SYRIA - Damascus
Syria's largest city and capital. It grew up around the Barada River
and Ghouta Oasis, which make life possible in an otherwise
uninhabitable landscape. Damascus is another contender for the world's
oldest continuously inhabited city - there was a settlement here as
long ago as 5000 BC.
fascination lies in its mysterious oriental bazaars and the gracious,
somewhat decayed, charm of some of Islam's greatest monuments. The
centre of the city is Martyrs' Square (aka Saahat ash-Shohada) - most
of the restaurants and hotels are close by.
Visual art in the
Arab world often means architecture, largely because Islam forbids the
depiction of living beings. Throughout Syria you will find some
spectacular ancient and classical sites, with relics left by the Muslim
caliphs, the Romans and the Byzantines. There are also plenty of
religious works left behind by the Crusaders. The Quran is one of the
finest examples of classical Arabic writing. Toward the end of the 10th
century, Syria was the focal point of one last great flash of Arab.
Bedouin artworks include silver jewelry, colorful textiles and a wide
range of knives.
is a cornerstone of Arab
life. It is commonplace for Syrian families, particularly desert dwellers, to
welcome strangers into their home. The tradition developed from the harshness of
desert life - without food, water and shelter provided by strangers, most desert
travelers would die. Wherever you go in Syria, you are likely to hear the word,
tafaddal (loosely translated as welcome) and you will frequently be invited into
people's homes for food or a cup of tea.
is the predominant
religion in Syria. A monotheistic religion, Islam's holy book is the Quran, five
times a day, Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques that dot
the country. Islam derives from the same monotheistic roots as Judaism and
Christianity, and Muslims generally regard Christians and Jews with respect - in
Islam, Jesus is regarded as one of the Prophets of Allah, and Jews and
Christians are considered fellow 'people of the Book'. Mohammed was the last
Prophet, and it was to him that Allah dictated the Quran. Most Syrian Muslims
belong to the Sunni sect of Islam, but there are sizeable Shiite, Druze and
forbids the eating of pork and drinking of alcohol, and this
law is followed to a greater or lesser extent throughout
Syria. Islam also has a tendency to divide the sexes, and
you might find that many eating establishments only welcome
men. Most of these will, if asked, show you to the 'family
room', an area set aside for women and their partners of
men. When Syrians eat out, they will usually order group
meals - a selection of mezze, or starters, followed by main
meals to share. Arabic unleavened bread, or khoobz Arabi, is
eaten with almost everything. The other staples are felafel,
deep-fried chickpea balls; shwarma, spit-cooked sliced lamb;
and foul, a paste of fava beans, garlic and lemon. Mensaf is
a Bedouin specialty - a whole lamb, head included, on a bed
of rice and pine nuts.
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