Check out all the photos of this trip on our Facebook page ” AfricanTrailsOverlands and Safaris” as we have been having problems with the photos.
Crossing late in the day, we bush camp amongst a grove of olive trees and spend our first day in Syria at the historical site of Bosra. Once the capital of the Roman province of Arabia the centerpiece of the city is the citadel built in the 2nd century AD. HHHHousing a 15,000-seat theatre and boasting amazing acoustics there were a few amongst us fancying themselves as performers and using the stage for our own theatrics. The theatre itself is surrounded by ruins and we wander through Roman baths, a monastery and a cathedral, monumental gates and colonnades, amazed that many of the structures have been adapted by the local population who now call these ruins home.
Leaving Bosra we drive to Damascus, the capital of Syria and a city of legend. Damascus thought to be the world’s oldest continually inhabited city holds its meaning in the historical significance of the OldCity. Barricaded by huge stone walls, it’s a rabbit warren of alleyways comprised largely of the stalls that make up the Souq al-Hamidiyya, the main market in Damascus. Selling everything known to the imagination one of the souq’s unique features is the bullet-ridden roof, a remnant of machine gun fire from French planes during the 1925 nationalist rebellion.
The souq opens out to a courtyard where we get our first glimpse of the Umayyad Mosque, one of the holiest mosques in the world for Muslims. Entering the mosque (appropriately ticketed and robed) we take in the intricate detail of the golden mosaics that decorate the main entrance. The courtyard spreads out to reveal a wood-domed fountain, and the Dome of the Treasury topped by three minarets. As the call to prayer sounds, we enter the prayer hall and take in the Dome of the Eagle which decorates the centre of the hall ceiling, as well as the translucent green structure, the shrine of John the Baptist which is said to house his head.
Leaving the mosque we are soon lost in the myriad of streets that make up the souq. We stop for an early dinner (to beat the Ramadan rush) and window shop our way out again, sampling some of the goodies from the numerous sweet shops for which Syria is famed. Willy, Sue, Ches, Willy and Dean make the most of a night on the town and do the rounds of the local hot spots drinking tea and smoking nargileh (the traditional water-pipe, also known as sheesha) amongst the locals.
We have a couple of extra days holed up in Damascus waiting on some repairs to the truck, so it’s back into town for more exploration.Willy, Shadow and Sue wander the Christian Quarter and dine on fatoosh, hummus and baba ghanooj. Mike, Vicki and Rebecca stumble upon the NationalMuseum with its impressive collection of antiquities dotting the garden and stop to see the skill of Syria’s artists at Handicrafts Lane.
With the truck back in action we leave Damascus and drive through to Palmyra. These ancient ruins are the remains of one of the most important links on the old Silk Route, and the entrance to the site is flanked by a monumental arch that serves as the gateway to the city. Walking down the colonnaded street the extensive restoration of the site lets you imagine how magnificent the city was in its day. High on the hill overlooking the site we take in Qala’ at ibn Maan (the ArabCastle) and then wander amongst the numerous temples on site.
From Palmyra we head west and on to Crac des Chevaliers, described as the finest castle in the world. World-heritage listed, the castle was built in 1301 and expanded by the Crusader knights into its current form which remains very well preserved. The castle is surrounded by a moat, and has 13 towers on the outside wall, with rooms on the inside of every conceivable description including a huge room with the sole purpose of being the oven. We camp overnight and wake up to the site of the castle shrouded in mist – truly the stuff of fairytales.
The next morning is a fly-by of Aleppo, a sprawling city and one of Syria’s largest. From the citadel we get a commanding view of the city, and its numerous mosques and souqs of which we wander and take in the ambiance of Syria’s markets for the last time. We head to the border and have our final border crossing for the trip into Turkey.