Seventh century, after days in the desert rationing water, not being able to have a shower, under the heat, smelling like a camel and seeing nothing but a horizon dirtied with dust you arrive to Damascus.You leave the caravan in a safe place and after having a bath in the Hamman you go for a walk to wind down. The alleys, with no choice, take you  to the Umayyad mosque, the exterior impresses you but once you go through one of the doors you have no breath. Khaled Ibn Al-Walid created it with one premise: “A mosque that has no equal and one which was never designed by anyone before me or after me”.


Imagine spending seven years of taxes from all the country, this is what the Caliphs(Islamic figure similar to the pope) did. He brought to Damascus thousands of artisans from Egypt, Byzantium, and Persia, chose the best Muslims or Christians, covered the walls with mosaics, hung 600 gold lamps, made antique columns and collected tons of lead to cover the roof. Ten years the work lasted and what rose up was a mosque that became the most espectacular. Isn´t seven years of tax it a bit too much? Couldn´t they have spent the money in the poor people? After all it is one of the five pilars of Islam:”giving of alms”.

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There’s a head collection inside. Well, is small, but it’s like a small collection, they have Saint John Baptist that is a very well considered character for Muslims. They also have Saladin’s head. I imagine a shelf with the heads in small urns with the name under it kind of like heads in Futurama.


It has three minarets. The tradition says that in one of them is where Jesus will appear on the day of the Final Judgement. I can imaging him up there with his ultra white tunic, in the background a thunderous sky, violent wind whirlpools, grey clouds full of lightning never seen before, the hair all messy by the wind, a halo of light around his head, people down in the patio, most frightened for the sins they committed, waiting for their moment. The idea of the Judgment Day is a bit tragic, isn’t it?. Christianity has a benevolent good so I don’t really think it would be like this.


One of the things I like about mosques is that it is not only a praying place. It’s a place to retire, to rest in the hot hours of the middle east. The shade, the fountains, the silence make it an ideal place to rest.

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Not all is rest, the mosque is like a recreational park for children, they play, slide, chase each other, there is no traffic. It makes the perfect place for them. The Christian churches are more of a distant place, silent, supreme respect, a place with no interaction with less relationship with the people.

Damascus is the place that has been inhabited non stop for the longest time. There is evidence from 5000 BC and has gone thought a lot of things during this time. Here has been the Mameluks, the Nabataeans, the Romans preferred to destroy it and built Bosra more to the south(I talked to you about it in the previous post). During the Umayyad with the caliphates it got to it’s zenith by becoming the capital of Muslim. It suffered crusaders attacks and with Saladin, Damascus re-emerged again. The merchant offered Chinese porcelains, spices, ivory… It silks were well known in all European courts. The French controlled Damascus and the country for 35 years, but it’s stay is anecdotic only some greetings are kept.

In the year 1400 Tamerlane(Turk-Mongol leader of the 14th century) set it on fire for three days bringing with him the surviving artisans to Samarkand, he also collected artisans from many other places, in two months I’ll see what Tamerlane achieved there. I have great expectations, it is one fo the most significant places of this trip.

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If you come get lost into the Christian, the Muslim and Jewish neighbourhoods, each half open door will show you an amazing patio with fountains and plants. Some of the best houses have been converted into restaurants or hotels.

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This is waht you see looking up in the old city, you always have shade so it´s a bit more fresh.

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The locals call it “Cham” that means facial beauty, maybe this is why it’s in the UNESCO list.


Water melon getting cold in a fountain in a patio.


Christians have the life a bit difficult here as the law is run under Muslim rules and it is a conservative country. As an example, if a women is pregnant and not married she could end up in jail.

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In the hotels you can knock on the door and take a look. they are old rehabilitated houses, some as this Talisman Hotel have many luxurious things that you can imagine, even a pool. It worth getting into all of them.

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In a house in the Jewish area we saw the studio of the Syrian sculptor Mustafa Ali, it´s kind of his exibition place as well as a cultural center. That night there  was a Syrian-Brazilian band playing.

Since 2002 a lot of Spanish tourists are coming as the Spanish royalty came to visit and it was shown on the telly. I’m very surprised that an appearance like this can involve so many visitors. Seems that the Syrians like Spanish people, when I tell them where I’m from they always smile. Specially now after winning the world cup. They congratulate me, even though I did nothing.  I didn’t even see the final!

Damascus is strategically situated on the commercial route from Bagdad to the Mediterranean, also the routes from the Caspian see. In the museum of the city, ancient silks from China can be seen. If this wouldn’t be enough, Damascus(and Aleppo) is situated on the way to Mecca for the millions of Muslim Turks, this has brought a huge amount of people over the centuries. One of the people that came through here was Mahomet himself refusing to go into the city because he said “I want to get into paradise only once”.


The souq with the caravan stops. Time leave it’s mark.


A local sweet so my dad can try it. He nearly finished it all! I had to rush to try it.


The modern city with five million inhabitants The modern city extends for miles into the foothills of Jibal Lubnan Ash Sharqiyen mountains. These mountains are also full of history, here Cain and Abel are supposed to have fought and Abraham hid in a cave, the biblical presence is constant.

After Damascus there’s less of Syria to visit. The days with my father have been very busy as we had to use the time in the right way for the short visit. I’m writing this after he left. We are going to Palmira, one for those wonders that exist in the world and that is totally worth a visit. From Syria we only have good feelings. They told me in Turkey: “good people”, and it’s not normal from neighbours to talk well about the country next to you.


A stop on the way, a traditional house made of adobe. Many Bedouins are not nomadic any more and they settle for at least a few months. Some start cafes on the most common roads.


Syran desert has no sand as the one in Sahara. On the back a bedouine tent.

Palmira’s post is nearly ready I’ll tell you about very soon.

1 comment so far

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  1. I am glad your able to show us these beautiful images . However, I do have several comments , although the greater percentage of syrians are muslim the goverment is more secular than muslim. And I don’t believe Christian have a difficult time with social laws as they compliment the there values ie premarital sex is also considered a sin in Christianity . I also find it offensive to those non muslims to call Damascus a capital of the muslim world, as its even more greatly significant in christianity then to islam , as well as due to the diversity of the population of syria. How about the pearl of the east?!