Syria – More beauty than warfare

Beautiful beaches such as Latakia and green landscapes are all part of Syria
Pic credit@ kais zakaria, Abd, hanan smart all via flickr
“I think I wanted to show that the world is not some big, scary place, but in fact is full of people who want to help you”
These are the words of Graham Hughes, the first man to visit all 201 countries without using a plane.
Focus on his words and just for a moment, forget about the insurgency and warfare in Syria. Just for a moment forget about the warnings and the media hype about how unsafe a place it is and think about Syria – the historically and culturally rich ancient place, shaped by thousands of years of trade and human migration.
One of the larger states of the Middle East, Syria is abundant in widespread deserts and mountains, oases and fertile valleys. Most of its beauty comes from some of its grand castles and fabulously preserved ruins. A perfect blend of traditional settings and modern lifestyle, it’s the kind of place where you can get a lesson or two about the Ottoman Empire while sitting in a crowded cafe or bump into street kids playing soccer on busy crowded streets.

If beauty is what you are looking for, you will find that in abundance in Syria. Read on and decide for yourself.  

Crac des Chevaliers. Pic credit: Jozelui via flickr
Crac des Chevaliers
Built between 1142 and 1271, Crac des Chevaliers, is a Crusader castle and one of the most important preserved medieval castles in the world. Often described using words like ‘epitome of the dream castle of childhood fantasies’ and ‘the finest castle in the world’, Crac des Chevaliers was recognised as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2006. This hugely impressive castle has the history of never being captured by force.

Roman ruins of Palmyra
Palmyra is an ancient Arabic city in central Syria. Known as the Bride of the Desert, Palmyra was a vital caravan stop for travellers crossing the Syrian Desert. Though the ancient site fell into disuse after the 16th century, when the last ruler, Queen Zenobia was toppled, a newer town was developed by the same name, next to the ruins. The beautifully restored Temple of Bel and Valley of the Tombs in local sandy honey coloured stones at the site show the ancient splendour of Palmyra.

Umayyad mosque
The Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus is located in the old city of Damascus, and is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world. It is considered by some Muslims to be the fourth-holiest place in Islam. Built between 705 and 715 AD by the Umayyad Caliph al-Walīd I, it is the earliest surviving stone mosque. The walls of the mosque are made up of massive limestone blocks from the original Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter. Though the heavy fighting during the Syrian civil war has spoiled the holy site and toppled its minaret, it was once counted among one of the marvels of the world.

Ma’loula village
Located almost 56 km to the northeast of Damascus is Ma’loula. It is one of three villages where the local people are still speaking Aramic - the language of Jesus Christ. A town full of fantasy and spiritual stories, Ma’loula also houses two important monasteries – Mar Sarkis and Mar Taqla.

Souks of Aleppo. Pic credit: Sifter via flickr
Souks of Aleppo
The largest city in Syria, Aleppo is also the most populated. One of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities of the world, Aleppo is home to the famous medieval covered souks (markets). Said to be spread as far as 15 km in length, one can find anything and everything here, ranging from luxury to household goods and electronic to homemade stuff. A visit to the souks of Aleppo are a sure shot way for gaining and living a Middle Eastern experience.  

First posted on thepositive.com