Old Damascus Companion of time is under rehabilitation

The old city of Damascus, which is surrounded by the beautiful “Ghouta“ , and crossed by River Barada of the seven branches , was described by historians and poets as “the paradise of God “ . Today it is an international tourist landmark, unique in itself as it was described by the “World Tourism Organization”. Archaeological discoveries proved that the city of Damascus was one of the cities which man inhabited in the ancient epochs.

It was mentioned in Egyptian records of the fifteenth century B.C. It was mentioned 67 times in the Holy Bible .It became the first abode of Christian religion in the first century A.D. The instructions of Jesus Christ to Saul the Tarsian (St Paul):

“Get up and go to Damascus and there you would be told what you have to do” is another proof of the holiness of this city. The Arab Nabateans made it their capital in the year 87 B.C. Later it returned to the Roman rule until its liberation by the Arabs in the year 635 A.D. The Umayyads made it the capital of the Arab empire, when its borders reached the shores of the Atlantic ocean in the west and China in the east .During its historical epochs Damascus was famous for trading in fruit and vegetables , silk fabric , especially Damask ( a kind of embroidery cloth ) ,and for manufacturing glass , bronze and swords, which were, and are still, famous for their hardness, sharpness and elegance , not to mention Damascus achievements in medical science , architecture and arts , and its advanced role in conveying knowledge and sciences to the world outside The souks ( markets ) of old Damascus, which still exist today, testify to its distinguished role in internal and external trade .The number of such souks exceded 150 souks at that time. Similar crafts were centralised in one market .The most famous of these souks now are:

The Long Souk “ Madhat Pasha ” : it is the same souk which was mentioned in the Holy Bible , and which crosses the city from “Bab Al-Jabia ” to“ Bab Sharki ” ( the Eastern Gate ). This souk was famous for the Damask fabric, silk fabric, rugs, cloaks, koufiah and others .

Souk al- Hamidiya : situated at the entrance of the Umayyad Mosque and deals with all kinds of commodities : clothes fabrics , traditional industries (brocade , mozaic , engraved brass enlaid with silver) and other materials .

Souk al- Buzourieh : connecting the long street with al- Azm Palace. It is known for its distinct aromatic smell .It comprises hundreds of small shops that sell spices , perfumes , nuts , dried fruit , medical herbs and wedding sweets... etc . There are also many other specialised souks like Souk al- Harir ( silk market ), Souk of tailors and Souk of saddles .Beside these markets many mosques and churches were built ; the most famous of which is the Umayyad Mosque, and the churches of Saint Paul , Hanania and Maryamia . In the North West corner of the city, the Castle of Damascus was built inside the wall, on the remains of an old roman fortress. It used to be surrounded by a 20 m wide moat and has four doors and twelve towers distributed at its four sides. It was decided to be rehabilitated touristically , and work is still going on in it since 1983 . Neighboring to these souks, public baths were built.Some of these baths are still open today: Bath of Noureddin , al- Ward bath , King al- Dhaher and other baths . In addition to all these establishments, some popular cafés were set up , especially in al Nofara quarter where friends meet together to chat, sip tea or coffee and smoke the huble buble . If we move to the old quarters of Damascus, we can realise how much beautiful they are. Tourists can visit the old Damascene houses usually built in two stories from wood and mud .Inside each house there is an open courtyard planted with trees and roses in addition to a fountain in the middle , where members of the family sit around as if they are in the small Ghouta of Damascus .

In Damascus you find tens of houses which were built as palaces such as: al- Azm Palace, al- Sabbagh House , A’anbar House,al-Shami House , Nizam House and others.

The old city is surrounded by a wall having nine Gates built during the Roman era .They had been renovated during the Mamlouk rule in order to repel the dangers of foreign invasions.

These gates are known as: Bab Sharki (the eastern Gate), Bab al- Faraj , Bab al- Salam, Bab al-Nasr, Bab al- Faradeese,Bab-al Sagheer, Bab al- Jabie and Bab Kisan.All of them are preserved in good shape.

Around old Damascus there is a number of graves of “ Al al-Beit” ,( members of the Prophet Mohammad’s family ) and his companions , caliphs , theologists and moslem kings.In the Umayyad Mosque itself, one can see the tomb of the prophet Yahia ( Saint John the Baptist ) .Just a few steps of the mosque, lies the tomb of Salaheddin al- Ayoubi, (Saladin ) .

Thus,in old Damascus, the tourist can see a number of historical eras represented in buildings , personalities ,religious events and practices , things that satisfy his curiosity and knowledge and arouse in his soul the happiness and serenity , especially when he discovers the distinguished role of old Damascus in the interaction of cultures and civilizations on its ground , and its prominent role in exporting knowledge and sciences to the world, and character of coexistence and fraternity which distinguish its inhabitants . The visitor should feel easy when he sees a number of oriental restaurants in old Damascus occupying some old buildings and presenting delicious typical Damascene food, with some music and popular songs and Arabic coffee. We were very happy when the head of “Old Damascus Protection Committee” showed us the broad lines of a rehabilitation plan prepared by the governorate of Damascus and said : “ This program should be completed in ten years time at a cost of 400 million US dollar.It includes repairing and developing the infrastructure of the old city , repairing its remains , rehabilitating its old buildings and houses , providing public utilities and services, arranging and beautifying River Barada , developing networks of electricity and water, and improving communications and sewage , developing the trade markets and encouraging the popular handcraft professions” .

The governorate of Damascus expects the feasibility study of this project to be fruitful, not only in the sphere of developing commerce and industry, but also in the scope of investment in one of the most important riches: tourism.

 

Haifaa Mafalani