"Ahlan wa sahlan" (`welcome` in Arabic) is the most common expression you will
hear in this most hospitable of countries. Situated in the heart of the Middle
East, Syria`s fascinated history has been touched by many of the great
civilizations. The Greeks, Romans, Pheonicians, Arab Caliphates and Crusaders
have all left their indelible mark on this intriguing country.
And with both Damascus and Aleppo vying for the title of the world`s oldest
continually inhabited city (at around 8,000 years each) there is plenty of
history to absorb. This rich heritage has blessed Syria with some of the best
monuments in the Middle East and its excellent and diverse cuisine cannot fail
As old as time itself, this ancient city lays reasonable claim to be the
worlds oldest continuously inhabited city. Mohammed supposedly saw
Damascus on his way to Mecca but would not enter as he only wanted
to enter paradise once. Today Damascus is an enchanting place.
The Old City bazaars teem with carts and street vendors selling coffee
and spices. The narrow busy streets reveal minarets, fountains and
courtyards, and behind many a door lies thousands of years of history.
Seidnaya, Maalula and Deir Marmusa
Three fascinating places just north of Damascus are Seidnaya, Maalula
and Deir Marmusa. Seidnaya is an important place of pilgrimage for
Christians of the Middle East. The stunning convent sits like a castle
on the top of a hill and contains an icon of Mary said to have been
painted by St. Luke. Maalula is one of the last places on earth where
Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken. This beautiful village
of yellow and blue houses is built into a cliff-face and is home to
convents, monasteries and many legends. Deir Marmusa is a multifaith
monastery in the middle of nowhere, built majestically on the top
of a cliff with some stunning frescoes and an active theistic community.
Syrias second city, Aleppo is the historic business centre of Syria.
Dating back some 8000 years, there is plenty of history to soak up
in this Arabian bazaar city from its massive citadel overlooking the
city to its World Heritage listed Old City. The souk (covered market)
in Aleppo is one of the biggest, most colourful and busiest in the
whole Middle East.
St. Simeons and the Dead Cities
The beautiful ruins at St. Simeons Basilica tell the story of a man
who in his heyday in the late 4th century was believed to be the worlds
most famous man. Climbing onto a pillar to get away from people, he
became famous as a holy sage, and as his fame spread and his visitors
increased, his pillars got higher and higher until he stood some 18m
above his mortal flock! The Dead City of Serjilla is a spookily beautiful
place with remarkable ruins that give little clue to their age or when
the place was abandoned. The Dead City of Barra is a wonderful place
to explore with pyramids, churches and a whole array of crumbling
buildings, part overgrown and little explored.
Hama and Apamea
The ancient waterwheels (Norias) of Hama provide a picturesque
backdrop to this pleasant town. Creaky wooden structures, they were
used to provide irrigation for the surrounding lands from the bountiful
The beautiful 3rd century ruins of Apamea set on a wild grassy moor
overlooking the Al-Ghab plain are particularly striking in the early
evening when the sun sets on the colonnaded streets, impressive gates
and sumptuous surrounds.
Along the Euphrates
Taking in a sunset from a small boat floating on this giant of Middle
Eastern rivers is a perfect way to finish a day. But there are many
important and impressive historical sights en-route from the
beautiful Qalaat Jaabar surrounded by the azure waters of Lake Assad
to the ruined cities of Halibyeh and Rasafa, and the Roman site of Dura
Europos close to the border with Iraq. The river itself and the bustling
markets of Deir ez-Zur add some colour to the beautiful sparseness of
the surrounding deserts.
Palmyra, the Eastern Palace and the
Palmyra is the fabled pink sandstone city of Zenobia, a princess
believed to be descended from Cleopatra and a constant thorn in
Roman sides. The stunning site is one of the most impressive in the
whole Middle East, and the sprawl of the site continually turns up new
ruins of historical significance and remarkable beauty. Deep in the
desert, flanked by date palms and overlooked by a hilltop castle, the
sublime setting for the site is hard to beat, and what better way
to explore than by the traditional Bedouin vehicle, the camel.
The Eastern Palace (a.k.a. Qasr Hirl Sharqi) is an immense stunning
Umayyad fortress set in the middle of a vast emptiness that lets the
mind wander free. The surrounding deserts are the preserve of the
famously hospitable Bedouin herders.
NOTE: Syria tours are currently suspended due to the security situation in the country