Qatna, Syria

In the Middle Bronze Age, Qatna was one of the most important centres on the coastlands of the east Mediterranean. It lays on a tributary to the river Orontes, 90km from the Mediterranean, and thus on an important crossroads: east to west from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean, and south to north – from Egypt, into Palestine and up to Anatolia (modern Turkey) home of the Hittites. It reached its height in the middle Bronze Age, in the 18th to 17th centuries BC, when Qatna, together with Aleppo, were the two most important kingdoms in Western Syria. From the 16th -14th centuries it was a vassal of the Mitanni Empire, and it was destroyed – most probably – by the Hittites in 1340. There was also an extensive later Iron Age occupation on top. Today, it lies 20 km NE of the modern town of Homs, and is being excavated by three teams, a Syrian team from Damascus, an Italian team and a German team .

Source: World Archeology


Black stones: Symbol of Homs inherent architecture

The incomparable diversity of both old and modern building styles in the old city of Homs, has created  a harmonious panel representing the architectural design splendor on one hand,  and showing -through its narrow streets and contiguous houses- the pleasant memories of the good times on the other.

Homs is located on a volcanic land  still dwelling  a large number of old houses, that were turned into traditional museums of  Islamic  handicrafts and miniatures, or as restaurants crowded with heritage and authenticity fans.

Among the most famous Homsi residences which still retain originality until  today are: Abdullah Farkouh residence in Boustan el-Diwan Road, as well as the 270 year old domicile of al-Akhras in the Raouche district which has been converted into a restaurant, in addition to  al-Aga House,  Julia Domina Café, the  house of Moufeed al-Ameen and Beit Al-Zahrawi which was turned to a  Folkloric Museum.

Structurally speaking , the old city of Homs takes, a square-like shape. Its four of its seven gates are located on the city's four corners. They are: Palmyra Gate, Aldreb Gate, the Lions Gate, Hood Gate, the Turkmen Gate , "al-Masdoud"  (blocked) Gate, and the Market Gate.

There is only one straight road in the old city of Homs, since all the city's roads take a zigzag shape either for security or climatic reasons,  to eliminate the dangers caused by the strong westerly winds that strikes the city.

An old  Homsi house has most Arabic architecture elements, the difference is only in some particulars resulting from cultural or economic situation. The old Homsi house is  Surrounded with external wall, consisting of  an entrance leading to the interior courtyard and a number of  rooms which are separated by what is called "al-Lioan" which was  the family setting room. In the courtyard  there are basins planted with  fruitful trees such as  loquat, figs, berries, pomegranate, apricot;  besides charming yellow and white jasmine , damask rose and mint; in addition to the famous Homsi grapevine. The home garden, in many cases, is really considered the  family drugstore.

Researcher Faisal Shikhani, says " Homs building was called "Al-abgayh", this  nomination dates back to 1500 AD,   signifying  piebald,  since  the city's households were built by black and white stones forming a wonderful natural chess board".

He clarified that Homs architectural structure dates back to the Roman era during the rule of Sun Grams family;  pointing out that during  Islamic conquest mosques and palaces constructions have profited from Homsi people experience in using  black stones, supplemented by bricks since that was easier and less expensive.

Islamic structure was influenced by Christian churches, Mamluk and Ottoman architectural styles. Accordingly, one can see several models of buildings in one mosque, for example,  Khalid bin al-Walid mosque,  was built according to the Ottoman style, while its minarets were of the Mamluki style, built from the famous Homsi black stones.

Amal Farhat

Damascene Tourism : New Apparel in Antique Look




Whereas people used to spend their summer time in outdoor resorts and restaurants which punctuate the town everywhere, domestic tourism emerged to amalgamate the glorious old history with modernism. 

Tourism in the past was limited to visiting old popular quarters, mosques, shrines, narrow alleys and houses nestled among citrus trees. 

Ancient Damascene popular cafes used to accommodate  a small tray, three cups of coffee and a cup of water. These cafes were limited a few years ago to a number of unemployed people who dawdle away their leisure time playing cards, backgammon, drinking coffee, tea and smoking the hubble-bubble.


 It was also as a shelter away from noisy and nagging wives. These ordinary people have become the frequent visitors to these old cafes where the young, elderly, men and women meet each other without discrimination.

 Under the limelight a storyteller comes later in the cafe, who reflects the immaculate old cultural tradition who used to talk chivalry, and magnanimousness about Antara's story and other folk tales depicting generosity. 

In spite of the fading of storyteller phenomenon, due to the availability of television and the media, some owners of old Damascene mansions refurbished their old houses to maintain the traditional look in harmony with the ancient Damascene portrait to preserve its uniqueness, by remodeling these treasures into cafes and restaurants serving a smorgasbord of foul and beverage in addition to offering the hubble-bubble. 

Concerts and singers added to these Damascene restaurants a new gesture from all over the world. People come to enjoy their days in Syria sightseeing and visiting these types of restaurants which combine historical features with touches of the modern era.

Where people used to listen attentively to oriental singers accompanied by tambourines and the lute jingling through the evening hours.

The Damascene houses which have become a place for entertainment, are considered as tourist attraction for foreigners and Arabs alike.

F. al-Taleb

E & T : H.SH




Syria : the country of welfare

Old Damascus and neighboring markets are considered the meeting point between old and modern parts of Damascus. The touristic  sector in Syria has been greatly influenced during the crisis, especially the hostelry  domain, consequently the lodgers number decreased as a result of the tourists regress. what measures can be  taken to compensate that shortage and go on working? How can we succeeded in preserving the prerequisite level to continue? Are there any promotion offers to attract lodgers, bearing in mind that Four Stars  hotels have presented sundry offers to attract tourists?

 At the beginning of the events impact was great and wide,  yet the government tried to be positive.  Therefore it worked on laying out a plan to attract tourists from inside Syria; meanwhile touristic and hostelry  sectors were performing  an promotion campaign to preserve Syria’s touristic presence abroad. Internally, we have fairly succeeded,  there have been a set of offers such as cut rates on room rental, served meals, and long residencies;  in addition to special deductions for foreign tourists,  and some offers encouraging tourists to return.  As a matter of fact  governmental  hotels have been trying to provide comfort and good service throughout all hotel sections.

 Some think that the crisis has only influenced external tourism, on the other hand, some deem that the crisis has impacts on internal tourism , i.e. amongst local provinces. Under the crisis continuation and talk about stability reinstatement to some area, is it possible to restore internal tourism to its previous activities, particularly in the near future, bearing in mind that summer entertainment season is round the bend?

 The crisis has influenced both internal and external tourism, however we are certain that it would be restored.  Considering  that more than two years and a half  have passed since the breaking out of the crisis;  yet the Syrian people majority never lacking insight, has realized the true image. Therefore, I foretell the internal tourism revival for summer is coming soon. More over traffic is better today than it has been previously, especially in the provinces, which witnessed some intensities.  Nevertheless, thank God, today things are quite better. As God Willing will revive inside Syria, it will do on the foreign level.

Haifaa Mafalani

Shahbaa: 'Philip the Arab' Native Hamlet

Marcus Julius Philippus Augustus;( 204 – 249), also known as Philip or Philippus Arabs, was Roman Emperor from 244 to 249. He was born in present-day Syria in Shahba, about 55 miles southeast of Damascus, in the al-Swedaa governate, then a Roman province. Philip has the nickname "the Arab" because his family originated in the Arabian peninsula. he was the son of a Julius Marinus, a local Roman citizen. Many historians agree that he was of Arab descent and gained Roman citizenship through his father, a man of considerable influence. However, it is documented that Rome used the Ghassan tribe as vassals to keep the neighboring northern Arabs in check.

In 234, Philip married Marcia Otacilia Severa, daughter of a Roman Governor. They had two children: a son named Marcus Julius Philippus Severus (Philippus II) and a daughter called Julia Severina.

Philip became a member of the Praetorian Guard during the reign of the emperor Alexander Severus, who was a Syrian. In ancient Rome the Pretorian Guard was closely associated with the emperor, serving as the emperor's bodyguard among other tasks. Then he acceded to the position of commander of the praetorians. In 25 February AD 244, Gordian III was killed, and the troops hailed him emperor of the Roman empire. The senators, with whom Philippus managed to establish a good relationship, thus confirmed him as emperor.

Philippus' first act as emperor was to reach agreement with the Persians. After this agreement he understood the need to have trustworthy people in important positions, therefore put his brother Gaius Julius Priscus in charge of Mesopotamia. Back in Rome, his brother-in-law Severianus was granted the governorship of Moesia. He also secured imperial titles for his wife, Otacilia Severa, and his son, Philip II, thus laying the foundation for a new dynasty and giving the Roman people the hope of future stability. But most popular of all was Philip's decision to hold a large millennial celebration in order to kindle hope in an anxious age.

During his reign, Rome celebrated its millennium. To mark the occasion, Philip staged Ludi Saeculares (Centennial Games) in April, 1001 AUC[1] (AD 248), when Rome had actually completed its first millennium and embarked upon its second. Of all the many series of games that were staged in Rome, these Ludi were the greatest. In addition, Philip also sponsored some earlier celebrations to hasten the euphoria that many people wanted to feel—and that fueled his popularity.  Some exotic members this millennial celebration can be seen today on Philip's imperial commemorative coinage. Many coins declared SAECVLVM NOVVM ("The New Age") and M1LIARIVM SAECVLVM ("The Millennial Age"). Some mintages projected the hope of better things to come with inspiring slogans like PAX AETERNA ("Eternal Peace").

The oasis settlement now named, Shahba, had been the native hamlet of Philip the Arab. After Philip became the emperor of Rome in 244 CE, he dedicated himself to rebuilding the little community as a colonia (Roman colony), making it the last of the Roman cities founded in the East. The city was renamed Philippopolis (City of Philip) in dedication to the emperor. He  wanted to turn his native city into a replica of Rome herself.

Philippopolis included an hexagonal-style temple and an open-air place of worship of local style, called a kalybe[2], a triumphal arch, baths, an unornamented theatre faced with basalt blocks, a large structure that has been interpreted as a basilica, and the Philippeion[3] surrounded by a great wall with ceremonial gates, were laid out and built following the grid plan of a typical Roman city.

Little is known about Philip's early life and political career. But went on to become a major figure in the Roman Empire. He was to become known as 'Philip the Arab', the first man of that race to hold the Roman imperial throne.


Lama Alhassanieh

[1] Ab urbe condita (related to Anno Urbis Conditae: AUC or a.u.c. or a.u.) is a Latin phrase meaning "from the founding of the City (Rome)",  traditionally dated to 753 BC. AUC is a year-numbering system used by some ancient Roman historians to identify particular Roman years. Wikipedia

[2] A kalybe was a style of open-air temple found only in Roman Syria and Palestine. All known kalybes were built in the "Basalt Land" of Hauran. They are distinguished by their open structure in public squares, focusing on a large central niche containing a monumental statue. Kalybes were centers for the Roman imperial cult. They were a radical departure from traditional Greco-Roman temple design and are considered architecturally unique. Wikipedia

[3] The Philippeion in the Altis of Olympia was an Ionic circular memorial of ivory and gold, which contained statues of Philip's family, Alexander the Great, Olympias, Amyntas III and Eurydice I. It was made by the Athenian sculptor Leochares in celebration of Philip's victory at the battle of Chaeronea (338 BC). It was the only structure inside the Altis dedicated to a human. Wikipedia