A Day in Damascus

My bus ticket from Beirut in Lebanon to Damascus in Syria

Last week I wrote about my trip to Beirut in Lebanon back in 2003, this week, as promised, I am writing about the day trip I did from there to Damascus in Syria. On the morning I got up very early and took a taxi to the Cola Transport Hub, a major road intersection where you can get buses, taxis or minibuses to destinations in Lebanon and the region. From here I got a bus to Damascus. The bus was just a regular coach and I got myself in the rear entrance and sat in the back row for the whole journey. Travelling through Lebanon we stopped somewhere at a service centre but I didn’t get off the bus, instead the driver brought me a bottle of cold cola.

Bab Sharqi, or Eastern Gate, at one end of the Street Called Straight

Shortly after this stop we crossed the border out of Lebanon in to Syria and again I didn’t leave the bus, the driver took my passport and went through the formalities of having it stamped for me. Not long later we arrived in Damascus and I found a taxi to take me to the Street Called Straight. After I got there I wasn’t sure what else to do but on the way there my taxi driver agreed that for US$100 he would give me a day tour of the city. I thought that was a good plan. We parked the car near to Bab Sharqi which is the Eastern Gate at one end of the Street Called Straight.

Hanania Street, Damascus

We decided the first thing to do was to find something to eat so my guide took us to Hanania Street which was just around the corner, here we went to Le Piano. After my guide had a short conversation we then left and found somewhere else where we had bread and cheese with a coffee sitting at a table outside.

When we had finished our early lunch we had a look around the area and I noticed a sign for the House of Ananias, this was one of the two places I was hoping to see on my day trip so told my guide and we went there.

The House of Ananias, now a Catholic church

The House of Ananias is supposed to be the remains of the house that Ananias of Damascus lived in. Ananias is the person that restored the sight of Saul (later Paul) when he was struck blind on the road to Damascus. It is below street level and is now a Catholic church. My guide helped me down the steps and then left me there for about 15 minutes before returning to continue our tour of the city.

Umayyad Mosque, Damascus with the Dome of the Treasury

Our next stop was at the Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus. This 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. In the centre is a large courtyard that has in it two domes, The Dome of the Clock that was built in 780 and The Dome of the Treasury that was built in 789. Before we left here I visited the prayer room, something I had not been able to do at mosques in Istanbul where they wouldn’t allow my wheelchair on the carpets.

Azm Palace, Damascus, which is now Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions

On leaving the Umayyad Mosque we walked to the nearby Azm Palace. This was built in 1749 for the Governor of Damascus to serve as his residence and guest house. It was renovated during 1945-1961 and now serves as the Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions. We spent some time looking around here both in the palace and the courtyard. One thing I remember was there was a room with mannequins wearing old Arabic costumes.

Restoration work near the Umayyad Mosque

We returned to the area near to the Umayyad Mosque and visited the Al-Hamidiyah Souq where the many vendors tried to sell us their various goods. We just looked around but did buy some sugared almonds. Upon leaving the souk my guide told me that he now had to go and pray at his mosque and so left me for a short while.

Entrance to the Umayyad Mosque

I sat with my back towards a wall where some restoration work was being carried out and reviewed the mornings events on my digital camera. Looking through the images I suddenly  became aware that it seemed to be ‘snowing’ sawdust and looked up to see a workman above trying to get my attention. He indicated to me to move and once I did began sawing the end of a large beam that then dropped down exactly where I had been sitting!

Hejaz Railway Station

On his return my guide took me back to his car and asked if there was anywhere else I particularly wanted to see. I told him about the other place on my list to see, the Hejaz Railway station. He seemed a little surprised at this but agreed to take me there. On the Hejaz Railway ran the trains that Lawrence of Arabia is famous for bombing during the Arab Revolt in World War I. For as long as I have known about this and that Thomas Edward Lawrence was born and grew up in Tremadog, here in north Wales,  I had wanted to visit the Hejaz.

Mount Qasioun

Now we headed out of the city to Mount Qasioun which gives great panoramic views of the whole of Damascus that we stopped several times to view. On the mountain as we neared the top I thought the taxi was going to break down and when we parked it at a restaurant there was lots of smoke coming from the engine and gearbox, though my driver assured me ‘no problem’…

The Convent of Our Holy Lady of Saidnaya

Returning to the car after our meal it seemed to have cooled down and should be alright now as we would be heading downhill. We went to Saidnaya to visit the Convent of Our Holy Lady of Saidnaya. Parking the car we watched a delivery man struggle with a very big box taking it up four or five flights of stairs to the convent. My guide then said we would go and look inside the convent, I asked if he was sure he wanted to get me up all those stairs to which he replied “I will go and ask for the key for the lift” and then started laughing! The lift was in the tower to the left of the photo above.

The settlement of Maaloula in Syria

In the convent there were many religious icons and frescos. In one room that the nuns took us to they turned off the lights for a short while whilst we prayed. It was now time to start heading back to Damascus for me to get a taxi back to Beirut. On the way we stopped to view the settlement of Maaloula, this to me looked exactly how a Middle Eastern village/town should look. Maaloula and Saidnaya are special as both its Christian and Muslim inhabitants still speak the ancient Aramaic language which Jesus spoke.

Painting on a wall at the Convent of our Holy Lady of Saidnaya

Back in Damascus my guide dropped me off at the transport hub where someone arranged for me to get a Service taxi back to Beirut. A Service taxi is a shared taxi that departs when it is full. The driver departed when he had five passengers, my fellow passengers didn’t speak English so I couldn’t speak to them but I did discover at the border crossing back in to Lebanon that one of them was a Palestinian without a passport and travelling on some kind of refugee identity card. Like on the bus this morning, at the border crossing the driver took my passport and dealt with the border formalities without me leaving the vehicle. I was the last passenger to leave the car and he took me all the way to my hotel.

A painting of Hafez al-Assad, former President of Syria, at Hejaz railway station

It was not until writing up this blog that I realised just how much I managed to fit in to just one day in Syria! I don’t think I would have the energy to do so much these days. I still have many great memories from this trip and am sad that I cannot travel so far now and that a few short years later Syria descended in to civil war that has been ongoing since 2011. I hope at some time not too far in the future other adventurous travellers can follow in my wheel tracks  and visit Syria.

54 thoughts on “A Day in Damascus”

    1. You’re welcome. If I learned one thing during my day in Damascus it was that one day is not long enough to do it justice. 🙂

  1. Wow, this trip looks like a great time, there’s so much history! I love tours that show the harsher realities in travel, I think it is important to see when you travel.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, the whole of the Middle East has such a wonderful history, I really enjoyed it when I was able to travel there.

    1. From what I understand it is the areas of Syria outside of Damascus that have suffered the most destruction. Very sad. 🙁

  2. It looks like you had a beautiful time there! Thank you for sharing such positive memories of this incredibly conflicted place. Echoing what some others have said, it’s nice to see both sides of the coin, not just what’s reported on the news.

  3. I saw this video of Syria before the civil war happened and it broke my heart when they showed how it looks right now. They have totally ruined a beautiful city full of amazing structures.

  4. Given all the sad and negative things one usually hears about Syria, this was a very pleasant read. The buildings are beautiful in their own way and it sounds like an all round pleasant experience.

  5. It’s so interesting reading about Damascus given the conflict in Syria. It seems like an interesting city to visit, with a rich history too. Nice to see photos of peace here, makes a nice change!

    1. Hopefully it won’t be too long before peace returns to the region and travellers can experience the city again.

  6. I’m glad your brought to light the beauty of this ancient city. Kuddos for going to visit at such a troubled time. Looks like you saw and learned a lot.

  7. This looks like a great trip! I’m sure you learned a lot, too. Maybe I’ll find myself there someday and can use this as a guide of sorts.

  8. It breaks my heart reading this and seeing the beauty of Syria. I used to live in central Turkey and worked at a hostel, where many of our guests visited after visiting Syria. Every single person raved about the beauty of Syria and the kindness of the people. For many years I regretted not travelling south to Syria, now more than ever. You’re very blessed to have had this incredible experience.

  9. Great profile of a city I know nothing about. I really like a day in blogs.. they give you a sense of what you can do if you are just stopping over rather than spending a length of time there

  10. Great read! An off the beaten path day trip different than any other! Thanks for sharing this trip which shows us how Damascus was before the civil war, it is really valuable!

  11. I must say you are lucky you got to see a bit of Syria before all the madness began. I have always dreamt of Damascus but I don’t really know if I will be able to see it ever. Or what will remain if at all I see it! My heart goes out to those people who are caught in the middle of it all. So nice to see a post about Damascus. Happy to see a bit of it through your lens.

    1. Thank you. I am hopeful that Damascus may fare better than other parts of Syria in this war because it is where the Assad regime is based.

    1. I hope it survives the civil war without too much damage and other travellers can experience it in the future, I found the heat to be more bearable there than on the Mediterranean coast at Beirut even though it was hotter.

  12. Syria is such a beautiful and history-rich country – it is a real tragedy what is happening there now. I would love to visit this place one day. Sadly it’s not possible at the moment.

    1. It is indeed a beautiful country. My only regret is that I only had one day in Syria; my priority in those days was scuba diving.

  13. A very unusual tour, looks like you had a great time though! The architecture in your photos looks great, pity about the war, hopefully there will be peace in Syria again one day 🙂

  14. This place looks beautiful. But unfortunately, wouldn’t think of visiting this place in person. It is sad what we humans did to our beautiful planet. Thanks for sharing your experience. It was a good read.

  15. What a great read. Looking at photos of Syria it was such a beautiful country before the war erupted. When did you take this trip?

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