Syria before the war: Forbidden wonders
"The Middle East is the cradle of civilization, and the Gaza strip is the graveyard."
Before the country engaged in civil war, Syria was a great destination for history and lovers of old stone. This land offers terrific castles, able to fire the imagination of any enthusiast of swashbuckling tales, romantic classical ruins with the peculiarity of not being buried or mixed with newer buildings on top, and the exotic traditional Arabic souks that seem out of an Agatha Christie novel, etc.
Because of its strategic position, this territory played a key role since antiquity. It is located along the main trade routes of the Far East, and also where the powerful civilizations born around the Mediterranean on one side collide with the ones from Mesopotamia on the other.
This could explain why the whole region has been fought over so much. Anyway, here we are focusing only on what the world is missing out on, and in the rich heritage of this extraordinary country, hoping that political unrest will soon come to an end.
The legendary Palmyra. I can't improve upon the original caption to this awesome picture: "The 4x4 column thingy is called a tetrapylon - feel free to use this information to bore people at your next cocktail party."
Image by Jon Martin
The city settled in an oasis passed through by caravans of camels. Their Zenobia, queen of the desert, lived her glory days rebeling against the Roman Empire, conquering Egypt and half of Anatolia.
Image by Alessandra Kocman
Saladin was the famous general who served in the ranks of the Muslim team. The most remarkable feature of his castle is the moat that was carved in the stone, leaving this stack as support for the drawbridge. Image by Pasha Golovin
In the north, near the Turkish border, are the Dead cities. These are hundreds of villages from the Byzantine era abandoned between the 8th and 10th centuries, for no clear reason. Image by Ibontxo
The Church of Saint Simeon Stylites was erected around a column, on top of which this ascetic man, hungry for God, stood for most of his life. There's an hilarious short film directed by Luis Buñuel in 1965, Simon of the Desert, loosely based on this story. Image by Andrea Campi
Apamea, for the Roman column fans. Image by Yeowatzup
The massive Citadel of Aleppo. This settlement has been inhabited since at least since before the invention of the wheel.
Image by Yeowatzup
The Great Mosque. Aleppo was built at the cross ways of trade roads like the Silk Road, allowing the city to become, for many centuries, one of the richest in the world. 25/04/2013 Update: This minaret doesn't exist anymore (BBC news).
Image by Yeowatzup
Not to be missed, the labyrinthine souk. Aleppo saved its ancient architecture thanks to the fact that the metropolis was in decline by the 19th century, and missed all the destructive modern urban trends of that era. Image by Druidabruxux
Today, this city is a theatre of war.
Image by Dario-Jacopo Lagana
The Giant Norias of Hama are in the middle of the country. The magic of photography shows us a bucolic image, while the ugly truth is that this river is more like a sewer than anything else. Image by Jon Martin
The wheels can be up to 20 meters in diameter (around 70 feet), and were used to raise water from the flow of the Orontes river up to the aqueducts that irrigated the city. Image by Jon Martin
Hama's blue hour.
Image by C0nstellation
The Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian. Apart from reminding me of a reggae band, it's famous thanks to the precious collection of Romanesque paintings that shelters the church. Image by Stijn Nieuwendijk
The Bosra Amphitheater is probably the best preserved from the ancient world.
Image by Jorisz
Finally we've arrived at the capital, Damascus, to take a walk around the busy Al-Hamediyeh souk. This is a market resembling a mix of Parisian galleries with an oriental flavour. Image by Mojotrotters
Damascus's aging city has kept many old houses and courtyards. Some of them have been transformed into bed and breakfasts that can make you feel like a pioneer romantic traveler from the Victorian era. Image by Jon Martin
Syrian hospitality is also legendary. Another proverb says that the people here are only ever a slave to their guests.
Image by Jon Martin