Damascus (nicknamed City of Jasmine ) is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth and on account of its physical location has been a transit point for many trading routes over the millennia. The 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 including the authentic covered Souq which is an attraction in itself. Life, however, goes on in the old-walled city, which is still the religious and social centre of the city.
Damascus is a major cultural and religious centre of the Levant and claims to be the centre of Islamic culture, so there is no shortage of mosques. The Umayyad Mosque in the Old City is one of the oldest and largest, famous for its golden mosaics. I visited on Friday, the holiest of days of the week for Muslims and was welcomed to explore the building and the grounds.
Over at the Persian style, Iranian built, Shiite mosque things were a little more subdued as the groups of Iranian tourist arrived. The mosque had a white tiled dome; I had not seen one like it during my travels through Iran so this came as a surprise to me. The Persian style mosques seemed to have a lot more ‘bling’ to them. I wonder what the insides of the Gulf States’ mosques look like, I can only wonder.
One of the popular things to do in Damascus’ Old City is to have ice cream from the Bakdash Ice Cream parlor, and I’m told that vanilla is the most popular choice, but I’m more of a strawberry guy. Of course, like most other sweets in these parts it comes topped with crushed pistachios. In all honesty I can see why this shop ‘s ice cream is known around the Levant, it was seriously amazing; I considered staying another day just to have another crack at that strawberry!
Damascus is best to be explored by foot, but one of the ‘must do’ activities, which you may need a car for, is to gain a panoramic view of the city from Mount Qasioun; especially at night when the minarets are lit up. It is not currently safe to travel to Syria, especially the north and east of the country, but thankfully much of Damascus’ Old City has survived unscathed so far so hopefully it’ll be able to be explored by future intrepid travellers.