Friday, December 24, 2010


I'm back from my latest journey – Damascus. Qatar's national day gave me a long weekend so I looked at a map for somewhere I had not been yet and recalled an English friend of mine saying how he had a really good time in Syria, so I took the long weekend in Damascus to see the Old City.

Now to my knowledge Damascus is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world, if not the oldest. I think it's been here for over 3500 years, and for at least the last 2000 was never completely razed or destroyed by some invading army. There's even a few ruins from the Roman days still in the city.

And it was one of the best trips I’ve ever had!

The Old City is a massive place of busy souqs, beautiful mosques, museums, palaces, hammams, and labyrinthine alleyways full of mystery. Exploring the city was really cool, almost an adventure, and in the three days I think I explored almost every inch of it. From the outside most of the buildings looked decayed and decrepit, but peek through a doorway or turn the corner and suddenly you could find yourself in a beautiful Square, by an upscale store, near a millennia old church, a small shrine, an old barber shop, children playing soccer in an alley, or even a mosque. Most importantly, and anyone who's been to Egypt will appreciate this, no one bothers you. No one. In the three days I was there one shopkeeper did the whole "Hi, where are you from? Really, I have a cousin in Canada. Come into my store . . .”. That was it. I explored the Old (and new) City undisturbed. That made it very enjoyable. No, no beggers either. No, no honking taxi drivers trying to get you in their cab. You get hassled a lot more walking around Vancouver.

My presence was relatively ignored. People went about their day shopping, attending mosques or churches, chatting in cafés, and just generally living their lives, not caring about the tourist with the camera. And there weren’t many tourists there, December is the slow season and even on the main tourist streets of the Old City I would maybe see a tourist every three or four minutes.

Here's a few pictures:

In a restaurant in the Old City, which had a band of a guitar player/singer, a percussionist, and a Whirling Dervish.

An Arabic beer! Never thought I'd see one of those.

Another street scene.

At a hammam in the Old City.

At a Shia mosque in the Old City (pretty impressive Iranian architechture) this mosque contained the tomb of one of the daughters of Hussein.

Shopping in the Old City

While wandering around the Old City one evening I happened to come across a rock concert in a park

The Ummayed Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the city, built the eighth century.

Inside the main prayer area of the Ummayed Mosque. The tomb in the center of it is supposed to contain the remains of John the Baptist (of course about a dozen other places also claim to have the remains of John the Baptist but I'm willing to take Damascus's word for it). John the Baptist is also a Prophet under Islam so the tomb has significance for both Christians and Muslims.

Another street scene.


Anonymous said...

love the photos!

Adam said...

Hey--thanks for sharing this. I am an American thinking of working in either the UAE or Qatar as a teacher in the future and Syria is on my list of places to visit in the Middle East. Did you have to get a visa to enter Syria? Was it easy? Thanks.

Glen McKay said...

Hi Adam, thanks for stopping by.

Yes, you definitely have to have a visa. I didn't find it too difficult: downloaded the form, attached all the required information and documents, and submitted it to the Syrian Embassy along with about $60. The visa was ready in three days.

Bear in mind I'm not American so it might be more difficult for an American to get a visa, I don't know.