My trip to Syria in 2008

Syria has a varied cultural heritage inherited from the various civilizations and invaders who succeeded one another, from the first farmers to the French mandate. However, these are not truly emblematic sites in the history of humanity that everyone dreams of visiting once in his life. Certainly Syria possesses Palmyra where, once in the middle of the ruins, one lets oneself rocked by the magic of the places

Then we must overcome the prejudices about Syria itself. The poor reputation of the country, the low valuation of its tourist facilities and the high cost of stays place Syria away from major tourist destinations. And yet those who have visited the souks of Aleppo or Damascus will consider Marrakech and the other Moroccan souks as infamous alleys. Those who have taken the time to sympathize with Syrians will only hate Egypt and the harassment that tourists are constantly experiencing.
Syria is a little-known country where one does not expect to find exceptional things; The opposite happens on a daily basis, in contact with the population, at random in streets and villages. Syria is not an ordinary destination and that is its main asset.
 
Spend the evening on the patio of an old Damascene house smoking a narghile and eating mezze (Oriental starters), having a tea in the sunny sun at the Old Zenobia in Palmyra or on the banks of the Euphrates, And silver jewelry in the Aleppo souk or more simply enjoy the exquisite hospitality of a family … Syria can not leave indifferent. Nothing is evident in this complex country from the point of view of social relations and everyday life.
       
 
In the 19th century, intellectuals traveled to the East to discover the vestiges of past civilizations and were lulled by the sweetness of life they found there. True cultural tourism is not one that collects ruins, but one that opens without prejudice to another society and which, why not, returns with the eye of the Persian.

An open-air history book

Syria is a book of open-air history, of course by the richness of its archaeological remains, but also because the atmosphere in which it is bathed is timeless. The Syrians speak of the Phoenicians, of the schisms of Oriental Christendom or of Islam, of the Umayyad caliphate as if they dated yesterday. As in the former Communist Europe, it seems that a layer of patina covers Syria. Thus, apart from modernism and globalization, Syria has been able to preserve its traditions, its identity and, above all, a generous hospitality that makes it more pleasant to stay. We do not visit Syria as a museum with pieces frozen behind showcases. The monuments are alive, integrated in the landscape and, for some, always functional. The story is not divided into chronological chapters; It is an aggregate in which one loses one’s temporal references.

Damascus

Damascus is an early inhabited oasis. Conquered by Egypt of the Pharaohs in -1482 BC. It was then incorporated into the kingdom of the Aramaeans during the reign of King David. Hezion, divergent of King Solomon, took the city and founded a dynasty there. During his reign, Damascus shines and becomes the most prominent place in Syria. The city then passes into the hands of the Romans. Its history is marked by Saul, who became Saint Paul, who would have received illumination on the road to Damascus. A Christian bishop is founded there. Passed under Arab domination, the locality becomes Islam and becomes capital of the Ommeyads, who build there the grand mosque of Ommeyades. Pillaged by the Mongols in 1400, it became a Mamluk province before joining the Ottoman Empire in 1516. During the First World War, Lawrence of Arabia organized the revolt of the local chiefs. Independence was signed in 1918 but was not really effective until 1946, after 26 years of French occupation

The magnificent Umayyad mosque in Damascus

In the historic heart of old Damascus, has always been a symbol of coexistence among religious communities .
Built on a site that has served as a place of worship for centuries, it still preserves the remains of the Roman temple of Jupiter, itself built in the 3rd century on the site of an ancient temple of Hadad, a Syro-Aramaic god. This mosque where Christians and Muslims prayed side by side at the time of the Umayyads, houses the tomb of Saint John the Baptist (the prophet Yahia for Muslims).

Damascus: the Jupiter temple (III A.C.) in front of Omayyad mosque

 I took the two following pictures at night in one of the small streets around the Umayyad mosque in Damascus. A small alley like there are thousands in the old town. At night there was absolute calm, which contrasts with the noise and animation of the day.
 
 The Sinan Pasha Mosque

             

Built in 1590, the Sinan Pasha Mosque (Al Sinanya) is one of the most beautiful Ottoman mosques in Damascus. It is located outside the old Damascus wall, just in front of Bab Al-Jabieh (Gate Al-Jabieh). I walked past this mosque as I walked through the souk

Aleppo

Aleppo, the second largest city in the country, is 2.5 million inhabitants “the oldest city that has never stopped being inhabited”? Or is it Damascus, the capital? Nobody knows how to decide then it is the rivalry between the 2 cities! The old town of Aleppo is a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
  There is a very special atmosphere that is difficult to describe, as if we were going back in time or if we were part of a group of extras for an “Ali-baba” style film. The souks are described as the most authentic of the Near and Middle East. They are spread over 12 km in all! The narrow and often covered streets pass from one caravanserai to another, they now serve as warehouses (the Khans).
                                                                
You soon feel like you are in a labyrinth full of people and articles of all kinds (sometimes difficult to take pictures): from the souk of crafts to that of soaps to jewelery, Clothes, spices, dried fruit or butchery … there is nothing missing! We go from very pleasant odors to others more nauseating! We took full nostrils but also full eyes, there are beautiful fabrics of all colors, And very nice clothes too, to buy something, you have to haggle, this is the golden rule in the souks.

The Umayyad mosque in Aleppo

I discovered the spiritual relationship between the two mosques of the Umayyads of Aleppo and Damascus. That of Aleppo keeps the remains of Saint Zakaria, the prophet Zakaria for the Muslims, the father of Saint John the Baptist (the prophet Yahia for the Muslims) whose grave is in the great mosque of Damascus. The minaret of the mosque of Aleppo collapsed on 24 April 2013.
 The Citadel of Aleppo 
The medieval citadel built in the 12th and 13th centuries by the Muslim defenders of the city to protect it from the invasions, surrounded by a deep circular trench where the rubbish accumulates.
Crusaders is one of the most visible symbols of Aleppo, the economic capital and largest city of pre-war Syria. It was, of course, open to the public, and in addition to a stunning view of the great metropolis five millennia, visitors could see a large amphitheater carved in the rock and a “throne room” of the Mamluk period, luxuriously decorated in Cedar woodwork.
  

The village of Maaloula

The village of Maaloula perched like an eagle’s nest on the heights of Mount Qalamoun has always fascinated me. Here, the language of Christ, Aramaic, is always spoken by the inhabitants of the village and the Mass continues to be celebrated in this language. They continue to celebrate the miracle of St. Thecle (Mar Takla). Persecuted by Roman soldiers, Thècle, a young pagan converted to Christianity, owed his salvation only to the mountain that would have opened in its path. She would thus have found refuge in a cave, from which comes a sacred spring.

Crac des chevaliers

“The most admirable of all the castles in the world”, so Thomas Edward Lawrence, alias Lawrence of Arabia, described the Crac des chevaliers or “Qualaat Al Hesn” in Arabic. This majestic citadel which stands some sixty kilometers west of Homs was one of the most important castles. This visit was for me one of the most spectacular I did in Syria but also in all my life