Images from Syria – Damascus and Palmyra- from the spring of 2009
When we visited Syria in 2009, it was because it was the cheapest destination to see in the Middle East, and because the tiny city of Damascus is one of the oldest inhabited places in the world. There were signs of an underlying tension then- in the decaying buildings, in the veneer of dust that clung to the ageing cars on the road almost as if time had left the place behind, in the consistent presence of Militia in every tea shop and street corner. But there were also beautiful green leafy courtyards with locals chattering over tea and nargileh, food so delicious that we ate five meals a day, souks so bounteous and colourful that you could get lost in them twice over and not want to be found. There were the majestic ruins of the Ummayad Mosque, the quiet splendour of the ruins at Palmyra, and the desolation of the old-city walls all over Damascus
With the blithe arrogance of the tourist- we celebrated discovering a gem that few had visited, the absence of the Lonely-Planet-as-Gospel backpackers on the road. the pleasure of eating at a gorgeous restaurant frequented by Sarkozy the week before us (at a little more than the amount spent weekly at Starbucks), and the chance to be with one with history. We gorged on the many coloured candies, and stuffed our suitcases with silk and wool scarves from the Taqiya Suleimaniah Souk that I treasure till today.
After the last three years in the region, one wonders whether Damascus will ever open its souks and alleyways to callous tourists again, and if it does, will history and present-day living still mingles on its streets with the same seamlessness?
As world citizens there isn’t much we can do about what is happening in one of the most historically rich regions of the globe-unfortunately undone by its geography and absence of oil. But what we can pledge to do is educate ourselves, perhaps donate to the millions of refugees trying to establish a life in the neighbouring countries, and also think of what is happening there as a cautionary tale. As people like Assad and Putin have taught us time and again- there is no such thing as a benevolent dictator. And we may be better of flearning that from history than experience.
The Syrians love their rainbow coloured candy- the nutty nougats, the Turkish delights, the rosewater infused chewables.
The streets of the old town within the ramparts of the Old Walls
The quiet stately streets outside the National Museum at Damascus
At Bakdash- for the delicious pistachio ice-cream enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.
The awe-inspiring ruins of Palmyra
One of the walls of the Ummayad Mosque at Sunset
Coffee in the courtyards of one of the many delightful old houses (Bayts) converted into cafes and hotels.