Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Photo Nostalgia = Syria, Part 3: Damascus and Beyond

My remaining time in Syria was spent largely in its capital, Damascus, as well as in Saidnaya and Bosra, which I went to after returning from a sojourn in Lebanon. Enjoy this final set of photos.
The Citadel of Damascus, originally built in the 11th century; the current form is a few hundred years younger (restorations notwithstanding). It sits near the Old City. Note the Bashar al-Assad poster.

Al-Hamidiyah Souq, one of my favorites in the Middle East, is an artery to Umayyad Mosque and the Old City.

After emerging from the souq, Umayyad Mosque stands before you. It is revered by Muslims, who believe it houses the remains of John the Baptist (revered by Muslims as much as Christians for being a prophet).

I love goofy English; I didn't have to use this room, by the way (Henny did, and he looked hilarious afterwards).

The tomb of Saladin (died 1193), scourge of the Crusaders, lies within the mosque compound.

Umayyad Mosque was built on the site of a Roman temple, later a church. Here are some of the Roman ruins (unless I'm mistaken).

The Minaret of the Bride juxtaposed with a Roman column, Umayyad Mosque.

Men rest in the shade near Saladin's tomb.

The courtyard of the mosque is one of the finest in the Islamic world.





There were many Shi'ite Muslims in the mosque, some of whom were Iranian pilgrims.

I was under the impression that this contained the remains of John the Baptist, but I read that it houses the heads of those killed in the Battle of Karbala. That would include Muhammad's grandson, Husayn (Hussein).

The same shrine, seen from the outside.



When I returned to the courtyard, I was treated to this view. It remains one of my favorite pictures from my travels.

The Old City of Damascus is a delight to walk in, especially in the evening. The only place that I've been that compares is the Old City of Jerusalem.

Beit Jabri restaurant, where we dined multiple times.

In a startling coincidence, I ran into Farouk and Abbas (I believe those were their names), from my time in Aleppo. They were at the Umayyad Mosque at the same time I was. Naturally, we had to have dinner. We also went to a Syrian version of the Turkish bath, which was about 5 degrees shy of boiling.

Henny, inside the House of Ananias in the Christian quarter (off of the Street Called Straight).

This was the location of St. Paul's escape from the city; today it's the modern Chapel of St. Paul.

Read all about it in Acts 9:25

This might be the straightest part of Straight Street (which isn't straight at all; the Bible itself says "street called Straight").

Lots of love for Bashar.

Azem Palace, with our newfound acquiantance, Thomas (a Norwegian-born American).

I had the hots for the girl in pink, so I had Henny pose for the ruse-photo. I wasn't as subtle as I had hoped, given that she was staring right at me, laughing.

The remains of the Temple of Jupiter, outside the souq and Umayyad Mosque.

Bakdash, in the souq, makes the best ice cream in the Middle East, and probably the best non-Italian ice cream I've ever had. The establishment dates back to 1885.

We just had to buy something in the souq (I bought a nice backgammon board, since that game is ubiquitous in the Middle East), so we went in this guy's shop. He shamelessly played up to our supposed expectations as tourists by putting on this traditional outfit in our presence... I was really embarrassed by it all, but he made us take a picture.

The statue of Saladin outside the Citadel.

The National Museum of Damascus, one of the finest museums in the world. A shame that my photos are mostly blurry (and they completely banned me from taking it in the centerpiece, an unearthed synagogue).

Thomas, yours truly, and Henny, in the museum

I can't remember the significance of this part, but we took lots of photos.

Damascene traffic, from the overpass we crossed every day to get to the Old City.

We didn't eat here (we were loyal to Beit Jabri), but it sure looked atmospheric.

A funny sight in my hostel.

I left Syria to go into Lebanon for a spell; here's the Syrian customs, complete with Bashar-o-rama.

On my return to Syria, I had to wait at the border for almost 15 hours (14 hours and 40 minutes, give or take). My Syrian visa, issued by the consulate in Newport Beach, California, was only a single-entry visa, even though I requested (and was promised) a dual-entry visa. I got to the border around 8pm, and was told I'd have to wait 3 hours. No big deal, all part of the system... until 3 hours became 6, and 6 became 10. I literally began to lose my mind. This is my photo souvenir of the ordeal.

Once clear of the border from hell (which actually had a Dunkin Donuts shop adjacent - swear!), I decided to get a slice of heaven by going to Saidnaya, home to an Orthodox convent that contained an icon of the Virgin Mary painted by Luke himself (as in the gospel writer).

Inside the monastery.

Rooftop of the monastery, allowing views over Syria and into Lebanon (which was nearby).

Main church of the monastery. Note = the icon was available for veneration, but it's contained in a vault of sorts to protect it from the elements, and you can't actually see it (if that sounds suspicious, keep in mind that literally millions of tourists venerated it over the centuries, which would naturally have an effect on its level of decay).

An icon of the Last Judgment (hell seen on the right, or rather, at Jesus' left hand); the scales of righteousness are seen in the middle.

Back in Damascus, I spotted a North Korean embassy; Syria is one of the few countries that has one.

Globalism at its finest = An Eric Cartman (South Park) doll, inside a Range Rover from Kuwait, on the streets of Damascus, Syria. That's not an easy drive, folks.

Time for another excursion, this time to Bosra, in the south of Syria. Not to be confused with the more infamous Iraqi Bosra, this city was famous for its Roman theatre, the largest in the Middle East and one of the largest in the world.

Vintage stadium seating (the theatre dates back to the 2nd century AD)

Bosra's theatre is strikingly tall

The city of Bosra also contains other ruins

My time in Syria was at an end; en route to Jordan, I finally ran into the man, the myth, the legend = Charlie of Damascus. I been longing to run into this guy before I left, because I was told he spoke English like an American military man. Charlie lived up to the hype. "How the hell ya doin', kid? Lemme buy ya a Coke." His fluency extended beyond catchphrases, which he learned from (surprise) American Naval officers while stationed off the coast of Lebanon. That's where his leg got blown off, sadly... but he's a welcome sight to Anglophones in Syria. You can find him at the bus station; tip him well.

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