We visited the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world as pilgrims and tourists – the oldest because Damascus, the capital of Syria and its largest city with about 4.5 million people was established between 10,000 to 8,000 B.C.
Syria may not be a popular tourist destination. However, this Middle Eastern country has so many historic places that will let you travel timelessly. Once the centre of the caravan trade between the East and West, Syria is one of the earth’s most ancient inhabited places.
First Day – October 7 – We visited the National Museum of Damascus where exhibits are organized into five wings – prehistoric age, ancient Syria, classical age, Islamic Age, and the Image Gallery.
The “Street Called Straight” is still here. It is the Roman street that runs from east to west in the Old City of Damascus. “Straight Street” is mentioned in the story of Apostle Paul’s conversion to Christianity in Acts 9 of the Bible. Don’t miss the Souq (market) al-Hamidiyya, a broad street packed with tiny shops, smell of cumin and other distinctive spices. At the end of the souq stands the great Umayyad Mosque, the most well-known of the more than 2,000 mosques in Damascus. An architectural wonder, it is unique in engineering and decrations. Built by Umayyad Calip Al-Walid in 705 A.D., the grand mosque has four doors, three minarets and has four spacious halls. In the courtyard there are three domes – money domes, clocks dome and a dome over the fountain in the middle of the courtyard. Located in the gardens just outside the mosque is the Mausoleum of Salah al-din, known in the west as Saladin, the chief anti-crusader.
Day Two – October 8 – We made the trip to the ancient Aramaic city of Maalula located about 50 kms. northeast from Damascus. A predominantly Christian village with a population of 2,000, Maalula is the home of two ancient Christian monasteries, Mar Sarkis and Mar Tagla. This magnificent village is the only place in the world that still speaks Aramaic, the language of our Lord Jesus Christ. You’ll see houses, constructed of stones with flat beam roofs, are built on the slopes of a huge cirque of rocks that encloses the village. We also visited the St. Thecla Monastery, a blessed place where people from different religions come to gain blessings and to make offerings.
A must-see is Palmyra, the magnificent ruins of a Roman city in the middle of the desert. The most striking building in Palmyra is the huge Temple of Ba’al. The second most noteworthy remain is the theatre. The colonnaded street leads to the rest of this ancient city.
Day Three – October 9 – One of the premier tourist attractions in Syria is the “Krak des Chevaliers”, popularly known as the “Castles of the Knights”, widely recognized as the archetypal Crusaders Castle. “Krak” means fortress. The Krak is described by T. E. Lawrence of Arabia as “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world”. Part of a defensive network along the border of the old Crusader states, the fortress was the headquarters of the Knights Hospitalier during the Crusades. It is a medieval military castle.
Last but not the least is the ancient city of Bosra in southern Syria, home to the largest, most beautiful and well-preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world.
A major archaeological site, Bosra has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The most ideal time to visit Syria is October.