Damascus is the capital of the Syrian Arab Republic,
and is the world’s oldest inhabited city.
A central characteristic of this cluttered and clamorous city is
the Ummayyad Mosque, entered by passing through
the Al-Hamidiyah Bazaar. The history of the mosque in many ways
traces the history of Damascus, built on the site of a temple to
the ancient Aramean god Haddad, the original temple was modified
and enlarged by the Romans and used as a temple to Jupiter. It was
later knocked down by the Byzantines, who replaced the pagan temple
with the Cathedral of John the Baptist, which was
consequently converted into a mosque to accommodate the Islamic
teachings brought by the Arabs in AD 636. The mosque contains the
Tomb of St John the Baptist.
The Tikiyeh mosque, built in the mid 16th century,
stands out by its 2 elegant minarets and great dome. The 18th century
Al Azem Palace is now a national museum, where
there are, amongst other examples of Islamic art, skillfully illuminated
copies of the Koran. Located in old Damascus, a little way off the
famous Via Recta, or the ‘Street called Straight’, is
the House of Hanania, where St Paul hid using the
underground chapel for worship. The church in the Damascus Wall
from where St Paul escaped in a basket is also still conserved.
Another attraction worth seeing is the Long Souk
(market). Other places include the Sayyida Zainab Shrine (the granddaughter
of the Prophet Mohammad), the Tomb of Saladin at the back of the
Ummayyad Mosque, and the outskirts of Damascus, especially Dummar,
with seasonal entertainment and restaurants. Ghota, the fruit orchards
surrounding Damascus, is at its best during the blooming of plums,
apricot, cherries and other trees in early spring.
Bosra was the 1st city in the Syrian Arab Republic to become Muslim
and has some of the oldest minarets in the whole of Islam. As a
stopover on the pilgrimage route to Mecca,
Bosra was a wealthy city until the 17 th century. By then the region
was becoming dangerous and the pilgrims began to take a less dangerous
route further west.
Bosra’s main attraction is a well preserved Roman
amphitheatre (with room for 15,000 spectators)
in which a musical festival is held every 2 years. The eastern exit
to the town is 1 of its last surviving vestiges of a pre Roman civilisation.
The remains of an archway dating from the 1st century, the Nabatean
period, of which nearly all traces are now lost, are unique in the
Syrian Arab Republic.
The Mosque of Omar in the centre of the town (called
Jami-al Arouss, ‘the bridal mosque’, by the Bosriots),
used to be a pagan temple and now stands as the only mosque surviving
from the early Islamic period that has conserved its original facades.
Further interesting sites include Salkhad, 23 kilometres
(14 miles) east of Bosra, which has a citadel dating from the time
of the Crusades, Al Inat, 26 kilometres (15miles) south east of
Salkhad, with its a great reservoir dug out of the rock, and the
ruins at Umm Al Qotein, near the Jordanian border.
This town is located in a desert oasis. The city was ruled by the
legendary Queen Zenobia, who stood against the 2 great empires of
the Romans and the Persians. Zenobia was taken
captive to Rome when the Emperor Aurelian conquered and ruined the
city in AD 272. The ruins of the Valley of Tombs, the Hypogeum of
the Three Brothers, the Temple of Baal and the Monumental Arch,
now a world UNESCO Heritage Site, are some of the fine remains found
over a wide area of the city, prized as containing some of the most
well known monuments to the Classical period in the Middle East.
The 3rd largest city in the Syrian Arab Republic,
Homs is known for its industry, and is the site of the Syrian Arab
Republic’s 1st oil refinery. A place of historical interest
is the mausoleum of Khalid Ibn al-Walid.
65 kilometres (40 miles) outside Homs, Crac des Chevaliers
is the most famous crusader castle in the world. A stronghold of
the Hospitallers during the days of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem
(1100 to 1290), it maintained a garrison of several 1000 soldiers
in peacetime. The castle, rising from an altitude of 670 metres
(2,200 feet), was protected by watchtowers and supplied with food
from the surrounding fertile countryside. The crusader castles of
Salaheddin, near Latakia, and Markab, near Banyas, are also worth
Located on the River Orontes, 45 kilometres (28 miles) from Homs,
Hama dates back to beyond 5000 BC. The Norias,
gigantic wooden waterwheels, are a unique feature, still used to
provide water for the city and to irrigate the several public gardens.
The orchards, the Great Mosque and the Al Azem Palace’s Museum
are also popular.
Possibly older than Damascus, Aleppo’s massive Citadel
stands on the site of a Hittite acropolis. This UNESCO Heritage
Site is one of the most splendid examples of Islamic Arab military
architecture in the Syrian Arab Republic. There are an remarkable
number of mosques in the city. For the tourist, the souk (market),
made up of 16 kilometres (10 miles) of meandering low corridors
lined with shops and bustling with activity, is probably the greatest
The well preserved hammams, or
public baths, are of interest, as well as the ancient khans (rest
houses). Some fine artefacts and historic reminders of the Syrian
Arab Republic’s rich cultural past are placed in the archaeological
museum. Aleppo is also the commercial and industrial centre of the
Syrian Arab Republic.
This is the Syrian Arab Republic’s main port
and the metropolitan city of the country. Set on the Mediterranean
coast, Latakia is a main holiday resort. The city
stands at the bottom of the forested chain of mountains overlooking
the coastal strip on one side and the edge of the Fertile Plains
(the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’) on the other. There are
numerous antiquities, including the ruined Temple of Bacchus and
a triumphal arch.
Attractions in the area include the town of Tartus, beaches and
mountains, and the Latakia mountain resorts of Slounfeh and Kassab.
Near Tartus, 10 kilometres (6 miles) inland, are the Drekish Mountains,
famous for the purity of their water.
The sites and cities included in this regional description are described
in order of appearance as the River Euphrates flows southwestward:
Ja’bar Citadel is 1 of the Seleucid
fortresses. Situated to the west of Raqqa, it stands on a
spit of land and is mirrored in the blue waters of the Euphrates.
Located on the left bank of the river, the ancient city of
Raqqa was built by Alexander the Great in
the 4th century BC. Since the construction of the Euphrates
Dam, it has played a significant economic role in the life
of the modern Syrian Arab Republic.
Halabiyé and Zalabiya
are situated 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Deir ez Zor. Their
ruins bear witness to their essential military role during
the reign of Queen Zenobia.
Deir ez Zor, considered to be the ‘pearl
of the Euphrates’, is situated on the right bank of
the river. The garden and orchards along the banks of the
Euphrates harmonise marvellously with the golden desert hues
and the silver thread of the river.
Rahba Citadel, near Mayadin, was built to
ensure the defence of the Euphrates route and to withstand
Tatar and Mongol invasions.
The ancient city of Doura Europos (Salhieh)
played a significant economic and military role during the
time of the Ancient Greeks, Persians, Romans, and the Palmyrans.
Mari was built at a tactical point on the
trade routes from the Syrian Arab Republic to Mesopotamia.
The town’s oldest ruins date back 5,000 years. Mari’s
most inspiring sight is the extraordinary Royal Palace. Built
by Zimrilim, ruler of this important city state 2,000 years
ago, this enormous palace boasts 300 rooms and halls. It was
rediscovered in the course of excavations during the 1930's
and is now sheltered by a modern roof.