Old Damascus – a place to lose yourself

Damascus is the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city. As you enter the maze of streets that make up the Old City, you might not see evidence of thousands of years of dwelling, but a sense of history in the buildings that surround you is evident around every corner you turn.

Unlike many old cities, the lanes and alley of Damascus are still teeming with life. Souqs, family shops, cafes, mosques and churches are squeezed into the smallest spaces as a busy flow of local people and visitors go about their business. Walk through the main street of the souq, or along Straight St, and you will see a cosmopolitan blend of residents doing their shopping, western tourists snapping photos or browsing in shops and a multitude of tourists from neighbouring Arab countries. To the east of the main commercial area is the Umayyad Mosque, where an air of calm pervades and the shouts from the traders fade into a distant hum amid the quiet of the holy site. A little further on, and the change in attire of the women in the street is a clear sign that you are entering the Christian quarter.

For us, one of the highlights of wondering through Old Damascus was getting the chance to peer into some of the Damascene houses. Remarkably unremarkable on the outside, and yet behind an old delapidated door we suddenly came upon a beautiful courtyard, with fountains, vibrant floral displays and buildings that had been lovingly preserved. While some are marked on the map as historic sites and even take a small entry fee, others are just glimpsed through a chance open door, and a smile and wave to the owner saw us welcomed in to admire an oasis of calm in a bustling city.

Damascus is one of my favourite cities. Good food, wonderful people, a sense of safety at any time of day or night, and a photographer’s dream with so many wonderful buildings and gardens hidden within its heart.

(April 2009) Link to nice site on old Damascene houses

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Freelance travel writer

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