan city built on an oasis. It was part of the ancient Silk Road and was called "Bride of the Desert". The ruins of Palmyra cover an area of six square kilometers, including graceful columns and towering arches glowing pink under the desert sun. Ruined temples to Babylonian and Roman deities still stand along colonnaded streets.


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