DAMASCUS

Syria

Damascus is the capital and the second-largest city of Syria after Aleppo.In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major cultural and religious center of the Levant. The city has an estimated population of 1,711,000.

Info Damascus

introduction

Damascus is the capital and the second-largest city of Syria after Aleppo.

In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major cultural and religious center of the Levant. The city has an estimated population of 1,711,000. 

Damascus is the centre of an over-crowded metropolitan area with an estimated population of 5 million. The metropolitan area of Damascus includes the cities of Douma, Harasta, Darayya, Al-Tall and Jaramana.

Established between 10,000 to 8,000 BC, Damascus is credited with being the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. The world heritage listed old-walled city, in particular, feels very ancient and largely consists of a maze of narrow alleys, punctuated by enigmatic doors that lead into pleasing, verdant courtyards and blank-faced houses. The old city still has an authentic medieval feel to it, although this is vanishing fast due to the increasing tourist traffic as the city continues to be highlighted as an attraction. Life, however, goes on in the old-walled city, which is still the religious and social centre of the city.

info
POPULATION : City: 1,711,000 
FOUNDED : 
TIME ZONE : EET (UTC+2)  Summer: EEST (UTC+3)
LANGUAGE : Arabic (official), Kurdish, Armenian, French, English 
RELIGION : Muslim 81%, Christian 17%. Others 2%
AREA : 105 km2 (41 sq mi)
ELEVATION : 680 m (2,230 ft)
COORDINATES : 33°30′47″N 36°17′31″E
SEX RATIO : Male: 51%  
 Female: 49%
ETHNIC : Arab 80%, Kurds, Armenians and other 20%
AREA CODE : Country code: 963, City code: 11
POSTAL CODE :
DIALING CODE : +963 11
WEBSITE : Official Website

Tourism

The Souq al-Hamidiyya, a broad street packed with tiny shops, is entered through columns from a Roman temple built on a site that had been occupied by an even older temple. The souqs themselves smell of cumin and other distinctive spices and you can find passages dedicated to everything from leather and copper goods to inlaid boxes and silk scarves.

At the end of Souq al-Hamidiyya stands the great Umayyad mosque; this building with three minarets is an architectural wonder. It was an Assyrian temple, then a Roman temple to Jupiter, a church when Rome converted to Christianity, then a mosque and a church together, and finally a mosque until now. All the symbols are still pretty much there and some Christian drawings can still be very clearly seen on the walls inside. The mosque contains the grave of John the Baptist (for Muslims, prophet Yahya) inside the main lounge. Women are asked to be to cover their hair, arms and legs. Abayas(full-body covers)are provided with the entrance ticket price of 50SP. It is one of the most sacred sites of Islam, and it welcomes foreign tourists, who are allowed to walk around the prayer area.

At the other end of Souq al-Hamidiyya is a fort-like section of the extant city wall that is the Citadel (but make sure to visit Aleppo's Citadel for a truly amazing experience).

Nearby, you can visit the Mausoleum of Salah al-Din, known in the west as Saladin, the chief anti-crusader. There's a great statue of him on horseback right next to the citadel, which will make you gasp. If you walk all the way around it, there are two dejected Frankish knights underneath the horse's slightly lifted tail. These two knights are identified by inscriptions as Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, and Reynald de Chatillon, lord of Kerak, an important fortress in the Holy Land. Both were captured during Salah al-Din's definitive victory at Hattin; Guy was imprisoned in Damascus and eventually released, but Reynald was executed as punishment for his many atrocities.

History

Early settlement

Carbon-14 dating at Tell Ramad, on the outskirts of Damascus, suggests that the site may have been occupied since the second half of the seventh millennium BC, possibly around 6300 B C.  However, evidence of settlement in the wider Barada basin dating back to 9000 BC exists, although no large-scale settlement was present within Damascus walls until the second millennium BC.

Damascus was a part of the ancient province of Amurru in the Hyksos Kingdom, from 1720 to 1570 BC. Some of the earliest Egyptian records are from the 1350 BC Amarna letters, when Damascus (called Dimasqu) was ruled by king Biryawaza. The Damascus region, as well as the rest of Syria, became a battleground circa 1260 BC, between the Hittites from the north and the Egyptians from the south, ending with a signed treaty between Hattusili and Ramesses II where the former handed over control of the Damascus area to Ramesses II in 1259 BC. The arrival of the Sea Peoples, around 1200 BC, marked the end of the Bronze Age in the region and brought about new development of warfare. Damascus was only the peripheral part of this picture which mostly affected the larger population centres of ancient Syria. However, these events had contributed to the development of Damascus as a new influential center that emerged with the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age.

Damascus is mentioned in Genesis 14:15 as existing at the time of the War of the Kings. According to the 1st-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in his twenty-one volume Antiquities of the Jews, Damascus (along with Trachonitis), was founded by Uz, the son of Aram.


Aram-Damascus

Damascus is not documented as an important city until the arrival of the Aramaeans, a Semitic people from Mesopotamia, in the 11th century BC. By the start of the first millennium BC, several Aramaic kingdoms were formed, as Aramaeans abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and formed federated tribal states. One of these kingdoms was Aram-Damascus, centred on its capital Damascus.  The Aramaeans who entered the city without battle, adopted the name "Dimashqu" for their new home. Noticing the agricultural potential of the still-undeveloped and sparsely populated area,  they established the water distribution system of Damascus by constructing canals and tunnels which maximized the efficiency of the river Barada. The same network was later improved by the Romans and the Umayyads, and still forms the basis of the water system of the old part of the city today.  The Aramaeans initially turned Damascus into an outpost of a loose federation of Aramaean tribes, known as Aram-Zobah, based in the Beqaa Valley.

The city would gain pre-eminence in southern Syria when Ezron, the claimant to Aram-Zobah's throne who was denied kingship of the federation, fled Beqaa and captured Damascus by force in 965 BC. Ezron overthrew the city's tribal governor and founded the independent entity of Aram-Damascus. As this new state expanded south, it prevented the Kingdom of Israel from spreading north and the two kingdoms soon clashed as they both sought to dominate trading hegemony in the east. Under Ezron's grandson, Ben-Hadad I (880–841 BC), and his successor Hazael, Damascus annexed Bashan (modern-day Hauran region), and went on the offensive with Israel. This conflict continued until the early 8th century BC when Ben-Hadad II was captured by Israel after unsuccessfully besieging Samaria. As a result, he granted Israel trading rights in Damascus.

Another possible reason for the treaty between Aram-Damascus and Israel was the common threat of the Neo-Assyrian Empire which was attempting to expand into the Mediterranean coast. In 853 BC, King Hadadezer of Damascus led a Levantine coalition, that included forces from the northern Aram-Hamath kingdom and troops supplied by King Ahab of Israel, in the Battle of Qarqar against the Neo-Assyrian army. Aram-Damascus came out victorious, temporarily preventing the Assyrians from encroaching into Syria. However, after Hadadzezer was killed by his successor, Hazael, the Levantine alliance collapsed. Aram-Damascus attempted to invade Israel, but was interrupted by the renewed Assyrian invasion. Hazael ordered a retreat to the walled part of Damascus while the Assyrians plundered the remainder of the kingdom. Unable to enter the city, they declared their supremacy in the Hauran and Beqa'a valleys.

By the 8th century BC, Damascus was practically engulfed by the Assyrians and entered a dark age. Nonetheless, it remained the economic and cultural centre of the Near East as well as the Arameaen resistance. In 727, a revolt took place in the city, but was put down by Assyrian forces. After Assyria went on a wide-scale campaign of quelling revolts throughout Syria, Damascus became totally subjugated by their rule. A positive effect of this was stability for the city and benefits from the spice and incense trade with Arabia. However, Assyrian authority was dwindling by 609–605 BC, and Syria-Palestine was falling into the orbit of Pharaoh Necho II's Egypt. In 572, all of Syria had been conquered by the Neo-Babylonians, but the status of Damascus under Babylon is relatively unknown.


Greco-Roman period 

Damascus was conquered by Alexander the Great. After the death of Alexander in 323 BC, Damascus became the site of a struggle between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires. The control of the city passed frequently from one empire to the other. Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander's generals, made Antioch the capital of his vast empire, which led to the decline of Damascus' importance compared with new Seleucid cities such as Latakia in the north. Later, Demetrius III Philopator rebuilt the city according to the Greek hippodamian system and renamed it "Demetrias".

In 64 BC, the Roman general Pompey annexed the western part of Syria. The Romans occupied Damascus and subsequently incorporated it into the league of ten cities known as the Decapolis which themselves were incorporated into the province of Syria and granted autonomy.

The city of Damascus was entirely redesigned by the Romans after Pompey conquered the region. Still today the Old Town of Damascus retains the rectangular shape of the Roman city, with its two main axes: the Decumanus Maximus (east-west; known today as the Via Recta) and the Cardo (north-south), the Decumanus being about twice as long. The Romans built a monumental gate which still survives at the eastern end of Decumanus Maximus. The gate originally had three arches: the central arch was for chariots while the side arches were for pedestrians.

In 23 BCE Herod the Great was gifted lands controlled by Zenodorus by Caesar Augustus and some scholars believe that Herod was also granted control of Damascus as well. The control of Damascus reverted to Syria either upon the death of Herod the Great or was part of the lands given to Herod Philip which were given to Syria with his death in 33/34 CE.

Some scholars suggest that control of Damascus was gained by Aretas IV Philopatris of Nabatea between the death of Herod Philip in 33/34 CE and the death of Aretas in 40 CE but there is substantial evidence against Aretas controlling the city before 37 CE and many reasons why it could not have been a gift from Caligula between 37 and 40 CE. In fact, all these theories stem not from any actual evidence outside the New Testament but rather "a certain understanding of 2 Cor. 11:32" and in reality "neither from archaeological evidence, secular-historical sources, nor New Testament texts can Nabatean sovereignty over Damascus in the first century AD be proven."

Damascus became a metropolis by the beginning of the 2nd century and in 222 it was upgraded to a colonia by the Emperor Septimius Severus. During the Pax Romana, Damascus and the Roman province of Syria in general began to prosper. Damascus's importance as a caravan city was evident with the trade routes from southern Arabia, Palmyra, Petra, and the silk routes from China all converging on it. The city satisfied the Roman demands for eastern luxuries.

Little remains of the architecture of the Romans, but the town planning of the old city did have a lasting effect. The Roman architects brought together the Greek and Aramaean foundations of the city and fused them into a new layout measuring approximately 1,500 by 750 m (4,920 by 2,460 ft), surrounded by a city wall. The city wall contained seven gates, but only the eastern gate (Bab Sharqi) remains from the Roman period. Roman Damascus lies mostly at depths of up to five meters (16.4 ft) below the modern city.

The old borough of Bab Tuma was developed at the end of the Roman/Byzantine era by the local Eastern Orthodox community. According to the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul and Saint Thomas both lived in that neighbourhood. Roman Catholic historians also consider Bab Tuma to be the birthplace of several Popes such as John V and Gregory III.


During Muhammad era

Muhammad's first indirect interaction with the people of Damascus was when he sent Shiya bin Wahab to Haris bin Ghasanni, the king of Damascus. In his letter, Muhammad stated: "Peace be upon him who follows true guidance. Be informed that my religion shall prevail everywhere. You should accept Islam, and whatever under your command shall remain yours"


Islamic Arab era

After most of the Syrian countryside was conquered by the Rashidun Caliphate during the reign of Caliph Umar, Damascus itself was conquered by the Muslim-Arab general Khalid ibn al-Walid in August - Septmber 634 CE. His army had previously attempted to capture the city in April 634, but without success.With Damascus now in Muslim-Arab hands, the Byzantines, alarmed at the loss of their most prestigious city in the Near East, had decided to wrest back control of it. Under Emperor Heraclius, the Byzantines fielded an army superior to that of the Rashidun in manpower. They advanced into southern Syria during the spring of 636 and consequently Khalid ibn al-Walid's forces withdrew from Damascus to prepare for renewed confrontation. In August, the two sides met along the Yarmouk River where they a fought a major battle which ended in a decisive Muslim victory, solidifying Muslim rule in Syria and Palestine.

While the Muslims administered the city, the population of Damascus remained mostly Christian—Eastern Orthodox and Monophysite—with a growing community of Muslims from Mecca, Medina, and the Syrian Desert.  The governor assigned to the city which had been chosen as the capital of Islamic Syria was Mu'awiya I. After the death of Caliph Ali in 661, Mu'awiya was chosen as the caliph of the expanding Islamic empire. Because of the vast amounts of assets his clan, the Umayyads, owned in the city and because of its traditional economic and social links with the Hijaz as well as the Christian Arab tribes of the region, Mu'awiya established Damascus as the capital of the entire Caliphate. With the ascension of Caliph Abd al-Malik in 685, an Islamic coinage system was introduced and all of the surplus revenue of the Caliphate's provinces were forwarded to the treasury of Damascus. Arabic was also established as the official language, giving the Muslim minority of the city an advantage over the Aramaic-speaking Christians in administrative affairs. It is critical to note that, at the time Damascus was conquered by the Muslims, the majority of Arabs were either pagans or Christians. Damascus itself was predominantly Aramaic with Arab speaking people.

Abd al-Malik's successor, al-Walid initiated construction of the Grand Mosque of Damascus (known as the Umayyad Mosque) in 706. The site originally had been the Christian Cathedral of St. John and the Muslims maintained the building's dedication to John the Baptist. By 715, the mosque was complete. Al-Walid died that same year and he was succeeded at first by Suleiman ibn Abd al-Malik and then by Umar II, who each ruled for brief periods before the reign of Hisham in 724. With these successions, the status of Damascus was gradually weakening as Suleiman had chosen Ramla as his residence and later Hisham choseResafa. Following the murder of the latter in 743, the Caliphate of the Umayyads—which by then stretched from Spain to India— was crumbling as a result of widespread revolts. During the reign of Marwan II in 744, the capital of the empire was relocated to Harran in the northern Jazira region.

On 25 August 750, the Abbasids, having already beaten the Umayyads in the Battle of the Zabin Iraq, conquered Damascus after facing little resistance. With the heralding of the Abbasid Caliphate, Damascus became eclipsed and subordinated by Baghdad, the new Islamic capital. Within the first six months of Abbasid rule, revolts began erupting in the city, albeit too isolated and unfocused to present a viable threat. Nonetheless, the last of the prominent Umayyads were executed, the traditional officials of Damascus ostracised, and army generals from the city were dismissed. Afterwards, the Umayyad family cemetery was desecrated and the city walls were torn down, reducing Damascus into a provincial town of little importance. It roughly disappeared from written records for the next century and the only significant improvement of the city was the Abbasid-built treasury dome in the Umayyad Mosque in 789. In 811, distant remnants of the Umayyad dynasty staged a strong uprising in Damascus that was eventually put down.

Ahmad ibn Tulun, a dissenting Turkish governor appointed by the Abbasids, conquered Syria, including Damascus, from his overlords in 878-79. In an act of respect for the previous Umayyad rulers, he erected a shrine on the site of Mu'awiya's grave in the city. Tulunid rule of Damascus was brief, lasting only until 906 before being replaced by the Qarmatians who were adherents of Shia Islam. Due to their inability to control the vast amount of land they occupied, the Qarmatians withdrew from Damascus and a new dynasty, the Ikhshidids, took control of the city. They maintained the independence of Damascus from the Arab Hamdanid dynasty of Aleppo and the Baghdad-based Abbasids until 967. A period of instability in the city followed, with a Qarmatian raid in 968, a Byzantine raid in 970, and increasing pressures from the Fatimids in the south and the Hamdanids in the north.

The Shia Fatimids gained control in 970, inflaming hostilities between them and the Sunni Arabs of the city who frequently revolted. A Turk, Alptakin drove out the Fatimids five years later, and through diplomacy, prevented the Byzantines from attempting to annex the city. However, by 977, the Fatimids under Caliph al-Aziz, wrested back control of the city and tamed Sunni dissidents. The Arab geographer, al-Muqaddasi, visited Damascus in 985, remarking that the architecture and infrastructure of the city was "magnificent", but living conditions were awful. Under al-Aziz, the city saw a brief period of stability that ended with the reign of al-Hakim (996–1021). In 998, hundreds of Damascus' citizens were rounded up and executed by him for incitement. Three years after al-Hakim's mysterious disappearance, the Arab tribes of southern Syria formed an alliance to stage a massive rebellion against the Fatimids, but they were crushed by the Fatimid Turkish governor of Syria and Palestine, Anushtakin al-Duzbari, in 1029. This victory gave the latter mastery over Syria, displeasing his Fatimid overlords, but gaining the admiration of Damascus' citizens. He was exiled by Fatimid authorities to Aleppo where he died in 1041. From that date to 1063, there are no known records of the city's history. By then, Damascus lacked a city administration, had an enfeebled economy, and a greatly reduced population.


Seljuq and Ayyubid rule

With the arrival of the Seljuq Turksin the late 11th century, Damascus again became the capital of independent states. It was ruled byAbu Sa'id Taj ad-Dawla Tutush Istarting in 1079 and he was succeeded by his son Abu Nasr Duqaq in 1095. The Seljuqs established a court in Damascus and a systematic reversal of Shia inroads in the city. The city also saw an expansion of religious life through private endowments financing religious institutions (madrasas) and hospitals (maristans). Damascus soon became one of the most important centres of propagating Islamic thought in the Muslim world. After Duqaq's death in 1104, his mentor (atabeg), Toghtekin, took control of Damascus and the Burid line of the Seljuq dynasty. Under Duqaq and Toghtekin, Damascus experienced stability, elevated status and a revived role in commerce. In addition, the city's Sunni majority enjoyed being a part of the larger Sunni framework effectively governed by various Turkic dynasties who in turn were under the moral authority of the Baghdad-based Abbasids.

While the rulers of Damascus were preoccupied in conflict with their fellow Seljuqs in Aleppo and Diyarbakir, the Crusaders, who arrived in the Levant in 1097, conquered Jerusalem, Mount Lebanon and Palestine. Duqaq seemed to have been content with Crusader rule as a buffer between his dominion and the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt. Toghtekin, however, saw the Western invaders as a viable threat to Damascus which, at the time, nominally included Homs, the Beqaa Valley, Hauran, and the Golan Heights a part of its territories. With military support from Sharaf al-Din Mawdud of Mosul, Toghtekin managed to halt Crusader raids in the Golan and Hauran. Mawdud was assassinated in the Umayyad Mosque in 1109, depriving Damascus of northern Muslim backing and forcing Toghtekin to agree to a truce with the Crusaders in 1110.

Following Tughtakin's death in 1128, his son, Taj al-Din Buri, became the nominal ruler of Damascus. Coincidentally, the Seljuq prince of Mosul, Imad al-Din Zengi, took power in Aleppo and gained a mandate from the Abbasids to extend his authority to Damascus. In 1129, around 6,000Isma'ili Muslims were killed in the city along with their leaders. The Sunnis were provoked by rumors alleging there was a plot by the Isma'ilis, who controlled the strategic fort at Banias, to aid the Crusaders in capturing Damascus in return for control of Tyre. Soon after the massacre, the Crusaders aimed to take advantage of the unstable situation and launch an assault against Damascus with nearly 60,000 troops. However, Buri allied with Zengi and managed to prevent their army from reaching the city. Buri was assassinated by Isma'ili agents in 1132; he was succeeded by his son, Shams al-Mulk Isma'il who ruled tyrannically until he himself was murdered in 1135 on secret orders from his mother, Safwat al-Mulk Zumurrud; Isma'il's brother, Shihab al-Din Mahmud, replaced him. Meanwhile, Zengi, intent on putting Damascus under his control, married Safwat al-Mulk in 1138. Mahmud's reign then ended in 1139 after he was killed for relatively unknown reasons by members of his family. Mu'in al-Din Unur, his mamluk ("slave soldier") took effective power of the city, prompting Zengi—with Safwat al-Mulk's backing—to lay siege against Damascus the same year. In response, Damascus allied with the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem to resist Zengi's forces. Consequently, Zengi withdrew his army and focused on campaigns against northern Syria.

In 1144 Zengi conquered Edessa, a crusader stronghold, which led to a new crusade from Europe in 1148. In the meantime Zengi was assassinated and his territory was divided among his sons, one of whom,Nur ad-Din, emir of Aleppo, made an alliance with Damascus. When the European crusaders arrived, they and the nobles of Jerusalem agreed to attack Damascus. Their siege, however, was a complete failure. When the city seemed to be on the verge of collapse, the crusader army suddenly moved against another section of the walls, and were driven back. By 1154, Damascus was firmly under Nur ad-Din's control.

In 1164, King Amalric of Jerusalem invaded Fatimid Egypt, which requested help from Nur ad-Din. The Nur ad-Din sent his general Shirkuh, and in 1166 Amalric was defeated at the Battle of al-Babein. When Shirkuh died in 1169, he was succeeded by his nephew Yusuf, better known as Saladin, who defeated a joint crusader-Byzantine siege of Damietta. Saladin eventually overthrew the Fatimid caliphs and established himself as Sultan of Egypt. He also began to assert his independence from Nur ad-Din, and with the death of both Amalric and Nur ad-Din in 1174, he was well-placed to begin exerting control over Damascus and Nur ad-Din's other Syrian possessions. In 1177 Saladin was defeated by the crusaders at the Battle of Montgisard, despite his numerical superiority. Saladin also besieged Kerak in 1183, but was forced to withdraw. He finally launched a full invasion of Jerusalem in 1187, and annihilated the crusader army at the Battle of Hattin in July. Acre fell to Saladin soon after, and Jerusalem itselfwas captured in October. These events shocked Europe, resulting in the Third Crusade in 1189, led by Richard I of England, Philip II of France and Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor, though the last drowned en route.

The surviving crusaders, joined by new arrivals from Europe, put Acre to a lengthy siege which lasted until 1191. After re-capturing Acre, Richard defeated Saladin at the Battle of Arsuf in 1191 and the Battle of Jaffa in 1192, recovering most of the coast for the Christians, but could not recover Jerusalem or any of the inland territory of the kingdom. The crusade came to an end peacefully, with the Treaty of Jaffa in 1192. Saladin allowed pilgrimages to be made to Jerusalem, allowing the crusaders to fulfil their vows, after which they all returned home. The native crusader barons set about rebuilding their kingdom from Acre and the other coastal cities.

Saladin died in 1193, and there were frequent conflicts between different Ayyubid sultans ruling in Damascus and Cairo. Damascus was the capital of independent Ayyubid rulers between 1193 and 1201, from 1218 to 1238, from 1239 to 1245, and from 1250 to 1260. At other times it was ruled by the Ayyubid rulers of Egypt. The patterned Byzantine and Chinese silks available through Damascus, one of the Western termini of the Silk Road, gave the English language "damask".


Mamluk period

Ayyubid rule (and independence) came to an end with the Mongol invasion of Syria in 1260, and following the Mongol defeat at Ain Jalut in the same year, Damascus became a provincial capital of the Mamluk Empire, ruled from Egypt, following the Mongol withdrawal. The Black Death of 1348–1349 killed as much as half of the city's population.

In 1400 Timur, the Turco-Mongol conqueror, besieged Damascus. The Mamluk sultan dispatched a deputation from Cairo, including Ibn Khaldun, who negotiated with him, but after their withdrawal he put the city to sack. The Umayyad Mosque was burnt and men and women taken into slavery. A huge number of the city's artisans were taken to Timur's capital at Samarkand. These were the luckier citizens: many were slaughtered and their heads piled up in a field outside the north-east corner of the walls, where a city square still bears the name burj al-ru'us, originally "the tower of heads".

Rebuilt, Damascus continued to serve as a Mamluk provincial capital until 1516.


Ottoman rule

In early 1516, the Ottoman Turks, wary of the danger of an alliance between the Mamluks and the Persian Safavids, started a campaign of conquest against the Mamluk sultanate. On 21 September, the Mamluk governor of Damascus fled the city, and on 2 October the khutba in the Umayyad mosque was pronounced in the name of Selim I. The day after, the victorious sultan entered the city, staying for three months. On 15 December, he left Damascus by Bab al-Jabiya, intent on the conquest of Egypt. Little appeared to have changed in the city: one army had simply replaced another. However, on his return in October 1517, the sultan ordered the construction of a mosque, tekkiye and mausoleum at the shrine of Shaikh Muhi al-Din ibn Arabi in al-Salihiyah. This was to be the first of Damascus' great Ottoman monuments.

The Ottomans remained for the next 400 years, except for a brief occupation by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt from 1832 to 1840. Because of its importance as the point of departure for one of the two great Hajj caravans to Mecca, Damascus was treated with more attention by the Porte than its size might have warranted—for most of this period, Aleppo was more populous and commercially more important. In 1560 the Tekkiye al-Sulaimaniyah, a mosque and khan for pilgrims on the road to Mecca, was completed to a design by the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, and soon afterwards a madrasa was built adjoining it.

Under Ottoman rule, Christians and Jews were considered dhimmis and were allowed to practice their religious precepts. The Damascus affair that took place in 1840 was an incident in which the accusation of ritual murderwas brought against members of the Jewish community of Damascus. In addition the massacre of Christians in 1860 was also one of the most notorious incidents of these centuries, when fighting between Druze andMaronites in Mount Lebanon spilled over into the city. Several thousand Christians were killed, with many more being saved through the intervention of the Algerian exile Abd al-Qadir and his soldiers (three days after the massacre started), who brought them to safety in Abd al-Qadir's residence and the citadel. The Christian quarter of the old city (mostly inhabited by Catholics), including a number of churches, was burnt down. The Christian inhabitants of the notoriously poor and refractory Midan district outside the walls (mostly Orthodox) were, however, protected by their Muslim neighbours.

American Missionary E.C. Miller records that in 1867 the population of the city was 'about' 140,000, of whom 30,000 were Christians, 10,000 Jews and 100,000 'Mohammedans' with fewer than 100 Protestant Christians.


Modern

In the early years of the 20th century, nationalist sentiment in Damascus, initially cultural in its interest, began to take a political colouring, largely in reaction to the turkicisation programme of the Committee of Union and Progress government established in Istanbul in 1908. The hanging of a number of patriotic intellectuals by Jamal Pasha, governor of Damascus, in Beirut and Damascus in 1915 and 1916 further stoked nationalist feeling, and in 1918, as the forces of the Arab Revolt and the British Imperial forces approached, residents fired on the retreating Turkish troops.

On 1 October 1918, T. E. Lawrence entered Damascus, the third arrival of the day, the first being the Australian 3rd Light Horse Brigade, led by Major A.C.N. 'Harry' Olden. Two days later, 3 October 1918, the forces of the Arab revolt led by Prince Faysal also entered Damascus. A military government under Shukri Pasha was named and Faisal ibn Hussein was proclaimed king of Syria. Political tension rose in November 1917, when the new Bolshevik government in Russia revealed the Sykes-Picot Agreement whereby Britain and France had arranged to partition the Arab east between them. A new Franco-British proclamation on 17 November promised the "complete and definitive freeing of the peoples so long oppressed by the Turks." The Syrian National Congress in March adopted a democratic constitution. However, the Versailles Conference had granted France a mandate over Syria, and in 1920 a French army commanded by the General Mariano Goybet crossed the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, defeated a small Syrian defensive expedition at the Battle of Maysalun and entered Damascus. The French made Damascus capital of their League of Nations Mandate for Syria.

When in 1925 the Great Syrian Revolt in the Hauran spread to Damascus, the French suppressed with heavy weaponry, bombing and shelling the city on 9 May 1926. As a result, the area of the old city between Al-Hamidiyah Souq and Medhat Pasha Souq was burned to the ground, with many deaths, and has since then been known as al-Hariqa ("the fire"). The old city was surrounded with barbed wire to prevent rebels infiltrating from the Ghouta, and a new road was built outside the northern ramparts to facilitate the movement of armored cars.

On 21 June 1941, 3 weeks into the Allied Syria-Lebanon campaign,Damascus was captured from the Vichy French forces by a mixed British Indian and Free French force. The French agreed to withdraw in 1946, thus leading to the full independence of Syria. Damascus remained the capital.


Syrian civil war

The uprising started with peaceful protests in the spring of 2011 and grew into a civil war over the course of the next year. On 6 January 2012, a car bomb exploded in Damascus killing more than 26 people, most of them civilians. State media said it was a suicide attack and blamed terrorists.In January 2012, clashes between the regular army and rebels reached the outskirts of Damascus, reportedly preventing people from leaving or reaching their houses, especially when security operations there intensified from the end of January into February.

On 17 March 2012, twin car bombs hit the heart of the city, targeting the Air Force Intelligence Service and the headquarters of the Security Forces killing at least 27 people, most of them civilians. An Islamic Jihadi faction called "Jabhat al-Nusra" claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks. In the early morning of 19 March, firefights and explosions broke out in the West Villas section of the heavily guarded and upscale Mezzeh neighborhood.

By June 2012, bullets and shrapnel shells smashed into homes in Damascus overnight as troops battled the Free Syrian Army in the streets. At least three tank shells slammed into residential areas in the central Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun, according to activists. Intense exchanges of assault-rifle fire marked the clash, according to residents and amateur video posted online.

Climate

Its climate is classified as cool steppe climate due to the rain shadow effect of the Anti-Lebanon mountains and the prevailing ocean currents.

Summers are dry and hot with less humidity.

Winters are cool and somewhat rainy; snowfall is infrequent. Annual rainfall is around 130 mm (5 in), occurring from October to May.

Climate data for Damascus 

MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec 
Record high °C (°F)24.0
(75.2)
29.0
(84.2)
34.4
(93.9)
38.4
(101.1)
41.0
(105.8)
44.8
(112.6)
46.0
(114.8)
44.6
(112.3)
42.0
(107.6)
37.8
(100)
31.0
(87.8)
25.1
(77.2)
 
Average high °C (°F)12.6
(54.7)
14.5
(58.1)
19.0
(66.2)
24.7
(76.5)
30.1
(86.2)
34.6
(94.3)
37.0
(98.6)
36.8
(98.2)
33.9
(93)
28.1
(82.6)
20.1
(68.2)
14.3
(57.7)
 
Daily mean °C (°F)6.1
(43)
7.7
(45.9)
11.4
(52.5)
16.2
(61.2)
20.8
(69.4)
25.0
(77)
27.3
(81.1)
27.0
(80.6)
24.0
(75.2)
19.0
(66.2)
12.1
(53.8)
7.5
(45.5)
 
Average low °C (°F)0.7
(33.3)
1.9
(35.4)
4.3
(39.7)
7.9
(46.2)
11.4
(52.5)
15.0
(59)
17.9
(64.2)
17.7
(63.9)
14.4
(57.9)
10.3
(50.5)
4.8
(40.6)
1.7
(35.1)
 
Record low °C (°F)−12.2
(10)
−12
(10)
−8
(18)
−7.5
(18.5)
0.6
(33.1)
4.5
(40.1)
9.0
(48.2)
8.6
(47.5)
2.1
(35.8)
−3.0
(26.6)
−8
(18)
−10.2
(13.6)
 
              
Source #1: Pogoda.ru.net
Source #2: Hong Kong Observatory 

Geography

Damascus was built in a strategic site on a plateau 680 meters (2,230 ft) above sea-level and about 80 km (50 mi) inland from the Mediterranean, sheltered by the Anti-Lebanon mountains, supplied with water by the Barada River, and at a crossroads between trade routes: the north/south route connecting Egypt with Asia Minor, and the East-West cross-desert route connecting Lebanon with the Euphrates river valley.

The modern city has an area of 105 km2 (41 sq mi), out of which 77 km2 (30 sq mi) is urban, while Jabal Qasioun occupies the rest.

The old city of Damascus, enclosed by the city walls, lies on the south bank of the river Barada which is almost dry (3 cm (1 in) left). To the south-east, north and north-east it is surrounded by suburban areas whose history stretches back to the Middle Ages: Midan in the south-west, Sarouja and Imara in the north and north-west. These neighborhoods originally arose on roads leading out of the city, near the tombs of religious figures.

Economy

The historical role that Damascus played as an important trade center has changed in recent years due to political development in the region as well as the development of modern trade.

The tourism industry in Damascus has a lot of potential, however the current civil war has hampered these prospects. The abundance of cultural wealth in Damascus has been modestly employed since the late 1980s with the development of many accommodation and transportation establishments and other related investments.Since the early 2000s, numerous boutique hotels and bustling cafes opened in the old city which attract plenty of European tourists and Damascenes alike.

Damascus is home to a wide range of industrial activity, such as textile, food processing, cement and various chemical industries.The majority of factories are run by the state, however limited privatization in addition to economic activities led by the private sector, were permitted starting in the early 2000s with the liberalization of trade that took place. Traditional handcrafts and artisan copper engravings are still produced in the old city.

The Damascus stock exchange formally opened for trade in March 2009, and the exchange is the only stock exchange in Syria.

Internet, Comunication

Most hotels can arrange international phone calls, but prices are very expensive. Most internet cafes are set up for VOIP, and offer a much cheaper alternative, although the price does reflect the quality of the connection.

Internet access is widely available, although the Syrian government censors traffic, which can cause some interesting quirks in connectivity.

Transportation - Get In

Transportation - Get In

By plane

Syria's busiest airport is the Damascus International Airport.There are internal flights to Aleppo, Deir-ez-Zur, Qamishli, and Latakia, costing approximately 1000 SP one way,

The airport is relatively well-equipped with most standard services. The tax-free assortment is limited, but prices are very low, especially on perfume. You might find better bargains on goods such as Lebanese wine, arak (an unsweetened, aniseed-flavored, alcoholic beverage) and similar items before departing the airport.

Getting Syrian pounds at Damascus International Airport might be tricky, as the change counters only accept US dollars. There are two ATMS in the main lobby that accept credit cards and foreign debit cards, but they tend to be unreliable. Your best bet is to bring a small amount of US dollars with you into Syria, and change it at the airport until you can withdraw from Damascus ATMs.

The average fare from the airport to the city is 1500 SP. the prices became that high because nowadays only Taxi Companies are allowed to pickup customers from the Airport, Fares are typically about 500 SP going from the city to the airport by Taxi, however, may vary depending on your bargaining skills.

There are also buses departing to and from Baramkeh bus station in the centre of town (airport buses are the only ones which serve this bus station now - all other services have moved to the new out of town Soumaria bus station). The price is 45 SP + 25 for your luggage and there are departures every half an hour, 24 hours a day. At the airport, come out of the terminal and turn right - you will find the bus at the end of the building. There is a small ticket office. The buses have been upgraded in recent years and have become very good.

The bus will drop you a bit far from the Old City, but there many taxis around to get you there. Make sure to ask for the meter, and you should pay less than 50 SP, depending on traffic.

Transportation - Get In

By Train

There are train services to and from Aleppo, making stops in Homs and Hama. One of the trains continues to Qamishli via Raqqa, Deir ez zoor and Hassaka. There may also be services to Latakia, stopping at Homs and Tartus. However, buses or service taxis are more convenient. Syrian trains are slow and make many stops. The Damascus-Aleppo service is good, operated in new trains. The main train station of Damascus is still under construction, therefore trains terminate at Qadam, a southern suburb. Service microbuses on the Qadam-Assali route run between Qadam and Sharia al-Thawra in the city centre. A taxi to the city center should cost no more than 100 SYP (although going by meter will be cheaper).

International: There are weekly sleeper trains to Istanbul (35–36 hours) and Tehran (60 hours). The Damascus-Amman route is suspended since 2006 for railroad repairs and unlikely to continue soon.

Transportation - Get In

By Bus

Damascus is well served by buses internally in the country. There are two bus stations: the western bus station serves destinations west and south (including Amman and Beirut), while the northern bus station serves destinations north (including Aleppo).

Regular buses to Damascus leave Amman, Jordan, the trip including crossing the border takes about 4 hours and cost approximately 6-9JD.

Hatay Turizm from Antakya/Turkey has regular buses to the city. You can board on these in Istanbul as well. Normally, you will have to reserve a seat one day or more in advance, and although prices may vary, you can get a busticket for 80 YTL.

When arriving into Damascus by bus, make sure to move away from the bus terminal to find a taxi to the centre of town. Otherwise, you run the risk of paying several times the going rate, which should be around SYP150-200, as cars posing as taxis operate next to the terminal. This is normally a two-man operation, with one person trying to distract you, while the driver puts your suitcase into the trunk of the "taxi" and locks it.

Upon arrival at the western bus station, city bus #15 will take you to Al-Marjeh Square in Souq SaroujaOld Town (where you can find many hotels) for 10 SYP.

Transportation - Get In

By Car

Service Taxis are available to Amman and Irbid in Jordan. Depending on the political situation, these also service Beirut and other points in Lebanon, as well as points in Iraq. Since the closure of the more central Baramkeh Station, these service taxis leave from Soumaria (pronounced like the girls' names "Sue Maria"), which is a 10-15 minute taxi ride from central Damascus, along Autostrade Mezzeh. The bus number 15 and 21 will take you to Soumaria station from the bus stop next to Matry's place.


Transportation - Get Around

At rush hours (10AM-4PM), the best way of transport is on foot. Smoking is absolutely forbidden on all public transport.

Transportation - Get Around

By foot

A very good idea is to go on foot especially for a sightseeing, and it's the only way to get around in Old Damascus. Walking in the new city however, should be reserved to the nicer areas of Maliki and Abu-Rumaneh, as the new city tends to be pollution clogged. The driving culture in Damascus is not the safest, so beware as a pedestrian, especially in the new city. Cars will not hesitate to come extremely close to pedestrians or other cars in order to pass.

Transportation - Get Around

By car

It isn't a very good idea to rent a car in Damascus. There is almost always a traffic jam, especially in summer, and parking tends to be difficult too; although that isn't the situation in suburbs.

Transportation - Get Around

By bus

Micro buses, also known as servees, are one of the main sources of transportation in Damascus. All journeys inside the city costs 10 Syrian Pounds. You can go from one place to another in Damascus with at most one or two journeys. When on the bus, give any passenger a coin and he will pass it to the driver and return the change, just remember to tell that passenger how many people you are paying for, whether you are in a group, or tell him that you are paying "for one" ("waahid") if you are alone. The route is written (in Arabic only) on the roof sign. Micro buses do not generally have fixed stops except at very busy points, just beckon to the driver and he will stop near you (Al yameen, andak iza samaht).

There are also many city buses that likewise cost 10 SYP. One useful bus is #15, which runs from Al-Marjeh Square (Souq SaroujaOld Town) to the Western Bus Station, which serves Beirut and Amman.

Transportation - Get Around

By taxi

Taxis are plentiful in Damascus, making them a great mode of transportation. The taxis of Star Taxi, a new private company, are more expensive than normal taxis, but they are also more comfortable and safer. You can call their headquarters and they will send the nearest taxi to your door. Taxis with the Damascus Governorate logo on the side and a number on the roof sign are normally equipped with a meter, and it is best to use only these when hailing a taxi on the street. You should normally leave a 10-pound tip as well as the fare on the meter. At night, taxi drivers do not usually use the meter, so you may be best off negotiating the price before you get in. A service taxi to Amman or Beirut cost 700 Syrian pounds and takes around 4 hours and run 24 hours. Do not hesitate to take them; they are new, clean vehicles with air conditioning.

Hotels

- BEST RATED -

Hotels

- BEST VALUE -

Shopping

Damascus offers some of the best shopping in the Middle East. Prices are cheap, and since very few stores depend on tourists for their income, most will leave you alone to browse until you are ready to buy. Small stores are located throughout the old city, although the Souq al-Hamidiyya, located along the Roman straight street, offers the highest density of shops. The souq is a fantastic experience, but be prepared for the crowds.

Restaurants


Budget

The famous vegetarian falafel sandwich (15-30 SP), chicken shawarma (30-50 SP) and manakeesh (10-20 SP), bread filled with zatar, spinach, meat, pizza-style tomato and cheese or other fillings are widely available and cheap. Less common but still widely spread are places which sell foul (boiled fava beans with sauce) and hummus.

A typical Damascene dish is fatteh, made up of soaked bread, chickpeas and yogurt. Delicious and extremely filling, it is excellent on a cold winter's day. Try it with lamb or sheep's tongue, or plain with the typical garnish of a little pickle and nuts.

There is a foul restaurant on Souq Saroujah, the same street as hotel Al-Haramein and one at the bab touma square. Also in this "backpacker district" on Souq Sarouja is Mr Pizza serving good pizzas, sandwiches, burgers and fries. A large plate of fries is 50 SP, a sandwich filled with chicken is 75 SP and a pizza for one person is 110 SP.

Shawarma is, of course, popular in Damascus. It comes in different varieties, including chicken and beef. Station One (near the Noura Supermarket in Abu Rumaneh) is one of many restaurants that serve shawarma throughout the city.

In order to really experience local Syrian cuisine, be sure to visit a section of Damascus called Midan. It lies south of the old city and can easily be reached by walking south from the western entrance to Souq al-Hamadiyya or from Bab Saghir. There is a main street there called Jazmatiya which offers an unlimited amount of shawerma & falafel stands, butcher shops/restaurants and plenty of Syrian pastry shops which are clearly marked by 2.5 metre high towers of sweets stacked on top of each other. Be sure to try Shawarma from "Anas," which makes some of the best sandwiches in Damascus. This main street is best to visit at night and doesn't close till around 03:00. The street is very safe and is always very busy.

Another unusual treat is a camel kebab, available tasty and fresh from the camel butchers outside Bab Saghir. As they typically advertise their wares by hanging a camel head and neck outside the premises, you're unlikely to miss them.

Fresh juice stalls are available all over the city. Orange juice (aasir beerdan) starts at 30-50 SP, other fruits are slightly more expensive. Many fruit stalls also have a range of dishes like hot dog, sojouq (Armenian sausage), liver (soda) and meat (kebab etc.). These may not always be the safest to eat.

Fruits and vegetables which are not peeled might cause infections, but are still very good. Select places that have a steady stream of customers.

The area around Martyr's square is polluted with pastry shops selling sweet, tasty and cheap baklava.

Do not try to eat in empty places only crowded restaurants and food places are safe otherwise you may get food poisoning from Shawerma sandwiches or any other product (especially in summer) so beware!


Mid-range

  • Al-Sehhi RestaurantSharia al-Abed, Central Damascus,  +963 11 221-1555.This restaurant offers the basics in Middle Eastern cooking, including mezze and a variety of grilled meats. There is a separate family section for diners and women. Alcohol is not served, and credit cards are not accepted.
  • Pizza Pasta, sharia medhat pasha, at the turn to Bab Kisan. This place serves descent pasta and good pizza, and also antipasta and alcohol. The service is often less than good, but it's worth to put up with for some of the real stuff. No menu, just ask for whatever Italian dish you fancy and chances are they will have it.
  • Nadil, a little closer to bab sharqi than pizza pasta, this place serves up typical Arabic meat dishes and very good broasted, and does it well and cheap. Takeaway.
  • Beit Sitti, close to beit jabri in the old city (the street that runs parallel to the street of al-noufara down from the ommayad mosque). Opinions are diverse on the food. But there is no doubt that they have the best lemon and mint juice in damascus and it’s OK just to drink.
  • Inhouse Coffee, at the airport, in the bab touma shopping street on the way to sahet abbasin and in the shopping street of abu romanih (souq al-kheir, close to benetton shopping centre). This is the place for great coffee. They have everything, including pressed coffee, for those with European cravings. Heavy with smart looking people and bluetooth in the air (in Syria, it’s an acceptable way to flirt).
  • Cafe Vienna, close to cham palace, follow the street towards Jisr-al-rais, turn right in the alley opposite of the Adidas store. This place is great. They do sandwiches on brown bread and apfelstrudel!
  • Vino Rosso, in bab touma walk up the stairs beside the police station and ask your way. You can have food fried at the table and they got French cheese. Rather cheap, very cosy. Alcohol is served.
  • Chinese Restaurant, opposite of Cafe Narcissius close to Beit Jabri. Mom and Pop operation, although the chef's wife is back in China to raise their baby. Does standard Americanized Chinese food. Reasonably priced and good Chinese food, usually full of foreigners or Chinese students. The sweet and sour chicken and beef "hot pan" are highly recommended. Alcohol is served.
  • Fish place, bourj el-roos. This place is more or less male only, a little rough and does very good fish. about 500 SL per person. Not cheap, but it’s Damascus, it’s fish and it’s good. The same place runs a good place for foul and hommous next by. Alcohol is served.
  • Spicy, at the abu-roumanih side of jisr al-abiad, first street to the left if your back is faced to the bridge. Daily dishes, "home-made" style Arabic food. Excellent. No alcohol.
  • Caffe Latte, a small, warmhearted cafe with the best coffee in town. Serves great muffins and pancakes. A very nice escape from the hustle and bustle of Damascus. Located near the Italian hospital.

Splurge

  • Scoozi. It’s close to Noura Supermarket in Abu Rumanneh, if you walk from jisr al-rais towards jebel qasioun it is on your right. Best pizza in Damascus, the rest of the dishes are excellent too. No alcohol.
  • Haretna (bab touma area, take the stairs beside the police station and follow the sign) serves excellent mezze No alcohol during Ramadan.
  • Nadi al Sharq, close to hotel Four seasons, this is the best Indian in Damascus. They do an excellent set meal for 600 S.P.
  • Rotana Cafe, a theme cafe built at the end of Damascus Boulevard by the Four Seasons. It is part of the Rotana Audio Visuals company which is probably the most famous music records company in the Arabic world. The head of Rotana is Prince Walid bin Talal. The food is good, as well as the hookah The view from this cafe is great, Mount Kassyoun is visible and the rest of Beirut Street. There is also a souviner shop and a music store located on the first level.
  • Cafe Trattoria is located right by the United Colors of Benneton in Abu Rummaneh. It is a beautiful pavement cafe that offers Italian food, hookas, and western coffees, as well as the traditional Turkish Coffee.
  • Leila's Restaurant and TerraceSouq al-Abbabiyya, Central Old City,  +963 11 544-5900. Leila's Restaurant and Terrace has rooftop seating with a gorgeous view of Umayyad Mosque. The restaurant serves traditional Arabic cuisine. Alcohol is served, although noted listed on the menu so ask the waiter for availability.
  • Beit Jabri Restaurant14 Sharia as-Sawwaf, Central Old City,  +963 11 544-3200. A favourite with both locals and tourists, and offers the Syrian classics. It is located in the courtyard of a beautiful Damascene house.
  • Arabesque RestaurantSharia al-Kineesa, Central Damascus,  +963 11 543-3999. The restaurant offers a combination of Syrian and French classics. While alcohol is served, credit cards are not accepted. Arabesque is on the more elegant side, so semi-formal dress may be more appropriate.
  • DowntownSharia al-Amar Izzedin al-Jazzari, Central Damascus,  +963 11 332-2321. This contemporary restaurant offers a wide array of sandwiches, salads and fresh fruit juices. French is more likely to be spoken than Arabic. The interior is filled with Scandinavian decor.

Coffe & Drink

The coffee houses of Old Damascus were something to experience. Hours could dissolve over a cup of shay (tea) or ahwa (coffee) among the smoke of a nargileh (water pipe). An-Naufara (which means 'The Fountain') was a wonderful place to do this, just east of the Umayyad Mosque. There was even a Hakawati (a traditional story teller) present at 19:00 most nights.

If you were craving a European coffee, you could have headed for Abu Rommeneh street and looked for the Bennetton clothing store. There were a number of fancy cafés in the area, including the Middle Eastern chain Inhouse Coffee, which is similar to Starbucks in its prices and atmosphere. A large latte or cappuccino (before the wartime inflation) cost 135 SP. Free Wi-Fi was offered at each location throughout the city.

Sights & Landmarks

The Souq al-Hamidiyya, a broad street packed with tiny shops, is entered through columns from a Roman temple built on a site that had been occupied by an even older temple. The souqs themselves smell of cumin and other distinctive spices and you can find passages dedicated to everything from leather and copper goods to inlaid boxes and silk scarves.

At the end of Souq al-Hamidiyya stands the great Umayyad mosque; this building with three minarets is an architectural wonder. It was an Assyrian temple, then a Roman temple to Jupiter, a church when Rome converted to Christianity, then a mosque and a church together, and finally a mosque until now. All the symbols are still pretty much there and some Christian drawings can still be very clearly seen on the walls inside. The mosque contains the grave of John the Baptist (for Muslims, prophet Yahya) inside the main lounge. Women are asked to be to cover their hair, arms and legs. Abayas(full-body covers)are provided with the entrance ticket price of 50SP. It is one of the most sacred sites of Islam, and it welcomes foreign tourists, who are allowed to walk around the prayer area.

At the other end of Souq al-Hamidiyya is a fort-like section of the extant city wall that is the Citadel (but make sure to visit Aleppo's Citadel for a truly amazing experience).

Nearby, you can visit the Mausoleum of Salah al-Din, known in the west as Saladin, the chief anti-crusader. There's a great statue of him on horseback right next to the citadel, which will make you gasp. If you walk all the way around it, there are two dejected Frankish knights underneath the horse's slightly lifted tail. These two knights are identified by inscriptions as Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, and Reynald de Chatillon, lord of Kerak, an important fortress in the Holy Land. Both were captured during Salah al-Din's definitive victory at Hattin; Guy was imprisoned in Damascus and eventually released, but Reynald was executed as punishment for his many atrocities.

The Azzam palace (150 SP, students: 10 SP) includes a museum trying to describe the life of royal families.

The October War Panorama is out in the suburbs but accessible by minibus or taxi. It's about US$7 to get in and well worth it. It was built with the help of the North Korean Government and the influence shows. There is an exhibit of military hardware outside. English-speaking guides are available.

Museums & Galleries


Museums

  • National Museum of Damascus
  • Azem Palace
  • Military Museum
  • October War Panorama Museum
  • Museum of Arabic Calligraphy
  • Nur al-Din Bimaristan

Things to do

  • View the city from Mount Qasioun is a must-do activity in Damascus as it offers a panoramic view. The peak is accessible at any time, although the view is perhaps most spectacular at night when the whole city is lit up and the minarets of mosques are bathed in green light. The Umayyad Mosque in the old town is particularly impressive when viewed from the mountain. There is a wide range of food and refreshment available on the peak from stalls to fancy restaurants that serve good local cuisine and alcohol. Check the price before you get too comfortable though- it is a well-known scam for local cab drivers to take you to their 'favorite' cafe, where you'll end up paying anything up to 500SP for a cup of tea.
  • Visit a restaurant in old Damascus. There are many restaurants in the old quarter each with their own unique character, but perhaps the most famous (and touristy) is "Beit Jabri", although "Al-Khawali" is considered by many to be the best dining experience in the old city. Another restaurant in the old city, Narcissus Palace, located close to Maktab Anbar, would offer an enlightening experience. Every night, a singer and band play old Arabic music and create an amazing atmosphere in the restaurant. A good idea, when considering these restaurants, is to go for breakfast, and then go sightseeing. The breakfast is very cheap, the bill will amount to 1000 SP for about four people.
  • Bathe in a Hammam, i.e., a Turkish bath. The Nur-al-Din Bath (between the Azem Palace and Straight Street) and the Bakri Bath (first street on the right after entering the Old City at Bab Touma) are two baths that are familiar with Western tourists. A visit to either costs about 500 SP, and includes towels, soap, scrub, a massage and a tea. The price is typically composed of bath entry (300 SP), scrub (50 SP), sauna (100 SP), massage (100 SP) and extras such as tea or soap. Nur-al-Din is for men only, Bakri might be able to accommodate women or mixed groups upon prior arrangement. Bakri Bath: for women each day except Friday 10 - 5PM
  • Relax at a Hooka cafe "Narjelah" Hooka cafe's are popular in Damascus and are easy to find. When visiting the old city, you'll get a more cultural or traditional experience. You'll probably find a crowd of tea-drinking, backgammon-playing men all smoking hooka. In the modern city, most cafe's cater to a younger crowd and are a big part of the night life offering a huge variety of flavored tobacco ranging from double apple which is the most common, to cappuccino. In almost every major restaurant, hookas are available, including the restaurants in the old city.

Nightlife

Many bars and nightclubs had been set up in Damascus. These were usually busy at night time, but they still provided nice alcoholic beverages and dances.

Clubs in Damascus that weren't all prostitutes (around Bab Sharqi): La Serai, La Vida Loca

Many establishments have closed because of the war; as of mid-2016 there have been reports of businesses gradually returning to the Old City or Old Quarter of Damascus.

While that $1 beer may now cost 555 SP (in 2016, with prices rising due to hyperinflation), Old Town establishments which have reopened include:

  • La Marionnette Pubالشهبندر مقابل وزارة التربية,  +963 958 741 013.
  • Pub Sharqi.

Things to know

Be warned that only very few large banks will cash American Express Traveller Cheques in Damascus and elsewhere in Syria! ATM and Credit cards are NOT a reliable option for the foreign traveller.

The first ATMs were introduced into Syria in 2003, and thus are still a rare novelty in many parts, and are not always in operation. Change houses exist in many areas in Damascus, especially near the large Souks. The Euro, British Pound, and American Dollar can be changed at these shops, usually commission-free. Be sure to look up the current exchange rate before changing money so you do not get cheated. Many shops, especially in the old city), also change money. Though officially illegal, it is a handy option when you're already shopping in the old city and need to change some cash quickly. Just ask around the shopkeepers for a money changer and you will soon be directed to a store that does currency exchange.

Safety in Damascus

Stay Safe

WARNING! All travel to Syria and Damascus is discouraged in the strongest possible terms. 

Since 2011 the severe political crisis in the country has escalated into a civil war. Tens of thousands of people having been injured and killed by opposition paramilitary groups or government security forces. Attacks have been indiscriminate and use of lethal chemical weapons have been reported. Although central Damascus have been spared the worst violence the city can in no way possible be regarded as safe. Practically all Western countries have issued travel warnings; consult your foreign office before traveling.

Syria - Travel guide

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